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1979 Greensboro Massacre Victims Honored

Work Carried On Through Memorial Fund

by Dick Paddock


On Saturday, November 1, the Greensboro Justice Fund (GJF) honored the memories of the Greensboro Five (see sidebar, below) and heard from two of the many individuals and groups it has helped with funding and other support over the years. Meeting in the Community Church in Chapel Hill, about 50 members and friends of the Fund held a simple candlelight service, introduced by Jean Wagner and led by Massacre survivor (and Justice Fund administrator and treasurer) Marty Nathan.

As she lit a candle for each one, Nathan spoke of the void left in the lives of those who knew the five young people who were killed in Greensboro: Jim Waller, Bill Sampson, Sandi Smith, Cesar Cauce, and Mike Nathan (Marty"s husband), and the inspiration of their examples. She also spoke of the fight for justice by the survivors and others that followed the Massacre. Although not exactly justice, the ultimate result‹the monetary settlement for violation of the victims" civil rights‹was used to found the GJF. Kwame Cannon

Following the memorial service, two of the many grantees of the GJF spoke of their ongoing battles and the help that the GJF"s funds have been in their work. The first to speak was Wileena Cannon, about her son Kwame. Ms. Cannon was active in the neighborhood organizing of Morningside Heights and is a survivor of the Massacre.

Kwame was arrested and convicted of six "cat burglaries" in Greensboro in 1986, a year after the successful conclusion of the wrongful death suit. At the recommendation of his lawyer he accepted a "plea bargain" which turned out to be two consecutive life terms. The injustice of this sentence can be seen from the following:

  • several white men have received significantly lesser sentences for similar crimes;
  • North Carolina"s Structured Sentencing Law, passed in 1994, would have made Kwame"s sentence only ten years;
  • Kwame"s lawyer has since surrendered his law license because of an alcohol abuse problem.

Despite support of several current and former government officials in Greensboro and a significant movement of citizens spearheaded by clergy and others, and a letter-writing campaign of over a thousand people to Governor Jim Hunt seeking to have Kwame"s sentence commuted based on the original injustice and his demonstrated rehabilitation, state government has done nothing to reopen or reconsider his case. The GJF has provided support to Kwame and Wileena Cannon in their attempt to win justice. Black Public Workers Association

Robert Parrish of Chapel Hill"s Black Public Works Association spoke next of his group"s success and the part the GJF played in its work. In spring 1995 black workers for the town of Chapel Hill decided to follow the model of the UNC Housekeepers Association and organize, with a speak out at a Town Council meeting, a Labor Day, 1995, march and rally, and a "Freedom Budget" presented to the Town Council in 1996.

As a result of these efforts and the support they generated among the workers and the community as a whole, the BPWA achieved three important goals:

  • a raise in starting pay for the lowest paid workers $2000/year;
  • raises of 4.75% for all workers paid less than the town"s "living wage" of $30,420, thus effectively raising the lowest paid workers to above $19,000‹an increase of 25% for these people;
  • agreement by the town to meet and confer regularly with the BPWA, which is extremely significant in a "right-to-work" state such as North Carolina, where local and state governments are prohibited from negotiating with labor unions.

GJF contributed $500 to BPWA in August of 1995 as an emergency start-up grant. Parrish(?) GJF for this grant, stating that it allowed the Labor Day march and rally to be held successfully and gain much support at a crucial time in BPWA"s development. Other Beneficiaries

In addition to the two cases cited above, there are others which have benefited from the GJF:

  • the K-Mart workers of Greensboro, who won their battle and obtained a contract with the help of their new international union, UNITE;
  • the Newtown Florist Club, originally established in the 1950"s in an all-African-American rural community, in the Gainesville, Georgia area, was instrumental in setting up and sustaining an Environmental Justice Project to clean up the toxic wastes dumped in Newtown by industries in Gainesville.

  Dick Paddock is a Prism staffer.  

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