Saturday, September 23, 2006

Open Invitation

Invitation to Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Report “Reading Club”
Open to all staff, graduate, faculty & undergraduate students

First gathering:
Thursday Sept 28 (dinner provided)
6.30-8:30 pm
John Hope Franklin Center, Room 028
RSVP by Sept 25:

Making it Matter: the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation
Commission’s Report and its implications for Duke University

Just a fast half-an-hour down I-40 from Duke is Greensboro, famous in the American civil rights movement for the defiance the community showed in the face of racist laws and social practices. It was here that four university students—all first year students at NC A&T—sat down at the “whites-only” Woolworths lunch counter insisting on the right to be served lunch at the general store where they purchased all their school supplies. It touched off a campaign around the country of college student lunch counter sit-ins. At the time, Greensboro became a watchword for the determination of young people to change their world.

Greensboro is back in the limelight for another step its community has taken to change their world. Over the last 2 years it has hosted the first American experiment with a truth and reconciliation commission process. The TRC as an institutional framework for promoting conflict resolution and community reconstruction has been innovated upon since the 1980’s. From Argentina to Zimbabwe, with varying levels of legitimacy and success, communities have sought to make peace with their histories of violence, corruption and large-scale criminality. In setting up the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC), Americans have for the first time adapted a model made famous outside this country. This is an important moment for the US human rights movement: the GTRC actively learns from and credits the experience and ideas of other countries and it provides a possible model for other citizen-based movements in the United States and elsewhere.

What sparked the GTRC?:
Almost 27 years ago, five people were killed in Greensboro by the KKK while assembling for a march to protest the Klan. That same day American hostages were seized in Teheran and very few people ever heard of the “Greensboro Massacre” or saw the TV tape clearly capturing tall bearded men opening fire on--and killing--marchers. What happened that day was never satisfactorily established despite the fact that there were three legal trials and a number of bereaved friends and widows pushing hard to get at the truth. Nor was there any reconciliation, whether at the micro level of the parties before the court, or at the macro level of the community of Greensboro at large. Fast forward 20 years: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is holding hearings and producing a report, news of which reaches Greensboro. A number of citizen groups get together to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Greensboro. It would be the first TRC in the United States, an idea adapted from a model made famous outside our country. If it proved workable, it might have application in many other American communities—places like Oxford NC (about which Div. School Prof. Tim Tyson has written in Blood Done Sign My Name) and Tulsa, Oklahoma (the story of which our own Prof. John Hope Franklin has tried to tell in court pleadings as well as in a statutorily commissioned report).

Through a community-based process and with the help of the International Center for Transitional Justice that helped bring people associated with South Africa’s TRC to Greensboro to consult with and encourage the process, a commission and staff was formed in 200¬4. It was their mandate to foster a process that would explore the truth around what happened before and after the day five people died in the streets. Community volunteers and partners rallied: There were three large public hearings in which every sort of interested party participated—the Klan, the fellow marchers, the cops, the widows, the kids from the neighborhood, the lawyers, the cameramen, the journalists, even one of the judges. There were many “listening” events and numerous arts-based mobilization efforts (film screenings, music galas, poetry readings). Over a year, the staff investigated and took statements and helped the Commission write a report.

At the end of May, a couple weeks after Duke’s graduation, the Commission held a release ceremony in the Chapel of Bennett College (the alma mater of the student body president who was one of the marchers killed) to report on its findings. It asked the community to be a formal “receiver of the report.” It would be up to the community, many speakers that night said, to “make something” of the report.

Is Duke part of that community? Three of the people killed in Greensboro were Duke-connected. Two were Duke Medical School graduates and one was a computer operator on the staff of Duke University. A number of people at the march had driven there from Durham. The issues at the time were thought to be relevant to all of NC. When the Commission was established, Duke Professor and former South African Bishop Peter Storey helped get it off the ground. Several Duke professors with specialties in the history of civil rights were asked to testify or give statements and others served as consultants. In the Fall of 2005 more than 50 graduate and undergraduate students joined a team to help the GTRC staff finish their investigation.

If Duke University wanted to make something of the report, what would that mean?

What would we do if a group of us came together to be an official report receiver?

We propose hosting a Working Group-come-Book Club that would get together to
--read selections from the GTRC’s report
--engage with it in person and on a blog
--act on it in some concrete way

It is our ambition to make this a collaborative group that includes students, faculty and staff. We’ll have three meetings in the Fall, the first on Thursday Sept 28, over dinner.

Thursday, September 28 (Dinner Provided)
6.30-8:30 pm, John Hope Franklin Center 028
RSVP by Sept 21 to:
Please join us.
Our blog is at:
Links to the GTRC report and the GTRC’s blog can be found there too.

For further information, contact Co-Convenors:

--Catherine Admay (Visiting Prof of Public Policy and Steering Committee Member for the Duke Human Rights Initiative and the Concilium on Southern Africa)
--Dawn Peebles (Duke Human Rights Initiative, Graduate Student in Cultural Anthropology)
--Scott Sorrell (Undergraduate Student in Cultural Anthropology and Art History)
--Anita Wright (Undergraduate Program Coordinator for Public Policy, graduate of NC-A&T/Greensboro and Duke University)


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