Forty years on, deaths of five at 1979 NC anti-Klan rally hit home for Northampton

  • In this Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 photo, the Rev. Nelson Johnson points to a photo of himself checking on a fallen friend at his Faith Community Church in Greensboro, N.C. The white supremacist protest that left one person dead in Charlottesville, Va., revived memories for Johnson of Greensboro. Johnson was a leader of a march in 1979, when Ku Klux Klansmen and Nazis killed five people and injured Johnson. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed) Allen G. Breed—ap file photo

  • In this Aug. 16, 2017, photo, the Rev. Nelson Johnson and his wife, Joyce, stand beside a 1979 photo of the “Greensboro Massacre” at the couple’s Faith Community Church in Greensboro, N.C. The Johnsons were taking part in a workers’ march on Nov. 3, 1979, when they were attacked by Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. ap file photo

  • Dr. Marty Nathan, left, of Northampton, speaks at a climate action forum in January 2017 at First Churches of Northampton. Listening beside her is then-Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2019 11:11:48 PM
Modified: 8/15/2019 11:11:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council unanimously passed a resolution on first reading at its Thursday meeting to commemorate the Greensboro Massacre, which will mark its 40th anniversary this year.

The massacre, in Greensboro, N.C., occurred on Nov. 3, 1979, during preparations for a multiracial anti-Ku Klux Klan demonstration, organized by the Communist Workers Party. Members of the Klan and American Nazis arrived and, after a confrontation escalated, opened fire on the group. Five demonstrators were shot dead and a number of other people were wounded.

Those alleged to have fired on the demonstrators were acquitted after two criminal trials. In 1985, a civil lawsuit found the city and Greensboro Police Department liable for not doing enough to prevent the shootings, despite having been warned that the KKK planned violence. A truth and reconciliation commission produced a report in 2006 on the massacre.

One of the people who was killed was Michael Nathan, husband of longtime Northampton physician and activist Marty Nathan.

“He was murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis in front of TV cameras in broad daylight in Greensboro, North Carolina,” she told the council. “He was a pediatrician, the father of a 6-month-old and an activist all of his life for justice and against racism.”

Nathan said it is critical to recognize the history of Greensboro, because of the deep involvement by officialdom in the racism and violence of the Ku Klux Klan. She said that today, the country faces white supremacists again who are being condoned, encouraged, protected and not investigated by officialdom.

“I hope that you use this as a vehicle to better understand what is going on today,” Nathan said.

Elliot Fratkin, Nathan’s second husband, also spoke. He said that, with the exception of the black churches, the community in Greensboro had ostracized the survivors of the massacre. In 1995, the couple moved to Northampton.

“I felt like I’d died and went to heaven,” he said. “This is one of the most supportive communities we’ve ever lived in.”

Jackie Ballance, who was also in attendance at the meeting, was friends with James Waller, another man killed in the massacre.

“His murder touched me and everyone who knew him and loved him,” she said.

In the discussion of the resolution, both Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell, a sponsor of the resolution, and Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge condemned President Donald Trump, with Bidwell saying that the president is aiding and abetting white supremacist violence.

“We must stand against bigotry, the hatred and the intolerance,” said LaBarge. “Especially when it comes from the highest offices.”

The city resolution marks Oct. 6 as a day of commemoration of the massacre in Northampton, and “encourages the residents of Northampton to gather that day in remembrance of the historical victims of hate crimes and in rededication to the ongoing struggle against white supremacy and all forms of bigotry.”

Nelson and Joyce Johnson, survivors of the massacre who lead the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, will be speaking on Oct. 6 at Edwards Church from 2 to 4 p.m. about organizing in the face of rising white supremacy and violence. Nathan invited councilors to attend the event.

“We would really like it if you would come,” she said.

The resolution passed 7-0. City Council President Ryan O’Donnell and At-Large City Councilor William Dwight were not in attendance at the meeting.

Bera Dunau can be reached at


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