Righting Unrightable Wrongs: Legacies of Racial Violence in the U.S. South

Project: Research project

Project Details


The United States of America has a history of violence directed towards persons of color. This project will investigate the ways that grassroots community organizations have tried to address long-standing impacts of racial violence in their communities through a focus on the Greensboro (North Carolina) Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC). The GTRC was formed in 2000 in response to the shooting of labor activists by individuals associated with the Ku Klux Klan in November 1979. Those shootings occurred when labor organizers were holding a rally and conference at a local public housing project to protest Ku Klux Klan activities in the area. As the rally progressed, some members of the local Klan arrived, and during the ensuing violence, five labor activists were killed and several more were wounded. Despite the efforts of local prosecutors and extensive video evidence of the events, no one was ever held criminally liable for the deaths. In 1999, local community organizers began advocating formation of a truth and reconciliation process modeled after commissions in South Africa and Peru. The GTRC was assembled through a grassroots democratic process that sought to integrate a diverse community perspective. In 2006, the GTRC released its report to the citizens of Greensboro. Through a broadly conceived qualitative approach that will use open-ended interviews, archival research, and discourse analysis, this research project will explore the results of the GTRC, focusing on the ways that community members addressed the legacy and memory of violence and how violence continues to undergird racial exploitation and frame an understanding of difference in North America. The majority of relevant research projects focusing on truth processes have examined them outside of a North American context. The U.S. South is home to a nascent but growing movement to address inequality and legacies of violence through truth and reconciliation commissions, and the Greensboro example may serve as a model for other communities to follow in North America.

This project will explore the connections between the legacy of violence, race, and the construction of space to wider academic scrutiny. It will assist in more fully examining the legacies of violence and race in North America. The results of this project will contribute to larger discussions surrounding the impact that violence and race have in North American communities. For example, the GTRC process may serve other communities who are grappling with the legacies of violence and who wish to create the geographic conditions necessary to accomplish racial reconciliation. This project therefore will address the issue of racial violence at local, regional, national, and international scales and will contribute broadly to scholarship on race, violence, and space.

Effective start/end date6/2/1011/30/15


  • National Science Foundation: $164,770.00


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