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88 Seconds in Greensboro

Original Airdate: January 24, 1983



It could be called a dark Southern tale: right-wing extremists and left-wing extremists in a gun battle in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 88 seconds, five are left dead. Tonight on FRONTLINE, an inside story behind those 88 seconds in Greensboro.

Six Klansmen and American Nazis went on trial for the Greensboro killings two years ago. They were acquitted by an all-white jury. The jury was persuaded that they had fired in self-defense at the Communist demonstrators who were also armed. The Communists boycotted the trial and refused to testify. But our report tonight is not about that trial.

Instead we examine new evidence that suggests law enforcement agencies had good reason to know a dangerous confrontation was imminent and perhaps did nothing to stop it.

There was a paid police informer inside the Klan. Two key points to note while watching this program: one, the Greensboro police and federal law enforcement agencies told FRONTLINE they cannot answer any direct questions about their involvement. They're being sued by relatives of the dead demonstrators. And two: this is about a bitter political confrontation. It contains scenes of violence, strong language, racial slurs.

The film's director is William Cran. The reporter for FRONTLINE is James Reston, Jr., who has written extensively on civil rights and the South.


I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time, one more time!
I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time!

This is Morningside Homes in Greensboro, North Carolina, an almost entirely black working class neighborhood, where many residents labor in the textile mills nearby.


I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time!

I came here to the spot where five Communists, who were trying to organize textile workers, were gunned down in an attack by the Ku Klux Klan. I came three years later because haunting questions about police negligence remain unanswered. At almost the same time on a bright Saturday morning shortly after 11:00 A.M., demonstrators convened in Morningside.


Smash the Ku Klux Klan,
We shall not be moved...

Many were members of the Communist Workers Party. And they planned to stage a "Death to the Klan" march through the streets of the city.


We shall not be moved!
We'll fight
For truth and justice...

They dared the Klan to attend. Some expected violence. Some wore hard hats and others concealed weapons.


We shall not be moved!

But everyone was surprised when suddenly a man in a yellow pick-up truck shouted out, "You asked for the Klan! Now you've got 'em!"

Eight cars followed, containing 35 Klan and Nazis. In 88 seconds, 13 demonstrators will be shot, five fatally.


Death to the Klan!

As Klansmen up the street fired the first two shots, there was a puff of smoke. By now, the demonstrators are firing back. But no Klansmen were shot. Nonchalantly, the intruders returned their shotguns and their semi-automatic rifle to the blue Ford Fairlane. The police will not arrive for another two minutes.

God! My God!
Where in the heck are the damn cops?
We don't want the cops! We want doctors! They had it planned!
Help us! Help us!
Come here!
Get an ambulance! Get 'em right here!
Goddamn bourgeoisie did this!
The cops did this!
The Klan and the state got together and planned this.
That's why there were no cops here, do you hear me?
The state protects the Klan and this makes it clear.
They came through and they opened fire. They opened fire on us!
And we fired back to protect ourselves.

Later, the police professed confusion over the convening point and the starting time for the march. But as some demonstrators told four television crews who were there:

The Klan, or whoever it was jumped out and just started shootin' in the direction of the thickest concentration of people. They seemed to be aiming at particular people. There were several police in the area who did nothing until after these murderers left. Police came in and immediately started arresting people who were trying to help those who had fallen. Nelson Johnson, you know, was taken into custody, kicked in the head by the police. He was bleeding from the arm as he was trying to help people. The police did this, directly or indirectly. They set it up.

By nightfall most of the Klan and Nazis had been apprehended. The Communists' assertion of police complicity seemed predictable and was generally ignored.

But one man driving home knew more about the role of the Greensboro police.

Following "World News Tonight" ... Death to the Klan!"

His name was Edward Dawson. He had been the man who shouted from the yellow pick-up truck, "You asked for the Klan! Now you've got 'em!"


Death to the Klan!

Edward Dawson was a paid police informant. And he had been in the vehicle that led the Klan to Morningside. Late that night, Dawson tape-recorded his story.

The people were chanting: "Death to the Klan! Death to the Klan!"

He would reconstruct his story fully for the first time on television.

A shot rang out and people to my left started to run.

In the trial where four Klansmen and two Nazis were acquitted, Dawson was never called as a witness.

By this time a lot of shots were ringin' out. Buck came back and got in the truck and told me that a couple of people were killed. He did not know whether they were Klansmen.

While much of his story remains ambiguous, his case raises disturbing questions about how one police department used an informant inside the Ku Klux Klan.

Speaker: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rally tonight! We're gonna start out tonight with a band playing "Dixie on My Mind." So let it go.

A reformed alcoholic and gambler, he was a loner. He joined the Klan out of curiosity -- he says, for the fellowship. His FBI file labels him "an extremist informant." Twice he was convicted of cross-burnings and violent night rides. He found his double role in meetings like this comfortable and exciting. But after the trial, when Dawson was exposed as an informant, his old Klan klavern, headed by Virgil Griffin, led the November 3 events at his door.

Speaker: I'd like to take this time to introduce a man who has done a very fine job for the invisible empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. None other than the Grand Dragon, Mr. Virgil Griffin.

Griffin: We got a little scum down in Greensboro by the name of Eddy Dawson! People want to know, do you want him killed? No, I don't want him killed! I want the children to look at the scum and let him know he's a Judas, let him know he sold his white race out. I want him to go hearty, nobody havin' nothin' to do with him. Eddy Dawson sold out his white race of people and his country to the FBI and the police. And then he sold them out to the Communist Party. He led them into a trap, he led the Klan into a trap, and now he has nowhere to go.

Soon the Communists joined the Klan in painting Dawson as the mastermind behind the killings. All over Greensboro posters charged Dawson, along with a federal agent inside the Nazi party, with murder. But was Dawson the mastermind or the scapegoat?

His career as an informant began 10 years before the Greensboro killings. Ed Dawson had one thing the FBI dearly wanted: access to the inner circle of the Klan. And they knew how to get a handle on Dawson. His trouble with the law made him ripe for recruitment.

Dawson: We were charged with terrorizing the citizens of Alamance County, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and murder, and two charges of breaking and entering, and two charges of destroying property.

Reston: You served nine months.

Dawson: This is correct, yes.

Reston: That's not the first time you were ever in jail, was it?

Dawson: In the state of North Carolina?

Reston: No, I said in jail, period.

Dawson: In the army, I was in jail, yes.

Reston: Yeah, what was that about?

Dawson: AWOL.

Reston: In wartime?

Dawson: In World War II, yes. I went in in 1941, in the army.

Reston: Well, that really was desertion, wasn't it?

Dawson: At that time they charged me with the 58th Article of War which was desertion, yes. I could have been executed.

Reston: And you were convicted and sent on to jail for that.

Dawson: I was sent to prison, yes.

Reston: Then moving on, two years later after you got out of jail, there was another incident in eastern North Carolina, in Swan Quarter.

Dawson: This is correct, yes.

Reston: And did that lead to a conviction?

Dawson: Yes, it did. We got five years, one year suspended for five and a $1,000 fine. And that's what helped irritate me something furious. They refused to pay the fine. We had to pay that out of our pocket.

Reston: You were furious at the United Klan...

Dawson: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Without a question of a doubt. One word led to another and I called them all a bunch of thieves.

Reston: OK, shortly thereafter you were approached by the FBI.

Dawson: This is correct, yes. Maybe two months later.

Reston: And your bitterness in relation to the United Klans of America was part of the pitch they made to you.

Dawson: Oh, I imagine they knew it. They had an informant, evidently at that meeting and told them how hot I was. And they figured I was ripe, the FBI.

Reston: Ripe for what?

Dawson: To become an informant for them. And the agent talked to me and talked to me and I turned him down. I turned him down for about six weeks before I would even consider listening to him. And then I agreed I would work for them for one year, give them the information that they wanted, providing that they could get me off probation.

Reston: He appealed to your bitterness against the United Klans. Did he also threaten you to send you up the river?

Dawson: Definitely not. Not at that time, no.

Reston: So there was no carrot and stick?

Dawson: There was a little statement made. He had a stack of papers on his desk there, this special agent from Greensboro, here. And he went through these papers. When I refused to cooperate with him, more or less, and he said, maybe if we go through these papers real fine, maybe we can find something and send your ass up the river. So I says, if that's the way it has to be, that's the way it has to be.

Reston: In the period from 1969 to 1977 you served as an informant to the FBI?

Dawson: This is correct, yes.

Reston: How much did they pay you?

Dawson: They paid you $25 for a regular meeting. They paid you $50 for a state meeting. For travel, 10 cents a mile.

Reston: And were you paid any bonuses for any special information that you would bring in?

Dawson: They would have paid bonuses, yes, I understand. I never had the privilege.

Dawson: If you was a police informant on that particular day of November 3, 1981, would you have handled it the way I handled it?

At late night coffee shops, Dawson sometimes meets fellow informants. This is Reverend George Dorsett, who for many years was an inflammatory figure as a Klan leader.

Dawson: Well, the press did cover this. They were down there.

In 1975, a Senate investigation exposed Dorsett as a highly paid FBI informant. Dorsett was photographed on the day when he was tried as a Klan traitor and banished. Grand Dragon Virgil Griffin appointed as Dorsett's prosecutor, then FBI informant Edward Dawson.


Reston: Ed, during the eight years that you informed for the FBI, did the FBI give you guidelines in relation to any violent acts that the Klan might take and your participation in them?

Dawson: Well, I can't actually say ... they never told you what to do, really. What not to do. They told you what they expect of you, to report any violence that you heard, immediately. And they understood that there'd be a time that you'd get into a situation where you cannot report to them of the violence that is happening, and you have to call them immediately if anything is about to happen.

Reston: But if you yourself, as a paid informant, engaged in acts of violence, they never, they never said that was something that you may not do?

Dawson: That was never discussed. No, that was never discussed. Absolutely not.

I went to see former Senator Robert Morgan at his house on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

In his 1975 Senate investigation, Morgan had discovered widespread use of police provocateurs throughout America to disrupt activist groups. The program was know as COINTELPRO.


Morgan: Provocateuring is a historical problem. Provocateuring is as old as the Bureau itself. As a matter of fact, it got so bad in the early '20s that Attorney General Harlan Stone dissolved the Bureau as it was then and reorganized it and charged it with the purpose of responsibility of enforcing the laws. He said that if any police agency ever got away from that, it'd become a threat to society and to our liberties.

Reston: And then when you were in the Senate, you were in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, you studied this problem.

Morgan: Yes, and we found, as a matter of fact, that provocateuring had always remained a part of the Bureau's activities.

And as a matter of fact, down here in North Carolina, the Bureau organized 41 chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. And, of course, it was done for the purpose of promoting factionalism and dividing the so-called original Klan. In one Klan klavern in Alamance County, there were only eight members, and seven of them were paid informants of the FBI.

As a result of Senator Morgan's probe, Ed Dawson, along with many other extremist informants was terminated by the FBI.

He continued his daylight career as contractor and housepainter, but he remained friendly with police officers and FBI agents. Many of his contracting jobs were for them. So it was only natural in 1979, when Greensboro police needed a plant inside the Klan, they would turn to Eddy Dawson.

The police were concerned because the Ku Klux Klan was being taunted by radicals working inside the textile mills. North Carolina's textile industry: it comprises one-third of all manufacturing jobs in a state which historically frowns on unions. In the summer of 1979 an old pattern reasserted itself. Like the strikes of the 1930s, once again highly motivated organizers were active in the mills ... this time in Greensboro. The modern counterparts were medical doctors and communists. Brown lung -- the disease caused by cotton dust -- was the issue around which victims of November 3 like Jim Waller and Dr. Mike Nathan organized.

And the graph can tell us something about the state of your lungs. We'll have some idea about whether or not you might have brown lung. So Marti will...

Nathan's widow, Marti, herself a doctor, and Dr. Paul Bermazohn, who survived a bullet in his brain on November 3, showed me how the brown lung clinics worked.

Okay, ready, take a big breath. Now blow into the machine.


Last time I went near my job,
I thought my lungs were broken.
Chest bound 'round like iron bands,
I couldn't breathe for chokin',
I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time.
I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time,
One more time.
I'm gonna go to work on Monday,
One more time.

The more clinics they held, the more radical they became.

So much of what you see, you know, brown lung, is the result of the economic situation. It's the result of their work and their poverty and one thing impresses you is the sickness caused by capitalism.

I think that medicine and politics really start from the same place. If you're concerned about people, it will lead you often into fields like medicine ... trying to help people. As Marti was saying, you see that there are systematic problems or diseases of oppression. Brown lung is really not a disease caused by cotton dust. It's a disease caused by an economic system that puts a priority on profit over people.

Four who died in Greensboro were active around the mills. They took jobs in the mills and confronted management. They organized campaigns for better working conditions and promoted strikes. By now, they had moved to the extreme left and joined a small faction called the Communist Workers Party.

Among the victims were Bill Sampson, once a Harvard divinity student; Sandy Smith, a Bennett College activist; Caesar Cauce, a hospital worker; and Dr. Jim Waller, who left medicine altogether to organize. His widow, Signe:

Well, Jim and Bill and Sandy and Caesar and Mike were educating workers and fighting alongside with workers. And Jim was elected first, shop steward, then vice president and then president of his union local. And he would accompany men down to the boss's office and fight grievances and he won most of them. And they had this equipment replaced that people were getting injured on. And they had the practice of flipping cloth chains that men were getting hernias from doing that. They would take up the fights that were affecting people's welfare, people's safety on the job.

Actually, success was mixed. After a strike, Waller was fired. Their textile union was concerned about Communist infiltration, and suspended his Greensboro locals.

In the summer of 1979, the Communist Workers Party was in search of a new tactic. An opportune target was provided by the Ku Klux Klan in China Grove, a small mill town 50 miles southwest of Greensboro. Klansmen had scheduled a screening of D.W. Griffith's silent classic "The Clansman", better known as "Birth of a Nation." By modern standards the film is luridly racist and bound to cause trouble in a southern town with many black citizens.

Before long, the Klan got the reaction it no doubt expected. The demonstrators were led by the Communist Workers Party.

The encounter had the feel of an old-fashioned fight behind the woodpile. China Grove became the rehearsal for the Greensboro clash. But state law enforcement agencies took no heed of the warning.

We don't want any trouble.
We just want the Klan to go home.
Go home!
We will not tolerate it.
If we have to die here, we'll die here.
But there will not be any Klan
Today, tomorrow, never!
Death to the Klan.

But I will have revenge for this. Oh, there'll be revenge.

To the elated Communists a new strategy had been validated -- one that could unite black and white workers. They decided to repeat the tactic in Greensboro. They put out a poster announcing a "Death to the Klan" march. The man who designed the poster, Nelson Johnson:

I think the Klan, historically, are cowards. And I think that's an accurate statement and people need to understand that. They project an image of bravado, and that's how they attract a lot of young, white youth. But that's really not their history.

When you call a Southerner scum and coward, and when they are predisposed to violence anyway, as the Klan clearly is, does that not start to set up a certain chemistry?

Perhaps. As soon as the Communist posters began to appear around town, police decided they needed access to the planning council of the Klan. So they recruited Ed Dawson.

Upon his own initiative, Dawson designed a poster himself.


Reston: And this is the "Death to the Klan" poster which was posted all over Greensboro before November 3.

Dawson: This is right, yes.

Reston: I gather you had your own posters.

Dawson: Yes. There are some right here. There it is, yeah.

Reston: I have this poster here which was placed on top of the "Death to the Klan" Communist posters: "Notice to traitors, Communists, race mixers and Black rioters: Traitors beware! Even now the cross hairs are on the backs of your necks. It's time for old-time justice -- American justice." And the vision of a lynching.

Dawson: There's a vision, yes, of a lynching.

Dawson took the Communist poster to a Klan meeting two weeks before the Greensboro march.


"Oh, we don't want niggers in our schools.
We're not for integration.
Keep those niggers in their place.
We'll have a better nation.
Our Southmen got along just fine till those integrators
Came down here stirring up the mess with outside agitators."

Grand Dragon Virgil Griffin and his men went to a Lincolnton meeting much like this one to decide what to do about the Communist declaration of war.

ANNOUNCER AT KLAN MEETING: Let's have a big hand for Virgil Griffin.

Griffin: Thank you, thank you. We can take our country back from the Communist Party; we'll take it back from the niggers. It's time for us to band together. If we have to get in the streets and find blood up to our knees, by God, it's time to get ready, fight! Give them what they want. Fight for your country.

After Griffin, Ed Dawson spoke. Witnesses remembered it this way.


Witness: He brought one of those posters with him and it was passed out, around so they could see it. And he got the crowd real emotional. And he said that he knew what we had to face and he said, "I'm telling you guys right now, it's going to be a fight." He said he felt it was our patriotic duty -- everybody should go.

Reston: He said, time and time again in the meeting ... Dawson said, "Bring guns?"

Witness: Shotguns, rifles ... pistols if you keep them unconcealed. I mean, you know, you can't conceal a gun nowhere in North Carolina on you.

Reston: And did he say why bring those guns?

Witness: No ... just said might, perhaps we may need them.


Dawson: The question was asked, "Is it alright to bring guns?" And my answer to that was: "If you bring a gun, there will be wall-to-wall police there. A gun -- if it's hidden, a bulge is seen. You will be arrested and you better have the bond money in your back pocket. I'm not your father. I cannot tell you to bring guns or not to bring guns. "


Witness. That was basically the main thing that Eddy Dawson said ... was implied and kept pounding on the fact that we should take shotguns and long guns; nothing else.

The Klan was not the only group planning to confront Communists in Greensboro. Nazis had met with Klansmen to discuss forming a "United Racist Front." As Nazis prepared to go to Greensboro, they, too, were concerned about informants in their midst.

I would say that the government has, for a long time -- I would say since the creation of the FBI back in, I think, '29, '28 -- I believe that the government has kept close watch on any group that they perceive as extremists; in other words, anybody that is not a Republican or a Democrat. I think the right-wing groups in this country today have a very large number of informers and agents in leadership roles in these organizations.

Nazi suspicions were justified. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent was present at this meeting two days before the Greensboro killings.

This is agent Bernard Butkovitch. And although he did not go to Greensboro, he was there when Nazis brandished weapons and made threats. And he was still there when representatives of Virgil Griffin's clan arrived to coordinate activities. The ATF declined to discuss the role of their agent in the events leading to Greensboro. Nor would it discuss charges he trained Nazis in weapons and explosives.

That same afternoon on the steps of the Greensboro police station, the CWP held its own press conference. Reporters and one police informant listened to Nelson Johnson denounce the police.

The police hate us. We know it. They're not neutral. They're out to do everything they can to disrupt us.

Posing as a reporter was Ed Dawson.


Johnson: And we're here to say that we're going ahead with the march, permit or no permit. And I want to add that we just picked up the permit a few minutes ago after running around the building two or three times this morning. The people of Greensboro are intent on smashing and driving out the scum Ku Klux Klan and their secret supporters. The march will be more powerful than ever. We fully expect the police to continue their slimy tactics. They will do anything to disrupt this march and disguise themselves. They might harass us or send provocateurs into our ranks to disrupt the march.

Reporter: What do you think the march is going to accomplish?

Johnson: What we want to do is say the Klan is nothing but a bunch of cowards. They're not gonna come here. If they come here, it'll be because the police aided them in coming here and attacking us.

Informant Dawson had a question of his own.


Dawson: Do they have Klansmen in Greensboro here?

People's responses: Yeah, we got Klansmen. Everywhere. In the building right there.

Dawson struck up a conversation with Nelson Johnson and Paul Bermazohn, both of whom would be wounded in the Klan attack two days later. Minutes after these pictures were taken, Dawson went into the police station and got his own copy of the parade permit. Clearly printed on its face was the time: 11:00 A.M., and the starting point at Morningside Homes.


Reston: Did the FBI ever tell you shortly before November 3 not to attend the November 3 caravan?

Dawson: I had called an agent in the FBI and he knew, this agent, that I was relaying messages from the Klan to the police department. When I called him, he said to me, "Relay your information, but stay away from the march."

Reston: Why did you not stay away when the FBI said you should?

Dawson: That is a very good question. If I knew then what I know now, I'd be able to answer your question much better. But why I went was they expected me there to go over to Morningside and to lead them over there, I might as well say.

In the hours that followed, Dawson's leadership role was critical. The night before he drove Klansmen over the parade route so they would be familiar with the streets. Because virtually all the Klansmen and Nazis were not from Greensboro, Dawson arranged a rendezvous at the home of the one Klansman who has remained his friend: Brent Fletcher.

An alcoholic disabled Vietnam veteran, Fletcher was the second Klansman to open fire the next morning.


Reston: Ed, that morning, when you were back here with Brent and Jerry Paul Smith, were you acting as a Klansman or as a police informant?

Dawson: I was acting as a police informant. I was here to observe what was being said, if there was any violent talk, and to try to make contact if there was at that time.

Reston: Do you always keep that pistol by your side?

Fletcher: 24 hours a day.

Reston: Can I see it?

Fletcher: Well, it's a .9 mm. It's a good gun. I keep it for self-protection. It's a good gun.

On the morning of the shooting, Dawson made the first of two phone calls to his police contact, Detective Jerry Cooper, nicknamed "Rooster." The police were already taking these photographs across from Brent Fletcher's house. Rooster's assignment that day was to shadow the Klan caravan. Ed Dawson was one of the first arrivals. After staying some minutes, Dawson managed to slip away and make his second call to Rooster.


Reston: What did you say to Rooster at 7:30?

Dawson: That they had a couple of guns.

Reston: You reported to Cooper on the presence of guns?

Dawson: Oh, definitely.

Reston: And what did you say in that second conversation?

Dawson: That there was at that time about 13, 14, or 15 people at Brent's house.

Reston: By that time, you'd seen more weapons?

Dawson: Yes, there was more weapons, yes. Shotguns, handguns.

The police version of events is contained in a report. A careful document, it finds no fault with police conduct and specifically portrays Dawson as a stranger to the department. Some police actions are detailed, however. At 10:00 A.M. Rooster briefed police commanders.

It's clear they were expecting trouble. Rooster related intelligence including the presence of guns. Rooster's intelligence, said the report, was considered reliable and up-to-date. But Dawson was not mentioned as the source.

Meanwhile, the question of leadership was being raised back at Brent Fletcher's.


Reston: Who said, "Who's in charge?"

Dawson: Oh, God knows. Somebody just hollered out.

Reston: And what was the reply to that?

Dawson: I looked at Virgil, Virgil looked at me and Virgil said, "I guess he is. He knows the city better than we do." And Buck made a remark to me, that "you have a copy of the permit." The streets are all on the back of that. And I did have it with me and went out and brought it in the house.

Now the police made a fatal error. With Klan ranks swelling, with the start of the march only a half an hour away, the two tactical squads assigned to the march were given permission to take their lunch break.


Reston: Ed, do you remember saying, "Let's get going. We're running late?"

Dawson: This is correct, yes.

Reston: You looked at your watch and said, "We're running late?"

Dawson: Yes, it was approaching five of 11:00. I wasn't timing it.

Reston: What was so important about getting there right at the time they started?

Dawson: The parade was supposed to go off at 11:00, the Communist parade, "Death to the Klan."

Reston: And you were concerned to get there at the time that it started.

Dawson: At the time, yes.

Whether he intended it to or not, Dawson's haste ensured that the caravan arrived at Morningside before the police finished their sandwiches.


Dawson: We had eight cars with us. The van was last.

Reston: Did you check in on the CB radio about here?

Dawson: Just about here, yes. I used a CB and I asked if everything was OK.

Reston: You said, "KKK"?

Dawson: "KKK, everything OK." And I got a response, "Doing well, doing good."

In the rush to leave Fletcher's, the Klan car had been left behind. It was the blue Ford Fairlane, and most of the guns used in the killing were in the trunk of that car.

Rooster's photographs show the caravan stopped on the interstate ramp waiting for the stray Fairlane. The time was 11:06. Another police photograph shows Dawson walking to the rear of the motorcade as the Fairlane pulls in.


Reston: Did you know that the guns were in the Fairlane?

Dawson: I knew absolutely nothing about the guns in the Fairlane.

Reston: Did you know that you were being photographed by your police case officer?

Dawson: No, I did not. No.

Reston: And you've never seen these photographs before?

Dawson: No, I have not.

Reston: Were you not there in the back of the caravan?

Dawson: I was at the back, but cars coming down the ramp constantly. I just didn't pay attention.

Reston: When the Fairlane arrived, did you direct where the Fairlane should go in the caravan?

Dawson: Absolutely not. I do not remember it. I did not look for it. I did not see it.

As the motorcade pulled out, Rooster communicated constantly with headquarters. Eight minutes before the first shots, police radio crackled with Rooster's alarm.

Headed for Morningside were nine cars, 35 boisterous and belligerent Klansmen.


Reston: OK, we're turning into Everett Street now. All right. Did it surprise you that there were so many people here?

Dawson: Yes, it sure did. The television and newspaper reporters was to our left.

Reston: Where were the police then?

Dawson: There wasn't a police or a cop or an unmarked car in sight.

Reston: And did you recognize anybody on the right there?

Dawson: Just about as we approached this spot here, I recognized Paul Bermazohn. I just looked at him. He looked at me. Our eyes caught. And I said, "You Communist son of a bitch. You asked for the Klan, and here we are."

Reston: And then you stopped.

Dawson: And the reason we stopped -- I was looking back and Buck was looking in his mirror and we stopped. Everybody stopped.

Reston: So it had been very difficult for him to get around, anyway?

Dawson: Oh, yes. Sure.

Reston: Then you got back in and got out here as quickly as you could?

Dawson: Buck came running and said, "Let's get the hell out of here."

Rooster was behind the caravan when the first shots rang out. He stayed a block away for the next 88 seconds. At 11:23 and 47 seconds, he radioed the words, "heavy gunfire." But the lieutenant in charge was still confused about the location of the trouble.

I want you to look at me. Raise your eyes lightly now. And you can tighten your eyes. As you tighten your eyes, just arch your eyebrows back.

During the trial, the court authorized the defense to interview, under hypnosis, a local television reporter named Laura Blumenthal. Hypnosis revived her subconscious feeling that the Communists had brought this upon themselves and this became powerful court testimony for the Klan.


Hypnotist: Very deeply ... Laura I want you to go back to this date, November 3.

Blumenthal: I know what's comin'. I know what's comin'! People start fighting with the sticks that they had ... those posters on. And shots ... and I don't know where they're comin' from. I heard one hit Bloom's car window because I heard it shatter. And I was really scared.

Shots, more shots! Shots are coming from both sides now. I just ... wanted them ... to stop ... shooting! Squealing tires ... I thought, we can get out now. I can get out from under the car. So I got out. Brushed myself off and went around in front of the car. Three people were there, three. One guy on the left -- put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Are you OK?" He turned around and looked at me and he'd been shot. He had blood on his head. I'd never seen anybody get shot. And the guy, he had a really ... big piece ... of his head ... gone. And that blood, a huge pool of blood, and his broken glasses.

And this black woman came over. And she said to me, "Put your hand over the hole in his head. And I said, "You kiss my ass! You started this shit. You put your hand over the hole in his head!"

The guy over against the building, his wife had been looking for him. I couldn't believe it. She went over, put his head in her arms and started yelling about the Klan. "You Klan! This is my husband! Those motherfucking Klan came in here." And her husband's layin' there dying while those paramedics worked on him and she's yelling about the Klan. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. Across the street it was the same thing. We got her on tape. "Long live the Communist Workers' Party. And long live the working class! And in spite of you goddamn cops, revolution!" She was hollerin' at the police, hollerin' at 'em. I thought these people were fuckin' crazy. They're crazy.

In the view of Signe Waller, Floris Cauce, and Dale Sampson, their husbands were the victims of an organized conspiracy.


Signe Waller: When I stood over Jim's body and said, "Long live the Communist Workers' Party" and "Long live the working class," then why I said that was that that moment capsulized for me everything that Jim had lived his life for and had laid down his life for.

Dale Sampson: The moment Jess stopped ... you're kind of in between understanding what's happening, right in front of you, and at the same time, you're aware of everything that's going on. I was aware of Signe across with Jim. But I was very aware that I knew something was terribly wrong besides the fact that my husband was dying in my arms. That I knew that there's no way that this happened by itself. And when Signe stood up across the street from me and said, "Long live the Communist Workers' Party," and "We'll fight for socialist revolution and win despite you cops," it forced me, at least at some level, to become conscious. And I realized that it was a set-up. You know, that we had been set up like a shooting gallery.

Reston: What did you say to that policeman that morning?

Floris Cauce: I was telling him that he and his buddies were responsible for the murders that just happened ... that the Greensboro Police Department was responsible for everything that was going on there ... that all the dead bodies lying on the ground, all the blood on the streets, the fear and anger and hatred that had been spread all over that community -- that he would believe me and understand in a few years that they were responsible for that.

Dale Sampson: I believe the government was involved in the murder of my husband. And while I am dying inside, I am not going to let my husband die without that truth being exposed. Edward Dawson and Bernard Butkovitch were acting as agents in terms of planning out this assassination.


Reston: There's been a case essentially made against you in all of this. Let me see if I can capsulize it. As far as I can tell, there are eight points to it.

Dawson: Alright.

Reston: One, that you acted in a dubious fashion in the October 20 Lincolnton rally. Many people say that you did advocate confrontation, that you advocated taking guns. Secondly, that by being the Klan's pointman, if you will, in Greensboro, that you gave the Klan information about coming in here that they would not ordinarily have. Three, that you gave them a rendezvous point. Four, that you willingly composed and distributed Klan inflammatory literature. Five, that you willingly accepted a leadership role at Brent Fletcher's house. Six, that you rushed people along at Fletcher's house when there was no apparent reason to get there at the absolute opening of the march. You got into Everett Street -- even seeing no police there, you shouted out a provocative statement at Paul Bermazohn. And lastly, that the car was stopped. When you stopped the car, you blocked an escape for the whole caravan which led to the violence. Now that's the case all in a capsule. What do you say about that?

Dawson: Start over on the first one.

Reston: We've gone through it all, point by point. I'm asking you about it as a total case. Is that a fair case? Is there a case against Eddy Dawson?

Dawson: I don't like to use the word "frame-up job." These are a bunch of half-wits that got themselves into a jam and they're looking for a scapegoat and they had been laying it on my shoulder for two and a half years. They're not big enough to admit their part in it. I can't control this thing any more than ... I'm not the city police.

Reston: This is one more peril of being a police informant, isn't it? When you're exposed, they want to discard you.

Dawson: Discard you is right. That's for sure. When this happened, it happened on a Saturday. I heard nothing from the police until Tuesday. They never called, was never interested -- "Are you okay? Can we do anything for you?" -- or anything. They just let you go down the drain like a rotten piece of meat.

He was now truly alone. To blame it all on him would exonerate all others. Once at his house, he put on his old uniform for me -- the same uniform he designed for the Klan security forces.

I wore the uniform so I wouldn't have to wear the robe.

True, the episode might not have happened but for Dawson's provocateur behavior. But he only became involved at the behest of the authorities. They launched him into the darkness with no guidance. They ignored valuable information he did provide.

Five deeply committed people are dead. Their tombstone calls them martyrs, but they were far from innocent victims.

For me, the conclusion is inescapable: the police could have prevented the massacre. They could have stopped the caravan and they could have been at Morningside. Was their failure to do so accidental or deliberate?

At least this can be said: no matter how undesirable a majority may view them, Americans should be able to take to the streets without fear that police or their agents will promote or tolerate violence against them.



A federal grand jury is expected to return new indictments in the Greensboro case at any time. Eddy Dawson has been called to testify. Until that case and others are resolved, no law enforcement agency alleged to be involved in Greensboro can comment. Please be assured that when they can, FRONTLINE stands ready to report it.

However, Greensboro is only part of an ongoing nationwide debate on the need to use informants versus the need to protect individual freedoms. The FBI guidelines for informers put into effect after Watergate are now being called too restrictive. FBI Director William Webster has asked for fewer restrictions.

On a local level, many police departments, including Greensboro's, told FRONTLINE they do have guidelines on use of informants. But at this time, no uniform policies exist.

Historically, the tougher the economic times become in this country, the more vulnerable we become to the type of misdirected rage and frustration that begets violence. We have charged our law enforcement agencies with the awesome responsibility of, on the one hand, assuring our constitutional right -- to speak out, to bear arms, and to assemble; while on the other hand, ensuring we may do so in safety. That is a delicate problem. The larger question left by whatever you choose to believe really led up to those 88 seconds in Greensboro is at what point does an informer cease being part of the solution and instead, contribute to the problem?



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