UNCG Research

Professor documents country’s first Truth and Reconciliation effort

Posted on Thursday, November 1st, 2012 by Sangeetha Shivaji.
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Article by Betsi Robinson, University Relations

Spoma Jovanovic

Spoma Jovanovic, Assistant Professor, Communication

More than a decade ago, Dr. Spoma Jovanovic was teaching a class on social change at UNCG when a grassroots group in Greensboro announced the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to examine the Klan-Nazi shootings that rocked the city on Nov. 3, 1979.

Inspired by a similar effort in post-apartheid South Africa, it would become the first commission of its kind in the United States. Jovanovic’s students decided to document the commission’s work for a class project.

This week, as the city marks the 33rd anniversary of the shootings that left five people dead at a protest organized by the Communist Workers Party in a local African American neighborhood, Jovanovic’s new book on the topic is fresh from the printer.

“Democracy, Dialogue, and Community Action: Truth and Reconciliation in Greensboro” will be unveiled at a book signing from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at Glenwood Coffee & Books, 1310 Glenwood Ave., Greensboro. The event is open to the public.

Despite two criminal trials, none of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi members who opened fire on the protesters that day were convicted in the killings, exposing what many believed to be the inadequacy of the judicial and political systems in the United States.

Jovanovic, a communications scholar, advocate, and associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at UNCG, didn’t set out to write a book about the project. But she said it became abundantly clear in the early stages of organizing the TRC that the effort could be critical to the city’s economic health and wellbeing. And it could be a model for other communities experiencing similar conflicts.

“Greensboro is not the only city that has had a tragic event in its history,” she said. “That Greensboro was brave enough to tackle this says a lot about the character of this community.”

The book documents the historical significance of the community’s effort to seek truth and work for reconciliation as the TRC took public testimony and examined the causes and consequences of the killings. It outlines a variety of discourse models communities can use in seeking to redress past harms and promote participatory democracy.

““We have many, many instances where government officials or company executives have hidden information,” she said. “People know there are truths that have been hidden, and in hiding them it has allowed other policies and practices to go on unquestioned.”

Being open about such matters is important for a community to move forward, Jovanovic said.

“I think transparency in government and in communities is vital. People know when things are not right,” the professor said. “The principle of coming together to discuss issues – to put on the table what hasn’t been on the table before – and talk about how to move forward, I think it’s pretty important and needed everywhere.”

“Democracy, Dialogue, and Community Action: Truth and Reconciliation in Greensboro,” 285 pages, is published by University of Arkansas Press.