Greensboro Riots 1969

May 19-20, 1969
Violence erupts after weeks of community meetings and protests over administrators not allowing a student election to stand at Dudley High School. Students are arrested. Police are accused of misconduct.

May 21
Students assemble again near Dudley. The principal requests police aid. Rock throwing erupts. Tear gas is used to disperse the crowd. Activity moves to A&T. The mayor requests National Guard assistance. By 8 p.m., police barricade streets in the area to prevent white motorists from traveling through. Late that evening, police and the National Guard begin receiving sniper fire. Sometime late that night or early the next morning, Willie Grimes, A&T student is shot in the back of the head.

May 22
Students bring Grimes by car to Moses Cone Hospital. He is pronounced dead on arrival at 1:30 a.m . Another student is shot in the leg. Reports of sniper fire continue until dawn. At 10 a.m., the mayor declares a state of emergency. A curfew is imposed. That afternoon, A&T officials announce the school will close as of 6 p.m. May 23. Gunfire continues throughout the evening between students and police.

May 23: Five police officers are wounded, one seriously, when they are shot near Scott Hall at 1 a.m. The National Guard sweeps Cooper and Scott halls at 7 a.m., fearing a large number of firearms are being stored. Students are taken downtown and released that afternoon. Nine weapons, three of them operable, are found.

Aug. 26: The police chief announces that findings in the joint police and SBI investigation into Willie Grimes' death are inconclusive.

Oct. 3-4: A state arm of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights holds hearings in Greensboro on the "disturbances" at Dudley and A&T. Grimes is mentioned little in the testimony.

March 1970: The committee concludes an underlying system of inequality in the city created conditions that caused violence to erupt. It offers recommendations on changes.

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Another life almost lost
The night after the killing of Willie Grimes, Greensboro police Officer Leon Sutton nearly lost his life.
Five police officers and two students also were injured by gunfire as riots broke out in late May 1969 at N.C. A&T. Sutton was the most seriously injured. No one was charged.
Sutton said in a recent interview that he and other officers at a checkpoint witnessed items being taken from A&T’s student union early May 23. Other officers responded to the break-in and came under fire. Sutton thinks the break-in was meant to lure officers there.
When Sutton and the officers attempted to assist, they, too, were ambushed by gunfire. Sutton almost didn’t make it. The bullet that hit him entered and exited near his left shoulder. A quick-thinking reserve officer probably saved his life by using a tear-gas canister as pressure against the wound. Doctors at Moses Cone Hospital weren’t optimistic.
But Sutton, now 61, pulled through after months of recovery and surgery.
Although he initially lost use of his left arm, a surgery in the early 1970s gave it back to him. He has limited use of his left hand.
The shooting altered his career considerably. Assigned to the police training division, Sutton became a sergeant and was the department’s training supervisor until he retired in 1996. He received a promotion to lieutenant but didn’t think it was fair to take it because of his injury.
“You have responsibility to the people you’re working with,” he said.


By Amy Dominello, Staff Writer
Published December 17, 2006

Sources: Report from the North Carolina State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, News & Record reporting

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