Dr. James Michael “Jim” Waller was born on November 5, 1942, and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. While a student he worked at a clinic in Woodlawn, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. He also doctored injured protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and in 1973 set up a clinic outside of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, to treat the Oglala Lakota who were under siege. Before completing his residency at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, New York, he visited Cuba with a group of doctors to learn about their healthcare system. Back in New York Waller joined the People’s Health Center, a group founded on Marxist principles that worked to expose hospital staff indifferent to poverty in the community.
In 1975 he was offered a post-doctorate fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at the Duke University School of Medicine. That same year he became involved in the organization of the Carolina Brown Lung Association. The organization set up clinics and screenings throughout North Carolina and South Carolina to test textile workers for brown lung. In 1976 he became active in Study Training Circles sponsored by the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO).
Finding the medical profession in conflict with his political beliefs, Waller abandoned medicine. He also left the CBLA due to brown lung victims’ aversion to communism and his desire to work more directly with actively employed textile workers. In August 1976 became a textile worker at Cone Mills Granite Finishing Plant in Haw River, North Carolina. There he worked to increase membership in the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. In 1977 or 1978 he was inducted into the WVO. In April of 1977 he met Signe Waller, and they were married in January 1978, celebrating their union on March 7.
In the summer of 1978, Waller helped organize a strike of the Local 1113 T of the Granite Plant. The strike ended with few gains being made, and workers subsequently began their annual week-long summer break. When Waller returned to the plant, he was fired for falsifying his employment application by failing to mention his higher education. He went on to fight the dismissal, and no ruling was be made before his death. In the fall of 1979, the Workers Viewpoint Organization changed its name to the Communist Workers Party (CWP). Waller was then elected to the Central Committee.
On July 8, 1979, Waller participated in the CWP organized protest of the Ku Klux Klan’s presentation of Birth of a Nation at the China Grove, North Carolina, town hall. Feeling the protest was a success, the CWP organized an anti-Klan march and conference for November 3, 1979, in Greensboro. The CWP and protest participants convened that morning at Morningside Homes. At 11:18 a caravan of cars carrying Klansmen and Nazis arrived. After a shot was fired from the head of the caravan, caravan members removed guns from the trunk of one of the cars. In the following eighty-eight seconds, five members of the CWP were killed. Waller had retrieved a riffle from a fellow protestor’s truck when he fought with assailants. The gun left his hands and he began to run for cover. He was shot multiple times in the back, and died shortly after.