AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) – The death of an African American teen in Augusta was in the national spotlight 50 years ago on this date.
Accusations of police brutality resulted in riots that left Augusta scarred both physically and emotionally.
Augusta’s race riots became national news in 1970.
The New York Times newspaper reports covered the story.
The Augusta Chronicle announcing “state guardsmen activated.”
Rioters burned buildings and looted stores.
Many people driving in the area were injured by bricks that were hurled by angry residents.
The race riots in Augusta were the result of pain that has now found a purpose.
May 11, 1970 is a date many Augusta residents aren’t old enough to remember.
But others will never forget.
“We were told to go home. Don’t get involved with anything. They probably knew what was going on and they didn’t want us involved,” recalls Rodriegus Gardner.
He was a senior at Lucy C. Laney high school.
Despite the school’s efforts to dismiss students and block them from trouble that was brewing, Gardner ended up with a clear vantage point from his home at carver drive and 15th street.
“They start throwing rocks at the traffic and it escalated from there. I saw someone get pulled from a truck and he was beaten. They took everything from the truck,” he reflects.
It all started at the old justice center now known as the Municipal building.
Black residents demanded answers after mentally challenged African American teen Charles Oatman was placed in an adult jail, savagely beaten and killed behind bars.
With more questions and no answers residents became enraged.
“The Variety Curb Market was a scene where you saw people running out of there with their arms full of merchandise.”
During the riots, six black men were shot in the back and killed by local police.
50 years later, and just two blocks from the starting point of the riots, students at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts are part of a podcast that is shining a light on this dark spot in the city’s history.
“It’s made me more sensitive and also given me a better understanding,” says student Atticus Dillard-Wright.
For student Atticus Dillard-Wright that past is also helping him better understand some of the pain of the present.
“I used to like not really see how it was racist to say certain things. But, now I kind of see that and also I understand more about certain topics,” he explains.
The podcast is a partnership between the Jessye Norman School of the Arts and Georgia Public Broadcast and led by teacher Sea Stachura.
“The Jessye Norman School of the Arts gave me the opportunity to make this into something that wasn’t just creating something that documents the history but also gets our younger people involved and makes it alive and relevant,” says Stachura.
Once the smoked cleared from the riots the healing began.
But the riot still serves as a lesson to prevent this hurt in the future.
“I think that everybody should learn from it and we’ll all be better in the future from it,” concludes Rodriegus Gardner.
The Augusta riot is considered the largest black uprising in the deep south during the civil rights era.
A group called the “1970 Augusta Riot Observance Committee” has documented what happened from the beginning to the end on a Facebook page titled “1970 Augusta Riot.”
Events were scheduled to observe this week in Augusta history.
But they were postponed to an unscheduled date due to the current pandemic.
The student podcast “Shots in the back” will be released in July.
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