Panelists discuss their experiences during 1970 Augusta riot

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Many Augusta residents remember May 11, 1970. They just haven’t talked about it much since then.

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Sea Stachura moderated a discussion Saturday about Augusta's race riot in 1970. Attorney Bill Coleman and former City Council member Grady Abrams shared their memories of the incident.  LISA KAYLOR/STAFF
LISA KAYLOR/STAFF
Sea Stachura moderated a discussion Saturday about Augusta's race riot in 1970. Attorney Bill Coleman and former City Council member Grady Abrams shared their memories of the incident.

As a result, many younger Augustans don’t know about the race riot that ripped through downtown Augusta, leaving six black men dead, dozens injured and businesses from Broad Street to Walton Way plundered.

Georgia Regents Univer­sity instructor Sea Stachura wants to change that. She staged two panel discussions about what happened that day and why.

The discussions are part of a larger project to capture the oral histories of people who remember the event.

“My hope is that we can publish a book that gets a better understanding of why this happened and what happened, but in the voices of the people that were there,” she said.

Grady Abrams, a city councilman at the time and one of two panelists at Saturday’s discussion, recalled how the riot unfolded for about 75 people at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library.

His radio report of the death of 16-year-old Charles Oatman was a factor in the riot. Oatman, who was mentally ill, had been in jail for killing his niece.

“This boy that was killed was 16 years old and should not have been there in the first place,” he said.

Abrams described the cigarette burns he saw on the young man’s body. Oatman also had three long gashes in his back, and the back of his head had been busted.

Officials said he died after falling off his bunk, Abrams said.

“I reported that death on that Sunday evening on the radio program I had – a talk show,” Abrams said. “People met me at the county jail to get answers as to what happened with the boy. Jail officials gave us the regular rap that they regularly give people when they don’t want to give out information.”

On Monday morning, Abrams went to speak to the crowd assembled in front of the courthouse, but no one wanted to listen. Instead, someone tossed a rock at a city bus, he said. Then more rocks were tossed. White people were pulled from their cars and beaten. Businesses owned by whites and Chinese were looted and burned.

Attorney Bill Coleman, who was appointed to represent rioters who needed a lawyer, said he put the events out of his mind, never mentioning them to his three children, until the Richmond County Historical Society asked him to talk about the riot five years ago.

“My most vivid memory is that Tuesday morning, coming to Broad Street, the smell, the odor, because of all of the fires,” he said. “It was plastic and paint, chemicals and wood and carpet, and it was a very strong (odor). My eyes burned from it.”

Archived photographs were projected as Abrams and Coleman spoke.

Drewvonda Miller left the discussion early, upset after listening to discussion about current race relations, which Abrams said were worse now than before the riot.

Misty-eyed, she said, “Sit­ting in there, it just shows that racism still goes on. A lot of people there are still angry about what went on, but nobody wants to take ownership of who started the riot, why the riot started.

“The only thing that’s changed is blacks have more rights now than they did then,” she said.

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just an opinion
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just an opinion 02/24/13 - 12:40 am
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Tell the whole truth

It was later proven that other black inmates actually caused the young boy's injuries. Are you going to leave that part out of the discussion?

nycweeks
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nycweeks 02/24/13 - 03:56 am
1
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Whitey Gonna Pay

Whitey took control of those black inmates and made them hurt another black inmate. We are tired of these hypnotists making innocent people commit crimes...enough is enough. Whitey gonna pay.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 02/24/13 - 08:48 am
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Augusta Has Changed

I don't get the part about the woman leaving early and saying racism still goes on. Then she admits blacks have more rights now.

Let's see, Augusta has a black Sheriff, has had black School Superintendents for a decade, has 5 blacks on the Commission, an elected black Tax Commissioner and a bevy of black department heads. You have to be realistic when you criticize with hopes of improving matters. Of course if your goal is something else you can ignore what you don't want to admit.

Austin Rhodes
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Austin Rhodes 02/24/13 - 10:02 am
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2
RM...your list is way too short...

...add an elected black Mayor...major city facilities named in honor of several wonderful black leaders and talents...the most powerful man in Augusta (for a time) was the state senate majority leader, the most powerful black legislator in Georgia history...

The successful careers of people like Judge David Watkins, Alphonzo Williams, Monty Jones, Minnesota Fattz and Cher Best, countless TV reporters (Frank Thomas, Chris Thomas, Kimberly Scott, etc etc etc...)

The opportunities in Augusta are there for ANYONE who works hard, obeys the law, and keeps at it.

ymnbde
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ymnbde 02/24/13 - 10:20 am
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really incompetent writing

surely the writer of this article had some degree of formal training in journalism, so we must assume the facts of how the boy actually died were deliberately left out. That fact will hold this writer partially responsible for any similar future occurrences.

Pops
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Pops 02/24/13 - 10:23 am
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The people

involved in the looting and burning those couple of days did not give a rat's rear end about the kid that died. It was an opportunity to hit the streets and emulate what they had seen occur the previous couple of years in Watts and other areas of some major cities.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 02/24/13 - 10:33 am
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Dig & stir

OOh my...can we open another can of worms.....geez

We have a black PRESIDENT ---a BLACK Attr General.....Augusta has umpteen black leaders .....but still we stir the pot.....

Question....why?

JRC2024
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JRC2024 02/24/13 - 11:29 am
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Did you see the upper class

Did you see the upper class black people rioting-NO. Did you see the lower class black people rioting-YES. Seems it is only those that stay at the bottom of the financial ladder and want what everyone else has that do the acting out. No matter the year or time. Ms. Miller if you think things are not better then you need to take off the dark glasses. Billions have been spent to help both white and black and some it will never help.

Darby
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Darby 02/24/13 - 12:24 pm
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"...current race relations, which Abrams said

were worse now than before the riot."

Well, I guess that if Abrams said it, that settles it doesn't it???

Rather than working together, for ourselves and future generations, some people are just going to continue to stir the pudding. They see the key to personal power in turmoil and dissatisfaction.

Pops
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Pops 02/24/13 - 12:43 pm
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Abrams

is nothing more than an Al Sharpton wannbe.........

pelumaad
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pelumaad 02/24/13 - 01:00 pm
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The "race" problem...

....can be summarized easily. You either believe "black" people are as human as anyone else and have been severely damaged by this country.....or.....you subscribe to clearly racist ideas about inferiority. It seems most of the comments here are from the second group. At any rate, as long as large communities of impoverished minorities persist in this country, racism is alive and well. I'd love to comment on the riot but I only became aware of it recently by reading about it in the James Brown biography "The One".

Grandpa Jones
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Grandpa Jones 02/24/13 - 01:03 pm
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....

After the Civil War, we had black senators, congressmen, successful business people, etc, but this didn't stop the Jim Crow era from happening.

GnipGnop
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GnipGnop 02/24/13 - 01:30 pm
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2
Let's discuss racism...

I am white and have never voted for a white candidate because he/she is white and I have never voted against a black candidate because he/she is black...I wonder if a majority of another race can say the same?

AugustaGirl
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AugustaGirl 02/24/13 - 03:40 pm
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1970 riot programs

First off, high praise to Prof. Sea Stachura, Grady Abrams and Bill Coleman for their parts in Stachura's setting up of the programs and for Misters Abrams and Coleman for taking part to speak about the 1970 riot. We definitely need more talks to make sure the facts of the situation are clearly understood. Rioting is never acceptable but back in those days, it seemed much easier for a lot of folks to get to start and/or participate in them. There needs to be understanding from yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's generations so that the same bad things will not happen again. We need more open discussions where we can hear the many sides involved around the riots. Also, the Special Collections room of ASU Reese Library holds a folder full of articles about the riot as covered by out of state and out of town newspapers, many not depending on the then slanted views of the writers of the daily paper of that time. Ms. Kaylor, please do study those articles and perhaps you can then better understand some of the things that were discussed when you were present Saturday, Feb. 23.

Darby
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Darby 02/24/13 - 04:34 pm
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2
"as long as large communities of impoverished....

minorities persist in this country, racism is alive and well."
.
That's not unlike saying that, "As long as people keep going to movies, cats will drink milk." What on earth does one have to do with the other? The answer; absolutely NOTHING!

There are large communities of "impoverished" minorities in this country because it serves the Democrat party to have them.

The moment a person (black or white or whatever) becomes self-sufficient, he becomes less likely to vote for a system designed to take away from him and give to another.

Keeping blacks downtrodden is the only way to ensure the survival of the liberal ideology. Large numbers of successful minorities would spell the eternal demise of the Democrat party.

Darby
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Darby 02/24/13 - 04:54 pm
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1
"After the Civil War, we had black senators,....

congressmen, successful business people, etc, but this didn't stop the Jim Crow era from happening."
.

That might just be because those folks were installed by the victorious Republican run federal government. Granted, it was done for all the right reasons (and maybe just a little vindictiveness) but it takes time to change hearts and minds.

What the federal government attempted to do during reconstruction was not unlike a dentist attempting to straighten teeth with a hammer rather than with braces.

Having traveled the county and much of the world, I'd venture to say that we here, in the south have done a better job with race relations that most other parts of the country. Having said that, there are some who will never come to terms with the reality that there is not a single soul who is alive today who actually bears the scars of slavery. It's long past the time we should move on...

If not now, then when? As long as politics play a part, the answer is NEVER!

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/24/13 - 07:39 pm
5
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First post.

Regarding the first post by "just an opinion" and the question that is posed in it: "It was later proven that other black inmates actually caused the young boy's injuries. Are you going to leave that part out of the discussion?" I want an answer to that question. Otherwise I might think this is a race-baiting article, poor research, inflammatory and/or biased reporting. Can it be something else less unflattering to the author of the article? If so, please clarify. I find it discouraging that myths about the riots still persist and facts, such as "just my opinion" posted, are still suppressed or ignored. To what end? Is it no wonder things don't seem to be any better here now?

HenryWalker3rd
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HenryWalker3rd 02/24/13 - 07:52 pm
2
5
As you can see from the
Unpublished

As you can see from the comments, there needs to be more presentations like this.

Yes, blacks have been severely damaged....either you can see that or you choose to not see it.

Name one race (the American Black) that has suffered more physically and MENTALLY.

Ask yourself why.

JRC2024
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JRC2024 02/24/13 - 08:49 pm
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henry, today alot of the

henry, today alot of the problems are self imposed.

KSL
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KSL 02/24/13 - 08:59 pm
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JRC

I was just thinking the same thing.

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/24/13 - 09:01 pm
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To answer

To answer, HenryWalker3rd, I will first mention the Jewish Race, then the Native Americans, who were nearly annihilated as a race as well. And there are untold thousands of people of different races, including the White and Asian races, over thousands of years who have been murdered for one reason or another. Most blacks, on the other hand, in this country, were put to work in mostly hard labor conditions without freedom or pay, something that has also happened to members of nearly every race. Many were treated cruelly, many were murdered for little or no provocation, but to put a quantifier on which race has suffered more physically and mentally, I don't think that can be done without insulting the memory of those who died before, during and after slavery. Why don't you ask the Syrians that question? What race would you say they are?

AutumnLeaves
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AutumnLeaves 02/25/13 - 02:59 pm
3
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To sum up:

To sum up, we are all damaged in our ancestries. Man's inhumanity to man has gone on as long as humans have existed and longer than the written record. What matters is who are we going to be now and how are we going to treat each other from this day forward? Those evil people who wish to divide and conquer will continue to find people will fall for it. Will we never understand that only united we stand? Divided we will fall, surely as the evil Mr. Lynch succeeded in his letter of advice to plantation owners, telling them to pit blacks against blacks, telling slave owners to plant seeds of distrust between the women and men, the parents and children, even the variations of skin color among them, to sow discord so they could never be strong together. So it will be with this country if we continue to battle among ourselves, race against race, ethnicity against ethnicity, region against region and political party against political party, instead of uniting for the good of the HUMAN race who make up the citizenry of this country.

Darby
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Darby 02/24/13 - 11:02 pm
2
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"Yes, blacks have been severely damaged....

either you can see that or you choose to not see it."

If you mean damaged by racism, then you are the one unable to see. On the other hand, if you mean damaged by liberal, progressive Democrat racial politics, then you may have a very valid point.

Democrats have kept blacks down for fifty years and they continue to do it today. It's counterproductive to keep someone and his entire family on welfare for generation after generation, with no hope of ever knowing real equality, yet that is what the so-called progressives have done.

Not to acknowledge that is to suggest that blacks are inferior. We know they are not. Once you accept that, then you must look elsewhere to find why blacks do worse in school than they did fifty years ago. To determine that more blacks are unemployed per capita than whites. To learn why so many households are run by single black mothers.. And on and on and on..

If it's not because liberal policies have repressed American blacks, then what? It's certainly NOT because they are inferior because you and I know that's not the case and NEVER HAS BEEN.

So many are kept down because it guarantees a solid voter base for the Democrat agenda. And if America doesn't wake up, that will never change!

Blacks need to be treated equally, encouraged and given a chance to thrive, not sheltered and kept in line with bare subsistence.

HenryWalker3rd
2393
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HenryWalker3rd 02/25/13 - 12:48 pm
2
1
Seriously.
Unpublished

1. Forced seperation and division of families
2. Slavery
3. Jim Crow Laws

"Successful Blacks" IS NOT a sign that racisim in not alive.

There were successful blacks after the Civil War.....did that stop Jim Crow Laws?

HenryWalker3rd
2393
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HenryWalker3rd 02/25/13 - 12:49 pm
3
0
Darby, are black people the
Unpublished

Darby, are black people the only ones on welfare?

Darby
23557
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Darby 02/25/13 - 01:59 pm
2
2
Darby, are black people the only ones on welfare?

No, and YOU know that I never suggested that. On the other hand, on a per captia basis, many more blacks ARE on welfare than whites and the Democrats move in almost every social program they come up with to move more and more blacks onto the roles.

The more blacks (and whites) they make dependent on government handouts, the more secure they are in elective office. People who are dependent are easily controlled. Democrats know that and practice it ruthlessly.

If we are to bring people out of poverty and into the mainstream, then you give them the means to lift themselves up. What the Democrats have been doing for more than five decades is provide just enough "help" to keep them down but still faithful to the Democrat party. Until poor blacks are treated as equals in both opportunity and responsibility, they will remain wards of the system.

And yes, that advice would apply to whites as well, just not in such large numbers. Poor whites have not been targeted by liberals to the extent that poor blacks have. Probably because it's SO MUCH EASIER to demagogue race than poverty.

Darby
23557
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Darby 02/28/13 - 07:41 pm
1
0
The two "thumbs down" on the above post....

does nothing but point out that some folks are locked in to the "keep them down by keeping them on welfare" mentality of the Democrat agenda.

No one can reach people like that...

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