On May 11, 1970, race riots erupt in Augusta.
Although some argue the beating death of a sixteen year-old black
inmate in the Richmond
County Jail sparked the unrest, Mayor Millard A. Beckum claims
the violence is unwarranted. Allegedly,
two black inmates beat Charles Oatman to death in his cell. Officials
insists that an inaccurate report blamed prison guards for the
beating. Notwithstanding the offical report, black citizens doubted
the guards' innocence and unrest spread throughout the downtown
district. During an outbreak of violence at the City-County building
where black citizens gathered in protest of Oatman's death, demonstrators
destroyed a Georgia state flag. Over the course of the protest,
citizens looted businesses, set fifty-one fires, and blocked fire
engines and police cars from entering the area. Six men lay dead
at the end of the hostilities.
The next day, Georgia
Maddox traveled to Augusta to
address the city's residents. This WSB clip filmed May 12, 1970 shows the visual effects of the riot followed by comments from Maddox an an unidentified African American man. Governor
Maddox blames the riots on a forty-year-old conspiracy supported
by Americans and international sympathizers. His reference points
to the oft repeated charge of civil rights activist being affiliated
with communism. The young black
man from Augusta disagrees with the governor’s statements.
He explains that unlike whites who had little contact with
the black communities in the city, local blacks recognize the
long simmering racial tensions in Augusta as a catalyst for the
Mayor Beckum met with black
leaders two days after the riots to discuss long-term
solutions to the race based problems that instigated the riots.
The mayor agreed to grant African Americans opportunities
to obtain higher paying jobs within the city's business district.
The meeting also resutled in the formation of a Human Rights Committee
aimed at closing the communication gap between black and white
Augustans. In spite of the violence that occurred to secure these
Augusta Chronicle described Augusta as more progressive than
other southern cities in terms of its treatment of issues regarding
A staunch segregationists, Governor Maddox often warned Georgians
to stay away from communists and socialists influences. Many
conservatives before and after the 1940s and 1950s believed communists
supported desegregation and the Civil
Rights Movement as an effort to divide Americans. They pointed
to the argument presented by some communists that America
would decay from within; therefore the racial divide represented
an open door for the fall of the country. By ignoring the racial
problems that led to civil disobedience, politicians attemped to
label African American protesters as unpatriotic and disloyal to
the United States.
The press conference and interview seen in this clip epitomize
distinctions between white conservatives and civil rights activists.
The two often held opposing view points on the state of race relations,
the solution to such problems, and, as this clip shows, if such
problems really existed. Maddox’s words displayed his refusal
to accept the dire situation of African Americans in Augusta. His
stance and those of other segregationists remained an integral component
of the Civil Rights Movement. In the days after assassination
of the Reverend Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr on April 4, 1968, race
riots broke out in nearly every major American city as
blacks retaliated in disbelief to the murder. They also protested
the slow progress of civil rights legislation. The depth of discontent
among African Americans that the riots revelaed suprised some whites
who had denied or refused to believe the racial tensions
in their cities. The riots forced Americans to pay attention
to racial equality and reconciliation.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. The young man in
this WSB clip speaks for Augusta's African
American community. Do you think that his words are an
accurate portrayal of the entire community? If not, what facet of
the Civil Rights Movement do you think he most likely represented
and why? Are there problems with the media creating "spokespersons"
to speak for race, gender, or other group?
2. To what extent do you believe that Maddox’s fear of a Communist
conspiracy was a legitimate threat to the nation? What role, if
any, do you think Communism played in the Civil Rights Movement?
3. The event preceding the Augusta riot was the beating death of
an inmate in the jail which was never linked to violence from jail
officers. Listening to the young man in the clip, he doesn't mention
the jail death as a reason for the riot. What issues might contribute
to such strong reactions as riots? What issues in the nation today
do you believe would provoke an incident of this caliber?
4. Riots and protests do
not receive same amount of attention or result in as much social
progress today as they once did. Is violence a good option in getting
change or attention or are there more effective means?
Take it to the Streets!
On December 4, 2006, six black students
at Jena High School beat white student Justin Barker. The beating
occurred because of recent hate crimes in Jena, Louisiana in which
white students hung nooses from trees in clear view of African Americans.
The Jena 6, face charges of attempted murder and battery but many
supporters believe these charges to be racially discriminatory.
The white students, who hung the nooses, have yet to be charged,
and as a result, thousands of protestors marched on Jena causing
“the largest civil rights demonstration in years.”
hate crime in the United States from the civil rights movement
that caused a strong reaction in the African American community.
Did the media or government choose one side over another? What
was the national reaction in both black and white communities?
In what ways was the situation different or similar than the Jena-6
incident? Finally, formulate your own opinion about the hate
crime that you researched and the Jena-6 incident. In your opinion,
is the quote correct in claiming that the Jena incident was indeed
a civil rights demonstration? Could/Should more such civil rights
demonstrations take place in the immediate future? Why or Why
Writers: Kayley Perkins, Emily Stone, Ava Landrum, Andrew Bagley
and Abigail Shrader, students in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL
4860 (The Civil Rights Movement in American Literature), Fall 2007.
Editors and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis,
and Professor Barbara McCaskill Web
Site Designer: William Weems
Freedom on Film is not responsible
for the content of external web sites.