Special Assignment: Family member recalls deadly jail beating that sparked Augusta race riots

By: Chris Thomas Email
By: Chris Thomas Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, May 11, 2010

AUGUSTA,Ga---Her 16 year old mentally challenged nephew was beaten to death by inmates in the Richmond County jail. Carrie Oatman is talking only to 12 about the beating death that drove hundreds into Augusta streets.

It all happened May 11, 1970. They set fire to more than 100 square blocks.

Law enforcement soon took to the streets. Six people died.

"That didn't have to happen," said Carrie Oatman. "It was bad."

Georgia guards and tanks lined city streets. They blazed what was called "a trail of sorrow."

"The people tore the places down where they had food to eat," said Carrie. "They just went and they destroyed all of that."

Carrie's 16 year old mentally challenged nephew, Charles Oatman, was found dead after numerous severe beatings in the county jail.

"Looked like forks were jabbed in his flesh," said Carrie. "I said oh my God, and I passed out."

"We didn't know anything like this could happen," said former city council member Grady Abrams. "We thought we had good race relations."

Grady voiced his concern over the radio.

"I looked at this boy's body. He had cigarette burn marks from the tip of his feet all the way to his neck," said Abrams. "He had fork marks all over his body."

Grady's words drove an angry mob to the city building. They burned the state flag, and rioting followed.
Grady was later blamed for starting the riot.

"There were people in the neighborhood who had prepared people to throw the first rock," said Grady. "They were there, and I'm not going to revise history to protect them."

"How could I in good conscience and good moral standing see this atrocity and keep my mouth closed," questioned Grady.

Carrie feels some responsibility lies with Oatman's mother who died in 2009.

Charles was behind bars for murdering his younger relative.
"They knew that child was off. They should not have left no gun around for him to go in that kitchen and kill that little girl," cried Carrie. "I blame them for that."

There was plenty of blame to go around. At least one black man, Sammy Lee Parks, served time for killing Oatman.

"People didn't know Charles Oatman. They could care less about Charles Oatman," declared Abrams. "But it gave them an opportunity to vent the anger that they had."

Living conditions were poor. There were the nice areas of town, and then there were the black areas that had dirt roads and poor sewage. Those conditions led some to say enough is enough.

"If any good thing came out of the riot it would be that politicians began to listen to the voices coming out of the black community," said Abrams. "Including me."


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  • by Corey Washington Location: Augusta GA on Jan 28, 2011 at 11:09 PM
    Deborah, there are many things that you just "get over". Things like a cold, a headache, a failed relationship, not getting your way. However, slavery is not something that you just "get over". Deborah, I'm not sure what history books you've read, but our forefathers did not intend for black people to have anything. The plan was for blacks to still be slaves. It took amendments to the constitution to gain rights for blacks and women.Don't blame the white man, but recognize the flaws of the system. a system that is still working out the kinks to include other people besides WASP men.
  • by Deborah Location: Hephzibah on Aug 16, 2010 at 07:47 AM
    To Charles, I'm not sure which history books you've read, but our forefathers did not intend for black people to have dirt roads and raw sewage. This day in age, black people have the same opportunities as white people to go to school, educate themselves, and get a decent job. Then they can move away from them "dirt roads and raw sewage". White people live in poor conditions too. You may not be racist, but to blame white people who lived hundreds of years ago for the conditions that black people live in today, well, that's just stupid. The situation will change, but it's up to each individual to change their own situation. Quit blaming white people for every little thing that goes wrong in the black community. Slavery is over and it didn't happen to you. Get over it.
  • by charles Location: louisville on Jun 9, 2010 at 11:36 AM
    i know pain and hurt,a lot of injustices have been done,i don,t see a reason why the looting and burning had to happen,the lad didn,t have to die that was because of some inmate that wanted a name for himself. this should never have happened.we still have dirt roads in the black community and raw sewerage so much haven,t change politics is still politics a bunch of bs.raceism is here to stay and its not just white people are racist not all but some we have black racists as well.people just don,t think the forefathers set this plan in motion many,many years ago,they intended for you to have dirt roads and raw sewerage and that won,t ever change even obama can,t change that.by the way i am not racists just truthful
  • by Anonymous on May 12, 2010 at 10:45 AM
    Truth, if what you say is true, would the fact that he was in custody and still killed, over what must have been more than a few minutes, to have suffered cigarette burns all over his body, be enough reason for the mob to take to the street. Why were the guards not protecting him?
  • by WILLIAM Location: NORTH AUGUSTA on May 12, 2010 at 06:50 AM
    IF THAT WAS MY FAMILY MEMBER, NEIGHBOR, OR WHATEVER, I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'D DO. HE WAS IN CUSTODY.
  • by TRUTH Location: AUGUSTA on May 12, 2010 at 06:14 AM
    THE TRUTH IS THAT OATMAN WAS KILLED BY OTHER BLACKS ! POOR EXCUSE TO BLAME WHITES ! MISGUIDED AND TOTALLY UNCALLED FOR !!!!
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