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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