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‘You have to speak up’: Jessye Norman students help produce 1970 Augusta Riots podcast

Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 8:15 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Recent protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have ignited change for students at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

The students working on a podcast about the 1970 Augusta riots when six black men were shot and killed by white police officers. That movement was also sparked by the murder of Charles Oatman -- a Black man in police custody.

"When the video for George Floyd came out, I realized we needed to bring this into the conversation," teacher Sea Stachura said.

Since 2011, Stachura has had her head in the books researching the riots. When she joined the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, she and school leaders had a vision to take her years of material and share it with the kids.

“They become kind of our Greek chorus because they ask those really honest, down-to-earth questions that all of us have but would be maybe embarrassed that we don’t know the answers to,” Stachura said.

The vision quickly turned into a podcast, diving deep into the history of the 1970's riots and Oatman's death. It also turned into a regular conversation about racism.

"Sometimes I felt like I was the only black kid," student Aijalon Henderson, who helped produce the podcast, said. "Sometimes I felt weirded out because I'm like how could they possibly know?"

Henderson is one of the 10 students who helped write, produce, and edit the podcast. Students also interviewed people and even visited Oatman’s grave.

"It's happening a lot today," Henderson said. "You can't just shut it out and not talk about it; you have to speak up."

Even in 1970, people said Augusta didn't have a race problem. Stachura says the riots show it's been there all along.

“I think Augusta sometimes believes it’s not part of the larger conversation,” Stachura said. “I hear a lot about people in the community talk about us being a southern sleepy town, not much happens here, and that’s not true.”

The Jessye Norman School of the Arts partnered with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The first episode of the podcast is out now. It’ll be an ongoing series released over time.

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