Department of Justice to reopen Augusta Riot cold case investigation

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 3:39 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Local activists on Monday praised a new investigation of six slayings during the riot as well as the death of the Black teenager whose death set off the unrest.

The renewed investigation is a result of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which established a cold case initiative to investigate unsolved killings from the civil rights era. The measure was sponsored by the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon and Georgia congressman.

The 1970 riot grew out of dissatisfaction with the justice system’s handling of the beating death of Black teenager Charles Oatman.

At the peak of the riot, the 1970 Augusta Riot Observance Committee estimates 2,000 to 3,000 people participated. White and Chinese American-owned businesses were ransacked and burned over a 130-block area, according to the committee.

The committee says police shot at least 60 people and killed six unarmed men: Charlie Mack Murphy, 39; William Wright Jr., 18; Sammy McCullough, 20; John Stokes, 19; John Bennett, 28; and Mack Wilson, 45.

“In the workings of the White-controlled legal system of 1970, all-White juries convicted two Black teenagers in Charles Oatman’s death and acquitted the one White police officer tried in the killings of the Augusta Six,” the committee said Monday in a statement. “The 1970 Riot Committee’s extensive research corroborates what the Black community of 1970 believed: that the real perpetrators were never held to account, that the judicial system failed to render justice.”

The committee said the U.S. Department of Justice’s new investigation “offers the possibility that even at this late hour, some measure of justice can be done.”

The committee urges anyone with information on the killings of Oatman and the six men in the riot to share what they know with the Department of Justice by calling 202-514-0716.

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