With 1970 Augusta Riot cold case reopened, what’s next?

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’re following new developments in a more than 50-year-old cold case.

The Department of Justice reopened the investigation into the killings of Charles Oatman and the six men murdered during the 1970 Augusta Riot under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.

Monday marked 52 years since the murder of Black teenager Oatman. Wednesday marks 52 years since a day many Black Augustana will never forget, particularly the families of six Black men gunned down by white police officers.

More than 50 years ago, Black citizens of Augusta filled the streets to rebel against police brutality after the killing of Oatman, a Black teenager in police custody.

“The afternoon of May 11, 1970, you would’ve seen about a thousand demonstrators from different walks of life, Paine College students, Black high school students,” said Dr. John Hayes, associate professor of history at Augusta University.

That sparked what Hayes calls a “massacre.”

“I say massacre because of the six known victims. The six we know of it’s clear from evidence that they are not threatening police officers. None of them are armed. All six were shot in the back, and some shot multiple times at close range,” he said.

When the dust settled, all-white juries convicted two Black teenagers in Oatman’s death and acquitted a white officer for the killings of the Augusta six.

“We know what happened in 1970 was not actual justice,” he said.

“Obviously, we’re 52 years removed from the incident, but it gives a glimmer of hope that even at this late date, there could be some possibility of actual justice through the official channels,” said Hayes.

Hayes is a part of the 1970 Augusta Riot Observance Committee and says this cold case is an acknowledgment that justice was not served in 1970.

“Black people were convicted for different parts of the rebellion. Zero white people were convicted,” he said.

The committee, along with others hope people will come forward and use their voice.

“New voices might come out that we haven’t talked to, that didn’t talk to the DOJ in the 1970s for good reasons,” he said.

The DOJ and the 1970 Augusta Riot Observance Committee urges anyone with information on the killings of Oatman and the Augusta six to share what you may know.

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