Almost a half-century after Augusta riots, some see incremental change
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Almost exactly 50 years ago, chaos ravaged downtown Augusta as thousands of protesters ransacked and set fire to businesses. That was considered one of the largest urban uprisings in the civil rights era. These days, we’re seeing parts of the country look eerily similar.
The immediate cause of the 1970 Augusta riots was the death of a black teenager named Charles Oatman, who was killed while in jail. Fifty years later, George Floyd was murdered in police custody in Minneapolis.
"I didn't like it," Augusta civil rights activist Tim Sander said of the 1970 riots. "It was disturbing to see people destroy stuff."
Sanders says he didn’t condone the violence he saw back in 1970, and he certainly doesn’t condone it today.
"The looting I see is just sickening to my heart," Sanders said. "It goes against everything that I know we stood for in the civil rights movement."
But it’s a complicated feeling.
"It’s a really tug of war between understanding why, but knowing that destroying people’s property is wrong," Sanders said.
He says 50 years ago, he hoped people would not have to feel the same oppression they did back then.
"W.E.B. Du Bois said in the late 40’s, he said the biggest problem in America is the color line. And here it is, the 21st century, and we’re still dealing with that same thing," Sanders said.
Augusta’s 2020 protests have not been violent, and Sanders hopes it stays that way.
"I look at Ninth Street now, that area, it never recovered from those riots of 1970. And at one time they called it the 'Golden Blocks,'" Sanders said.
But while the feelings of racial injustice still persist today, he says there have been positive strides since the riot in 1970.
"Just the diversity of the crowd out there warms my heart," Sanders said. "It says we’re making progress here."
And he has hope that today’s protest will bring some real change.
"The diversity in the world is beautiful. It’s like a church with plain white windows in there? That’s boring. And the stained glass windows are beautiful. That’s what the world is. We have to embrace diversity," Sanders said.