Monday, May 4, 2009

Museum to host lecture on anniversary of 1970 Augusta Riots

Thirty-nine years ago, the residents of Augusta, Georgia experienced three days of race riots that shocked the region, state, and nation as a whole. With the national eye on the city of Augusta, what started as a peaceful protest of the killing of 16 year old black teenager, Charles Oatman, in the Richmond County jail surged to a 700-person riot in Augusta neighborhoods fully populated by black residents.

Nearly four decades later, the Augusta Museum of History is pleased to present a lecture, Augusta is Burning given by Mr. William R. (Bill) Coleman, Jr. , on the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Augusta Riots, Monday, May 11, 2009, 6:30 pm at the Museum. Mr. Coleman will cover certain conditions and attitudes that existed in the nation, the state, and the local community at the time to have made such a riot possible.

The catalyst for the May riot was an approved march on Augusta's city hall to protest the killing of Oatman, a mentally-disabled teenager, in the county jail on May 9, 1970. Oatman had been beaten to death in his cell two days before, and authorities charged his two black cellmates with murder. Black residents held police responsible for the killing. But what was intended to be a peaceful rally on May 11, 1970, turned ugly as the crowd of 300 demonstrators descended upon the marble-faced county building in downtown Augusta. They ripped the Georgia state flag from its standard and burned it. Then they marched the two blocks to Broad Street, the city's main shopping district, and began surging in and out of stores, jostling counters and picking up merchandise. Until the crowd reached the downtown black neighborhoods, amassed to 700 and were completely out of control.

Mr. William Coleman presents a unique perspective on the race riots that erupted in Augusta, Georgia on May 11, 1970. His talk will include actual news film footage of the riots and he will explain the role he played as an attorney representing some of those arrested for their participation in the riots. As a young lawyer at the time, Coleman was appointed by the Chief Superior Court Judge to represent the persons arrested for the riots who wished to have a lawyer. In addition, the Honorable Grady Abrams, a city councilman at the time will be attending and taking part in the discussion.

“As a young lawyer at the time, it was both scary and a privilege to be part of this remarkable time in Augusta’s history. I look forward to this opportunity to share my point of view and role during these events”, commented Mr. Coleman.

Augusta is Burning will be held in the Museum Theater of the Augusta Museum of History and is free of charge to the general public. Galleries will be closed during the lecture.

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