I was thankful to be included in the work of the 1970 Augusta Riot Observance Steering Committee for almost two years. The historians and researchers in the group performed the heart of the work, but all were welcome to contribute whatever skills and time that they had to the labor of shining a light on this community trauma that has been actively covered over and mis-told for 50 years.
What do I feel this group accomplished in the work? It is changing the stories this City tells itself. We challenge the “Why would we want to remember that?” mentality. We have placed upon the table one more piece of truth that has been covered over with excuses and lies and contempt and shame for 50 years. The desire to ignore, compartmentalize, and forcefully forget is why the struggle for us all to live with respect and rights is ongoing.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to learn about the events that unfolded in May 1970 here in Augusta, you can begin by visiting www.1970augustariot.com.
Bring this into school curricula. It is part of our history. Bring the arts to bear on this struggle, because it is through the arts that we open our hearts.
For those of us who have no choice but to be in this fight because of physical appearance, I hope this work will help in the daily struggle for the rights and privileges of full citizenship and equal protection under the law.
Every one of us who does not face automatic and daily peril due to the darkness of our skin, or the width of our nose, the shape of our eyes, or the texture of our hair, we must actively become allies in this fight.
For every one of us, we must remember. Remember
- not only Charles Oatman’s brutalized body,
- not only the double-aught buckshot in the backs of 6 Black men and boys in the night of May 11, 1970,
- not only that Augusta’s rulers flagrantly and actively defied the desegregation and equal distribution of resources to all schools for 18 years after Brown vs. Board of Education (an entire school generation),
- and not only that the May 1970 Augusta Riot did NOT, as the dominant narrative has portrayed it for 50 years, happen all of a sudden, for no reason, and was that time when Black people suddenly went crazy and destroyed stuff until the authorities restored order, but that
- the May 1970 Augusta Riot was that time when Black Augustans gathered in desperation and grief from Uncounted acts of violence against their bodies, minds, and spirits to demand justice from the 1970 all-White power structure, were offered no path forward, and that pent up anger erupted.
We must also remember, today, that truth makes a difference, that when we make mistakes, we must acknowledge them and apologize, and we must actively seek ways from the smallest to the largest, from the easiest to the hardest to heal the festering wound of the white fear and white supremacy mindset.
We can do it, if we try. But we must actively try. No-one is perfect or ever will be, but everyone is welcome to change. Change ourselves, change our world.