The Augusta Riot

[Train Whistle] On May 9, 1970, the news of the death of Charles Oatman spread throughout black Augusta. Oatman, an intellectually disabled 16-year-old student at AR Johnson High School, was in police custody when he was found beaten to death in his cell. Though authorities initially stated that he’d fallen from his bunk, autopsy reports note bruises, cigarette burns, and other markings indicating torture over several weeks. With longstanding disenfranchisement, distrust, and racial injustices already present in Augusta, Oatman’s death acted as a last straw for Black Augusta. On May 10th hundreds of Black citizens organized and met at the county jail demanding answers from White officials for Oatman’s death and explanations for the negligence of the police. Officers were positioned on the roof of the jail with weapons drawn. The group disbanded with the understanding that they would meet at the Municipal building the next day to talk to officials about jail conditions. On the evening of May 11th, a group of several Black Augustans met outside of the Municipal building surrounded by armed officers and the National Guard. There they learned that after a short investigation, the Sheriff had charged two other inmates with manslaughter. For many in the crowd, this investigation was unjust, and a riot erupted. The crowd moved to Broad Street, vandalizing storefronts, and eventually found its way to 9th and Gwinnett Street’s— the Black neighborhood of Augusta. The crowd targeted White and Chinese American owned businesses, ransacking some and setting fire to others. Businesses owned by Chinese and White Americans known to be allies to their black clientele remained undamaged. By the end of the night 60 people were injured. Six people—Charlie Mack Murphy (age 39), William Wright, Jr (18), Sammy McCullough (20), John Stokes (19), John Bennett (28), and Mack Wilson (45) were dead. All were unarmed and shot in the back at the hands of policemen. [Train Whistle]

Augusta's Story
  1. Paleo-Indians
  2. Stallings Island
  3. The Age of Exploration: The DeSoto Exhibition; 1540
  4. Early Colonial Period; 1685 – 1736
  5. Late Colonial Period
  6. The American Revolution, 1776 - 1783
  7. Antebellum Society
  8. Dave: Enslaved Potter and Poet
  9. Cotton
  10. Civil War; 1861 - 1865
  11. Reconstruction
  12. The Golden Blocks
  13. The Augusta Canal and the Cotton Industry
  14. Petersburg Boat
  15. Industrial History
  16. Mill Life
  17. World War I
  18. The Great Fire of 1916
  19. 1920s
  20. World War II
  21. Savannah River Site
  22. Integrating Augusta
  23. The Augusta Riot
  24. 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s in Augusta
  25. Augusta and the Late 20th Century to Today
  26. Thank you to our partners