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Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race

NCJ Number
Bernard Headley
Date Published
259 pages
This book examines the political and racial issues surrounding the murders of 29 black youths in Atlanta between the summer of 1979 and the spring of 1981.
In the spring of 1980, the author and a research team conducted the standard survey-type study of respondent opinions, attitudes, and assessments of crime in their Atlanta neighborhoods. The study was of representative samples of residents who lived on the city's poor black south side. It was clear that the residents were less interested in responding to the survey than in discussing the disappearances and killings of several poor black neighborhood children, which they sensed had been occurring regularly over the previous seven or more months. In response to this concern, the research team actively sought the opinions of grassroots people who were beginning to organize various responses to the murders and disappearances. The author attended neighborhood meetings, participated in various panel discussions and workshops, and chatted at length with people who were close to the tragic events. Detailed information relative to the official investigation was obtained by examining documentation in the FBI's files. This book examines some of the complex political and ideological issues of race and class that dominated the public's reaction to the Atlanta youth murders. Many in the black community contended that the murders were racially motivated and that perhaps the Ku Klux Klan or some other white hate group was directly responsible. The author's objective is to give context to interweaving details, to chronologically recall a set of dynamic events, and to describe what happened when the legitimate social constructions, collective fears, and conventional wisdom of ordinary people came up against larger political, economic, and legal realities. Some attention is given to various law enforcement, criminalistic, and legal details of the investigation and conviction of Wayne Williams as the killer of two victims, but the author does not aim to remake or refute that case against Williams, although he does believe that Williams is guilty. 4 tables, chapter notes, a 200-item bibliography, a subject index, and appended list of the missing and murdered youth as well as special police task force guidelines


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