The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race


Bernard Headley examines the political and racial elements surrounding a catastrophic period in the history of one of the South's most progressive cities.

Between the summer of 1979 and the spring of 1981, a killer terrorized Atlanta. Some thirty black youths, twenty-eight males and two females, were reported missing, and the bodies of twenty-nine murder victims were eventually found in and around the city. Atlanta appeared often on the nightly news, burning what came to be known as the "Atlanta tragedy" into the national consciousness.

The fury and fear steadily intensified as the death toll mounted and rumor raged. But the arrest, trial, and conviction of Wayne B. Williams for the murder of two adult males whose names had appeared on the special police task force of Atlanta's missing and murdered brought an abrupt halt to this Atlanta story.

Examining the various law enforcement and legal details of the case, Headley does not seek to remake or refute the case against Williams; in fact, heends up believing most of the state's case against this young black man. His objective is to put the interweaving and often conflicting details in historical perspective and, from a sociological point of view, to chronologically recall a set of events that were inextricably tied to a larger American dynamic.


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