Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

Setting the Stage

Georgia map, with Atlanta locator
Georgia map, with Atlanta locator

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the city of Atlanta, Georgia, had grown into an economic powerhouse in the South. Long developing as a major regional transportation center, the city had also boasted a number of major corporations, such as Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, and Cox Communications.

The increasingly black population in the city voted into the mayor's office one of their own race, a young lawyer named Maynard Jackson.  For Jackson, keeping a power-balancing act between his black constituency and the existing white power structure was critical.  Otherwise, the white power structure would flee to the suburbs, leaving the city with a much diminished tax base. 

Bernard Headley
Bernard Headley

Bernard Headley in his book The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race says, "Inevitably, many of the balancing acts that Maynard Jackson was forced to perform with Atlanta's white power structure were seen by blacks as betrayal....So throughout much of Jackson's second term, a context of racial strain persisted."

The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race, by Bernard Headley
The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race, by Bernard Headley

Despite the strong economic growth, the black population of the city remained very poor.  Not surprisingly, a serious crime problem developed that made Atlanta one of the most dangerous cities in the country.  Atlanta's business community was alarmed at the spiraling crime rate, fearful that businesses would flee the city and conventions would find safer cities for their meetings.

This situation reached a crisis level as a series of murders of black children and teenagers began to emerge, throwing an unwelcome spotlight on the entire city. The murders, believed at that time, to be the work of a racist white group did nothing to recommend the city to tourists and new business opportunities.

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