f ever a series of events marked a sobering turning point in the life
of an entire city, the tragic murders of twenty-nine poor young
Blacks in Atlanta, most of them male children, from summer
1979 to spring 1981, had precisely that e√ect. As a bewildered city
tried to come to terms with the senseless slayings, parents of the murdered
and missing young people became increasingly dissatisfied with the response
of local, state, and federal authorities to their concerns. Desperate to secure
safety for their children, some of the most marginalized citizens in the city
organized grassroots groups such as the Committee to Stop Children’s Mur-
ders (stop) that unapologetically confronted Mayor Maynard Jackson and
other Black political leaders. Led by Camille Bell, whose gifted nine-year-old
son Yusef had been murdered, stop organizers demanded that value be given
to each victim’s life. ‘‘We, the mothers of Atlanta’s slain children, share a bond
with the parents of missing and murdered children everywhere in this coun-
try,’’ Bell a≈rmed. ‘‘We know that our children were not hoodlums or hus-
tlers, but were ordinary children engaged in ordinary children’s pursuits.’’∞
The highly publicized arrest and eventual conviction of a self-described
talent scout, Wayne Bertram Williams, a twenty-three-year-old Black man, for
the murder of two adult victims raised some eyebrows just as it settled the
matter for authorities. Even if many working-class and poor Blacks acknowl-
edged that Williams was probably guilty of several of the murders, they felt as
if the other cases had been closed prematurely in order for power brokers to
rush forward with business as usual. ‘‘This is untidy,’’ acclaimed author James
Baldwin observed in the wake of Williams’s trial. ‘‘It also establishes a prece-
dent, a precedent that may lead us, with our consent, to the barbed wire and
the gas oven.’’≤
Yet, just as the disappearance and murder of so many young people came to
symbolize the continued marginalization of poor Blacks in Atlanta, the sub-
sequent growth of predominantly African American suburbs spoke to the
vitality of its Black middle class. This more privileged group included a steady
stream of Northern Black professionals who returned to the South and away
from the often hard, cold, and impolite life of places like New York City and
Philadelphia. For these Blacks, Atlanta represented the best of both worlds,
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