It took the media more than a year before it made the murder of black children in Atlanta, Georgia, a national issue. And it was not until February 21, 1981, after the list of dead or missing children had grown to 20, that the White House established a federal task force to help find the child slayer who had terrorized Atlanta’s black neighborhoods for the previous 19 months.
However, the murders of black children in Atlanta dramatize the disproportionately high risk of not surviving for those who are young and black in America … which is a story the news media have yet to tell.
In East Oakland, across the nation from Atlanta, black parents live with a less dramatic but no less ugly fact: for every 100 babies born in this impoverished neighborhood, at least two will probably be dead before the end of the year.
Unsolved murders of children in Atlanta. Infant deaths in East Oakland. While in disparate ways, both problems express a chilling fact of life for American black families in 1980: if you are a black child in the United States, you have a significantly less than an average chance of surviving to your 21st birthday.
According to government figures, nonwhite children in the U.S. remain nearly 50 percent more likely than white children to die before they reach the age of 20. Between the ages of 15 and 19, nonwhite males fall victim to murder at nearly five times the national rate. Black girls in the 16 to 19 age group were three times as likely to be raped as were whites. Infant death rates run nearly twice as high for non-white children as for white. A non-white adolescent is five times more likely to die of asthma, twice as likely to die of appendicitis, 70 percent more likely to die of pneumonia, and twice as likely to die as a result of cardiovascular disease.
Charles King, director of the Urban Crisis Center in Atlanta, is angered that grief among white parents over Atlanta’s murdered black children shows no signs of translating into a broader concern for these more persistent problems facing the young.
“It is a note of irony,” King says, “that a dead child or a missing child (in Atlanta) would tug at the heartstrings of white people, yet to those children who are not missing or dead and who are suffering problems ranging from malnutrition to infant death — there seems to be no open or outward concern for them.”
The failure of the media to publicize the risk of not surviving for those who are young and black in America qualifies this story for nomination as one of the ”best censored” stories of 1980.
Pacific News Service, Dec. 21, 1980, “The odds against staying alive if you’re young and black,” by Patrick Glynn.