More than forty years ago, a series of murders spread fear in Atlanta.
Portraits of the victims, mostly young black men, are on display in the atrium of the domestic terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The exhibition is titled ‘The Memorial Portraits of the Children of Atlanta: In Memoriam of the Victims of the Atlanta Child Murders’. Each oil on canvas portrait depicts a child with a combination of blue sky and white cloud background.
Artist Dwayne Mitchell was chosen from over 100 participants to create more than 30 portraits for Atlanta child murder victims.
“In painting these 30 children, one can only imagine the deep loss and sadness of the parents and families who went through this, and not having all the answers regarding this horrific event is unthinkable, and as I look into the eyes of all 30 of these innocent children, I can’t help but feel their pain, “Mitchell wrote in her artist statement.” As artists we do our best to tell their story and try to show you what our subject is going through or feeling. Looking at these paintings you will not see any wrongdoing or wickedness, you will only see joy, pleasure and love for their families. In a word: ‘Innocence ‘.
The Atlanta Child Murders were a collection of over 30 murders committed between 1979 and 1981. In 1982, Wayne Williams was convicted of the deaths of two adults, who were among the young adults and children killed by a single person. He is currently serving two life sentences at Hancock State Prison in Hancock County, Georgia.
After Williams’ conviction, the rest of the Atlanta child murder cases were closed. Williams has been blamed for the murders although he has never been formally charged for them. This has led to a controversy over who really killed the kids in Atlanta.
There has been a dispute over Williams’ conviction. In her community in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, many did not believe Williams could kill so many people. A 1986 issue of The Atlanta Voice revealed how new evidence linked the Ku Klux Klan to the Atlanta child murders. This evidence was withheld from Williams and his lawyers at the time of his trial and could have proven his innocence.
In 2005, Dekalb County Police Chief Louis Graham ordered the reopening of four of the cases attributed to Williams. However, authorities in neighboring counties have taken no steps to reopen cases under their jurisdiction.
Bottoms was an elementary school student when the murders began. In a New York Times article, she recounts the intense warnings not to go out alone during this time.
In 2019, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms led the charge to reopen the Atlanta child murder cases. Bottoms said he hopes technological advancements and new genetic databases may uncover new information when re-examining the evidence.
She issued an administrative order to launch the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Taskforce. The working group is made up of mayors appointed by the local community.
The Memoriam exhibit at the airport is a way to remember and honor the victims as the 40-year-old cold cases reopen. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mitchell’s work was scheduled to be posted in the summer of 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The paintings can be viewed until September 8.