The Eugene Bullard statue at Warner Robbins Air Force Base, he was the world's first African American fighter pilot.
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The Eugene Bullard statue at Warner Robbins Air Force Base, he was the world's first African American fighter pilot.

As 2019 comes to an end, politics have dominated the conversation over the final months. Between impeachment hearings and presidential debates, if you forgot some of the other big stories of the year, it’s OK.

GPB’s Ross Terrell sat down with All Things Considered host Rickey Bevington to talk about some of the top stories from this year.

GPB's Ross Terrell sits down with ATC host Rickey Bevington to discuss some of the stories that helped shape the year.

A transcription of the conversation has been edited for content and clarity.

Rickey Bevington: The first big event to roll into town, Atlanta specifically, was Super Bowl 53 in early February. It was a low-scoring affair between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. But sports aside, there was something else brewing. A culture crisis.

Ross Terrell: Right. Millions of people moved through Atlanta in the span of a few days. There were 10,000 volunteers on hand to help. But when you think of the Super Bowl, you also think halftime show. The NFL caught the ire of some Atlanta residents after they picked Maroon 5 to headline. Here’s how Matthew Keene-Reagan felt about it before the game got here.

“If you want to understand what this city is about, who we are, what we stand for, pick someone from Atlanta to represent us at the halftime show,” Keene-Reagan said. “Not some boys from LA.”

But the league did try to solve the issue. 

Bevington: An Atlanta artist performed after all right? Somewhat of a solution?

Terrell: Somewhat. About halfway into Maroon 5’s halftime performance, an old-school, Cadillac convertible rolled onto the field and it was none other than Atlanta’s own, Big Boi.

Bevington: This wasn’t the first time Atlanta had a culture crisis so to speak. Just a month after the Super Bowl, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made a big announcement, about a very dark chapter in the city’s history. 

Terrell: Yes, in March, Bottoms and Atlanta police announced they would re-test all the evidence from the Atlanta Child Murders in the late '70s and early '80s. Though, that doesn’t mean they are reopening cases.

Catherine Leach was on hand for the announcement. Her son was killed during this time period and she explained why this decision to retest is so important to her. 

“I want to know who killed Curtis,” Leach said. “His case just still sitting on the shelf, getting dusty and rusty and you can’t see the pages. I want some closure, I want some justice, so that I can rest in peace.”

During the child murders, 30 African American kids, teens and adults were killed. Only a couple of the murders were solved, and Wayne Williams was convicted of them. He has been denied parole four times since his imprisonment in 1982. The most recent one coming in November.

Read: Police To Re-Test Evidence In Atlanta Child Murders Cases

Bevington: From the Super Bowl to child murders in the span of a month, wow. Let’s pivot just a bit though and talk about something that really does affect everybody: transportation. Give us a nice end of the year bow on it.

Terrell: Two things dominated the transportation discussion this year, MARTA and scooters. Voters in Gwinnett had a chance to join the MARTA system, which would have been historic, but 54% of voters said no.

And no one can figure out what do with dockless scooters. 

Atlanta had multiple scooter deaths, the University of Georgia banned them along with Woodstock and Alpharetta, meanwhile, Macon placed a temporary ban on them to give themselves time to figure out what laws are needed. In the meantime, the state legislature formed a study committee to decide whether there’s a need for statewide laws on the best way to wrangle these devices.  

Bevington: But one of the bigger stories from this year was one that never really, happened. ICE Raids. Remind us what those few weeks were like across Georgia.

Terrell: For the immigrant community, the end of June and early July were rather tense. Atlanta was on a short list of cities that would be targeted by immigration and customs enforcement for what President Trump tweeted would be the removal of “millions of illegal aliens.”

Here’s Azadeh Shashahani, with Project South, on the chilling effect these promised raids were having,

“People are staying indoors because that seems to be the best thing to do if ICE tries to come to the communities and try to arrest people,” Shashahani said.

During this time people were missing work, there were neighborhood stakeouts serving as warning posts, and entire communities were on edge for a raid that never really came.

Read: Promised ICE Raids Leave Immigrany Communities On Edge

Bevington: From the immigrant community now, to a native son of Georgia who became an immigrant himself. The story of Eugene Bullard. A true inspirational one. What about this story captivated you? 

Terrell: Eugene Bullard was the world’s first African American fighter pilot and he’s from Columbus, Georgia. He was never able to fight for the U.S. because he grew up in the Jim Crow era, so at the age of 16 he left the country and was a stow away on a ship to Scotland before making his way to France.

He went on to fight for them in World War 1. In October, at the Warner Robins Air Force Base, a statue of Bullard was erected to honor his legacy. His cousin, Harriet Bullard-White, was at the ceremony and it was an emotional day for her and other family members.

“I am absolutely holding back tears,” Bullard-White said. “To finally have him recognized and to have him recognized here in Georgia, where he had to leave.”

Now, this ceremony came more than a century after he fought in the war, but that didn’t matter to his family who said it’s never too late.

Read: World's First Black Fighter Pilot Honored At Robins Air Force Base

Bevington: Wow, what a life he lived. Thank you for joining me to recap 2019.

Protesters demand safer streets in Atlanta after a scooter rider was hit and killed.
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Protesters demand safer streets in Atlanta after a scooter rider was hit and killed.
Harriet Bullard-White wipes away tears as the statue of Eugene Bullard is unveiled at Robins Air Force base.
Caption
Harriet Bullard-White wipes away tears as the statue of Eugene Bullard is unveiled at Robins Air Force base.