One of the thing that makes blogging hard for me sometimes is the fact that, sometimes there are topics that I want to talk about, but when bloggers I respect and read regularly cover the same topic much better than I ever could, I think, "Well, since so-and-so already said it..."
I read about the Jena (Louisiana) Six on Vox's blog a couple of weeks ago (she updated here). Before I go any further, here is the situation, summarized by Shawn Williams from an article by Howard Witt who writes for the Chicago Tribune (though this may be the same story here at the Baltimore Sun--doesn't require registration)
In his May 18, 2007 story, Mr. Witt tells of an incident that happened at the local high school in Jena where black students decided they wanted to sit under a tree whose shade had been reserved for white students only for years. When campus officials gave their blessing to the students request to sit under the tree, a series of events began that have apparently launched the town into a downward spiral.Now, Jena is about one hundred miles south/southeast of my hometown. As someone interested in rural Louisiana (Jena, in the center of the state, has a population of around 3,000) personally and as a historian, I have to talk about this case.
According to Mr. Witt's article the following events have occurred since the initial action by the black students last September:
* The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree
* Once three white students were identified as having hung the nooses on the tree, the school superintendent suspended them for only three days. (The principal had suggested expulsion). The superintendent felt the nooses represented a "youthful stunt."
* Fights broke out at the high school between black and white students.
* Unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school (November)
* A white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party
* another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store
* A group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor (December)
* LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses (for their involvement in the above incident).
NOTE: The white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn't charged with any crime at all.
Sylvia's post is amazing--full of updates, sources, links, and ideas to help the Jena Six, including this link to where you can donate. Yesterday, Alexandria's (a small city in central Louisiana) The Town Talk noted that 2 of the boys remain in jail in lieu of $90,000 bond. Since their trial has been continued until June 25, they face another month in jail, waiting.
I'm trying to do what I do--find people within the community and see what they're thinking and feeling. **Zan shared this in her comment:
This particular story has been going on for a long time, yes. It was going on when I was working for The Town Talk seven months ago. I was in charge of the message boards. If you wanna know how bad it really is, go read the TT's message boards. It's really clear there how racist things are. We had people defending the noose-hanging as a prank, etc. And of course the claims of 'reverse racism' when the kid got beat up.**The Louisiana Public Defender's Association also made note of the case back in December, here.
**Sylvia has this link to the blog of a former Jena High student, Reginald M.
I attended the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and Arts which pulls students from all over the state, so I'm sending an e-mail to my classmates' group to see if any of them who live there or are from there want to talk. The Town Talk's archives contain stories from late last year about many of the events, including one that describes "racial tensions plaguing the Jena community" as the "biggest" story of the year in Central Louisiana. Jena has a weekly newspaper here.
Online, I've found the writings of a Pastor Eddie Thompson, a white Pentecostal preacher who lives in central Louisiana. Pastor Thompson was quoted by Witt as saying, “I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism—true racism.” But Pastor Thompson reminds me of the southern Senators during debates on the civil rights bills of the mid-20th century--he is incensed that, rather than letting the community heal itself, "Attorneys and leaders of national race-based organizations have hi-jacked any local efforts to overcome racial tensions." And though he acknowledges the racism in Jena, he believes, "the racism found here in America is subtle compared to what is going on around the world." Picture this American's jaw dropping to the floor. His invoking of meddling carpetbaggers and noble locals who shall overcome is not surprising.
I've also found CenLamar: Social and Political Activism in Louisiana. Here is their summary of the events. They re-posted Witt's article as well. CenLamar is a left-leaning blog so I'll be honest and say I'm hoping they'll talk more about it.
As far as my opinion--before I attended LSMSA, I attended a school that sounds remarkably like Jena's. As I told Vox, I feel this story. I'm not going to even pretend to be objective at this point--my question is not, "Did race play a factor?" but "Did the other factors even matter?"