Drive Time for the ‘Jena 6’
By Eugene Robinson
September 21, 2007
How did thousands of African Americans come to descend on the town of Jena, La., yesterday for a march and rally that brought to mind the heady days of the civil rights movement? The answer says as much about what has changed over the past half-century as it says about what hasn’t.
Most people know the outlines of the story by now, but here’s a synopsis: Black students at the local high school sat under a tree that everyone knew was a place where white students usually congregated. White students reacted by hanging three nooses in the tree. Racial tensions escalated from there, including fights in which both black and white students got roughed up, but no one was seriously injured. Local officials, who are white, handled the white offenders with a “boys will be boys” attitude — a few brief school suspensions, basically. Black offenders were expelled from school, arrested and charged as adults with felony offenses, including
These events happened in 2006. For months, they utterly failed to penetrate the national consciousness. We still might not know about what was happening in Jena if the case hadn’t been noticed by bloggers, who sounded the alarm. And I’m quite sure there would have been no busloads of protesters descending on Jena if the cause hadn’t been taken up by a radio personality best known for R-rated banter about sex and relationships.