Years ago – when I was much younger – I asked a black friend if the Civil Rights Movement had been a success. Were things better now, or was there still more to be done? Did things still happen that ought not to happen?

The conversation didn’t go well. My friend got angry with me – no, incensed with me – not for asking, but for having to ask. And I don’t really blame her. I should have reserved my question for a black friend who had known me long enough to trust my intention, and to forgive my ignorance. But the plain truth was, I didn’t have a black friend who had known me that long.

Still, at the end of all her yelling, I knew for certain that to her mind, there was most definitely more to be done. As to the particulars, we never got around to those, and I was too scared of her wrath to risk asking again.

Now I have my answer.

What still happens? All of it. All of the bigotry and arrogance and malice is alive and well and right now it threatens to ruin the lives of six black boys in Jena, Louisiana.

This story distresses me, but what makes it worse is the minimal coverage the news media has given this throwback to a time we’d all like to think is dead and buried, a time when bigots held their heads high, confident that they were among kindred hearts, confident that even those who disapproved their actions would not disapprove so strongly as to actively oppose them.

Tell me, did you know this was happening? I didn’t, until someone sent me an e-mail. I’ll print the text of that e-mail here, to give you the particulars:

Dear friend,-

I just learned about a case of segregation-era oppression happening today in Jena, Louisiana. I signed onto‘s campaign for justice in Jena, and wanted to invite you to do the same.

Last fall in Jena, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the “white tree” on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a “prank,” more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town’s police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy… I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.”

A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

It’s a story that reads like one from the Jim Crow era, when judges, lawyers and all-white juries used the justice system to keep blacks in “their place.” But it’s happening today. The families of these young men are fighting back, but the story has gotten minimal press. Together, we can make sure their story is told and that the Governor of Louisiana intervenes and provides justice for the Jena 6. It starts now. Please join me:

The noose-hanging incident and the DA’s visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were later arrested for the theft of the gun.

That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students “nigger.” After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital, but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.

Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal’s parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court
prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.

Mychal is scheduled to be sentenced on July 31st, and could go to jail for 22 years. Theo Shaw’s trial is next. He will finally make bail this week.

The Jena Six are lucky to have parents and loved ones who are fighting tooth and nail to free them. They have been threatened but they are standing strong. We know that if the families have to go it alone, their sons will be a long time coming home. But if we act now, we can make a difference.

Join me in demanding that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco get involved to make sure that justice is served for Mychal Bell, and that DA Reed Walters drop the charges against the 5 boys who have not yet gone to trial.


Please care enough about this to oppose it. Please click on the link and send the e-mails to the governor of Louisiana, and to the District Attorney involved in this case. Please sign the petition, and please, if you can, send money to the Jena Six Defense Fund at P.O. Box 2798, Jena, Louisiana, 71342.