Yesterday, in the first civil rights demonstration of this century, 20,000 people (mostly black) marched in the small Louisiana town of Jena (mostly white) to protest the treatment of the Jelna Six.
The genesis of the demonstration is as follows. Some months ago a black teen-ager at the Jelna High School was given permission by his principal to sit under a large tree on campus that was traditionally reserved for whites only to sit under. Subsequently three white teen agers hung nooses from the “whites only tree.” Then six black teen-agers (the Jelna Six) attacked a group of white students leaving one of them bruised and bloody. He was taken to the local hospital but he was released in a few hours and attended a school function the same day.
Blacks in Jelna demanded the whites who rigged up the nooses (reminiscent of the KKK, vigilantes and stringing up blacks in the segregated south), be prosecuted for a hate crime. They were not prosecuted. Instead the Jelna Six were arrested and charged with attempted murder, a charge later reduced to assault and battery. Yesterday’s peaceful march was a protest against what appeared to be disriminatory justice.
Blacks in Jelna claim the whole thing is racial. They say more blacks are unemployed, more are arrested and in jail and more have no health insurance than the comparable white group in the town. They also note the white barber in Jelna refuses to cut blacks’ hair. The barber admits this but says he is not a racist. He claims he would lose all his white clientele who do not want their hair cut by untensils that have cut black heads. The blacks say the racial discrimination in Jelna can be extrapolated throughout the rest of the country.
Some black leaders in yesterday’s march claimed that, in many respects, the United States is still a racist country.