Jena, Louisiana

Last evening Saturday, December 1, 2007, I would fall asleep watching the LSU, Tennessee football game. I would be awaken by the Television at about 1:15 AM. I would usually turn the television off, but for some reason, I began flipping through the channels and came to a channel that I never look at; VH1, a music video station that caters to younger folks. I have often said that there is a spiritual force that guides me in most things that I do. There on the screen was a huge white water tower with the words Jena clearly written upon it. I had seen that tower before, in fact just last week, I had been in Jena,where I in my estimation was a place that had suffered the same kind of malice prompted by those who had come to the South during the so called period of Reconstruction, and had used as there modus operandi, a plan to divide and separate, Southern Blacks from Southern Whites. The show was called the Salt and Pera Show, and was hosted by two young Black female singers who had gone to Jena and filmed the activities there.

There standing outside the very courthouse where I had stood wearing the uniform of the Southern soldier, carrying the Southern Cross was good old Al Sharpton, along with 30,000 unsuspecting duped Black citizens who had gone to Jena with no malice in their hearts to undo what they felt had been an injustice perpetrated against six young Black men who in essence had committed a terrible crime ; singing a message about two wrongs don’t make a right, and that the presence of all these Black folks marked the beginning of a new civils rights era. The two young ladies would talk about freeing the so called Jena 6, while indicating that justice would be done by doing so. One lady in an obscene moment that would be repeated several times; would point to her breast and began shaking them up and down, while indicating that this was for the Jena 6. Pera and Salt even wrote what they called a song to free the so called Jena 6, and had brought their children to Jena to witness history in the making. Moments later the cameras would turn to an interview with two middle aged Black women, one of which I believe to be the mother of Mr. King, the young man who I shall refer to as the bad seed, who led the other 5 men to this tragic event. They would stand outside the fence where the susposed White tree had stood; indicating that they too had gone to the High school and had witnessed the White kids siting under this tree, and that Jena was a racist town. The interviewer asked of them both; if Jena was so racist, why didn’t you pack up and leave. There answer resembled a car that won’t start.

Pizza Hut sponsored this documentary, and VH1 carried it as if this was the whole story about the people of Jena, and that these 6 young men ought to be viewed as some kind of heroes for their actions, especially for exposing this racist town and the mean White folks and their families that inhabit it.The news media had a field day and VH1 continued to sponsor great distortions as if they represented the truth, and those who hate all things Southern had a field day; the parents of the 6, got their new cars paid from the defense fund, the New Black Panther Party spread their message of hate Whitey, and Al got a bigger pay day, and Oparah turned her bus around when she found out as I had done; the whole truth had not been told in Jena.

I, along with my new found friend and brother; Danny McDowell from Grayson, Louisiana, just thirty minutes down the road, stood on the very same corner confabulating with the people of Jena, and learned a different tale. This young man, Mr.King had a record that no parent would be proud of; he had even tried to burn the High School down, along with other criminal activities. These young people who hang the noose from the tree, had no malice in their hearts. It was all about a football game; hang the cowboys that they were about to play. A young White boy would exit the school, having not even hung the noose, he became a target of opportunity for the bad seed. He was knocked unconscious and beaten while unable to even fend off the stomping and kicking that he received as he lay, by the other 5 young men who had been coerced into doing something that was not of their character. Danny and I would be told by a very nice young White girl who would bring us coffee and doughnuts as we stood on the courthouse grounds, that she had lunch everyday under that tree with her two best friends, who just happened to be Black. Never was that told, and more and more people would come and tell us of the warm and cordial relationships that they had with the Black populous of Jena. None that I talked to felt that their town was racist.

I cannot argue the legal parameters of this case, but I shal argue that Al, VH1, Salt and Pera, and Piza Hut who aired this documentary did this quiet little town and it’s citizens a terrrible injustice by dipicting them as something that they are not. As a former NAACP President, I learned a long time ago, that many parents will stand up for their children, even when in their hearts they know that they were wrong, and when Mr.King extended his hand to Danny and I in friendship, I had the feeling that the man who was before me, knew his son, and his friends had done a terrible wrong.

As a past NAACP President, just like members of school boards, parents, and other civic leaders will tell you; when they visit our now integrated schools; Black children will usually congregate in groups together, and Whites will usually follow in suit. However, there will surely be those who will mix together , and have some very loving relationships. Pizza Hut and VH1, if you choose to view this kind of documentary, coporate social responsibility should dictate that you tell the story from the other side. I would like to think that the Jena 29 ( Danny McDowell and myself ) who would find themselves basking in the love shown them by the people of Jena, and captured by Channel 10 News, an NBC affiliate in Monroe, Louisana is closer to the truth than anything that Al, Salt and Pera have told, and as so many citizens of Jena would express; who would have thought that a Black man carrying the Confederate Battle Flag and a White man standing with him, on the lawn where such much animosity had been spunned, had come to Jena, exonerating her citizens from all the harm that had been done.

HK Edgerton