Jena and the New Movement

Jena and the New Movement


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



It is popular to disparage young black people, whose foibles are usually the result of behaving

like the adults in their lives. Despite the criticisms made of them, history

shows us that the youth are usually a step ahead of their elders when change is required.



 Jena and the New Movement

By Margaret Kimberley


In Jena, Louisiana, tens of thousands of black Americans showed the country how and why a movement should be conducted. They made a clear demand for justice in a case that hearkened back to the worst days of Jim Crow. The response to the original injustice should be a blueprint for activists who want to impeach a president, end an occupation, safeguard voting rights, or rebuild New Orleans.

The story of the Jena Six began when young people bravely made their own demand for an end to the assumptions of white supremacy. It is popular to disparage young black people, whose foibles are usually the result of behaving like the adults in their lives. Despite the criticisms made of them, history shows us that the youth are usually a step ahead of their elders when change is required.

If sitting under a tree is the last symbol of white supremacy in a state that fought tooth and nail to maintain it, then challenging that supremacist ideology is dangerous indeed. Were it not for concerned parents and other supporters who fought for them, the Jena Six would have disappeared namelessly into the American prison system like so many millions of other young black men.

After a successful first step, there is now talk of “backlash” in Jena. A movement that doesn’t produce a backlash isn’t much of a movement at all. It isn’t surprising that a neo-Nazi website openly threatened the lives of the Jena Six or that rednecks attempt to provoke violence by tying nooses onto their pickup trucks.

The new movements that must begin in the 21st century will also provoke backlash. It may take the form of media lies, or the outright disappearance of what should be headline stories. The backlash will also take the form of opposition and denunciation from fellow citizens who will be more than happy to keep other people in their place.

Movement activists will often be alone. Many will suffer from loss of job, home, friends, family, just as the original fighters for civil rights suffered. Even when oppression and violence are obvious and blatant, activists must depend on themselves for support and affirmation and they must never under estimate the ugliness and hatred that their actions can provoke. 

The gravitational pull of the powerful away from activist concerns should also not be underestimated. While the rest of black America was united in demanding freedom for the Jena Six, Barack Obama was a Johnny come lately whose lack of interest was all too obvious.

Several weeks before the protests in Jena, Obama made it clear that he didn’t really care to discuss a subject that had become a touchstone for the rest of black America. He could only muster a pathetically lame remark that the Jena Six “appear to have been railroaded into a very difficult situation.” Obama has a gift for understatement.

When protests became front page news and Jesse Jackson had him on the offensive, Obama didn’t do much better than President Bush, who delivered typically vapid nonsense. “The events in Louisiana are – have saddened me. I understand the emotions. The Justice Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation down there, and all of us in America want there to be fairness when it comes to justice.”

Foolishness from Bush is to be expected, but it is truly insulting coming from Obama: “Outrage over an injustice like the Jena 6 isn’t a matter of black and white.” What planet is Mr. Audacious describing? The faces of protestors at Jena were 99% black. White progressive pundits and bloggers said little if anything about Jena. It was black bloggers and radio hosts who made Jena a household word in their community and inspired thousands to act. It seems that Obama is out of touch with black and white America, both of whom had clearly chosen sides in the case.

After the media managed to cover black people for a few days, and the heat was off, Obama returned to the true business of his campaign, finding more checks to bundle. Making wealthy people happy is the road to the White House for the ambitious, but the road to hell for everyone else. The Obamas of the world will never have our interests at heart, and cannot determine when and how we will act.

A sustained effort will be needed to undo the wrongs committed in Jena. Freedom is the demand and freedom will be the only way to measure success in this case. The Jena demonstrators are showing the rest of us what democracy looks like, and why and how it should be saved. 

*   *   *   *   *

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgandaReport.Com  . Ms. Kimberley’ maintains an edifying and frequently updated blog at  More of her work is also available at her Black Agenda Report archive page.

Source: Black Agenda Report

 *   *   *   *   *

Editorial Response

Minstrelsy and White Expectations

Hattie McDaniel, one of her famous quips was: I’d rather play a maid than be one.” She had been either a washerwoman or was the daughter of one before receiving her Oscar. 

One should consider as well Eugene Robinson, columnist of the Washington Post (WP), and his Drive Time for the ‘Jena 6’. He seems to write with a little white man on his shoulder, that is, with his own particular white fears, like Louie, like Hattie. His column emphasizes briefly the mechanics of how 60,000 blacks come to appear in the isolated white community of Jena, Louisiana; that is, he focuses on the “how” rather than the “why.” Yet he places significant suggestive facts on the table.

1) “It’s fair to say that without black radio, the case of the Jena 6 probably never would have become a significant national story.”

It was not only a national story; it was an international story. The BBC online covered the story long before for the WP—Race Hate in Louisiana.

Isn’t that an oddity? One may also ask, Where was  the NAACP? They dragged in last and initially began collecting money that was not going directly for the defense of the black boys. Where was Eugene and his column?

Michael Baisden and Tom Joyner came late. They indeed gave it a boost. They saw that there was a commercial appeal to the story.

2)  “Why is this interesting? Because black America is increasingly complicated and diverse, riven by fault lines that didn’t exist back when the great civil rights heroes were marching in Selma.” 

How is that important for the Jena 6? He attempts to clarify but still only suggests the reality that exists.

3)  There are black families that have had multigenerational middle-class success, and black families trapped in multigenerational poverty and dysfunction.”

How is that  important, this “success”? At bottom the Jena 6 situation is about economics, the nooses only symbolical of those economic frustrations, and that which doesn’t arouse the “successful” there is silence, he seems to suggest, except from the masses who feel the nooses tightening in numerous ways, for instance, longer hours and decreasing wages; job discrimination without any mechanism which to challenge it; joblessness;  underemployment;  police repression; and other repressive laws and attitudes.

4)  “‘the black community’ is, for most purposes, best thought of as plural.”

Now we get to the grist of Eugene’s tale, his perspective from on high. What does that mean in the real life of the different communities? There will be no second civil rights movement because the superficial elements of Jim Crow are dead, ostensibly? The economic issues are too extensive and would require much more than a civil rights movement; one would have to begin where M.L. King left off.

The so-called civil rights leaders are reserving their energies, however, for more important game: a get out the vote to install a Democratic president, some of whose candidates spoke briefly in similar tones as Eugene, that is, how regrettable the Jena situation, but little else. So did Bush, for that matter. But a different party in the White House makes no assurances about working class issues and “racial” or police repression.

But all these facts receive no analysis from Eugene. He concludes all is well except in Jena, Louisiana: “We don’t see that many instances of overt, unapologetic, separate-and-unequal racial discrimination these days, thank goodness” (my emphasis).

Here he speaks with that little white man on his shoulder. I wonder who is the “We” in this instance when we have “plural” communities.  Is that conclusion really true? Is it true for you?

There’s a greater healthiness in Armstrong’s antics or in those of Hattie McDaniel, for you know they are playing a role to appease white expectations. With writers like Eugene, only a few can see he’s also playing his role for his white bosses and audience, who read to find out what a certain segment of the black community thinks.

Certainly, the few “instances” are not true for the 60,000 that converged on Jena from all over the country, nor the bloggers and websites that have been carrying the story for months. The repression of the Jena 6 (Black teenagers) is a repression felt nationally. It’s not an isolated situation as Eugene suggests. They were marching for themselves as well as the six black boys, who are not too unlike the Scottsboro Boys of the 1930s.

But I’m sure I’m speaking to the choir.—Rudy 

 *   *   *   *   *

Black power is taking control of your destiny—Black political power has grown significantly in the past four decades, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In 1970, there were only 469 black elected officials. That number has grown to more than 10,000 in 2007. Sociologist Art Evans of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton said the nation has changed and black people have made progress in just about every aspect of society. “There’s been tremendous growth in the black middle class,” Evans said. “In the 1960s less than 3 percent of blacks were middle-class; today, 37 percent of blacks are middle-class. . . . [Yet] “We still don’t have the control over our lives,” [Kwame] Afoh said. Gregory Lewis. “Some see lack of progress, others strides since 1960s.” Sun-Sentinel

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *


*   *   *   *   *






posted 26 September 2007 / updated 28 March 2008



Home  Criminalizing a Race: Blacks and Prisons Table   Katrina Flood Index  

Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.