“JENA SIX PROTEST WAS JUST A FEEL GOOD DAY”
by FAHIM A. KNIGHT
The small town of Jena, Louisiana back on September 2O, 2007 became a magnetic pole attracting over 50 thousand people mainly African Americans who had come to protest what they perceived as injustice and a heavy handed prosecutor that had tried and convicted six (6) black teenagers Mychal Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw and Jesse Ray Beard—were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy, according to LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters. The six young men allegedly attacked Justin Barker and three other white teenager for using racial epithets and hanging nooses from a tree (the tree was described as a meeting place for white students only) on public school property.
This is what led to an allege physical assault on the white teenager Justin Barker by black teenagers; it was described by many, as just an old schoolyard brawl and should have been resolved by the school administration, but the young white teenager and his parents filed criminal warrants against the allege six black assailants. This incident set the political and social stage for black leadership to revert back to the strategies and tactics that the “Big Six” Civil Rights leaders—Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Bunch, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and Bayard Rustin used over forty years ago in their fight to end segregation, discrimination, racism, and injustice within American society. The political strategies ranged from picketing, sit-ins, boycotts and marching as forms of social protest against a vicious racist system in the United States with an objective of altering social, political, and economic change and with a long range goal of dismantling institutionalized racism.
The enemies of change and social progress overtly opposed the United States Supreme Court Decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which declared separate but equal as being unconstitutional. Violence and the threat of violence permeated this timeframe in history; this writer can mention two names Medgar Evers and Emmett Till who were innocent victims associated with the viciousness of Jim Crow. The Jena Six generation need to be introduced to some real Civil Rights history and as Malcolm X was stated, “The revolution will not be televised.”
Michael Eric Dyson is his book titled, “Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line” stated, “The anointing of a few to represent The Race is an old, abiding problem. For much of our history, blacks have had to rely on spokespersons to express our views and air our grievances to a white majority that controlled access to everything from education to employment. For the most part, powerful whites only wanted to see and hear a few blacks at a time, forcing us to choose a leader—when we could. Often a leader was selected for us by white elites. Predictably, blacks often disagreed with those selections, but since the white elites had the power and resources, their opinions counted.”
The Jena Six issue reached national prominence mainly due to an African American radio announcer named Michael Basiden who has a syndicated radio broadcast program out of Chicago that is very popular in large urban city markets. Basiden began to sound the alarm that an injustice had occurred in Jena. He pointed to racism as being the variable and factor which led to one of the black defendant’s Michael Bell, a juvenile that was charged and convicted as an adult. Basiden summoned the community to pay close attention to this issue and for months used his radio program to inform the black community, as well as agitate and in loose way organized the black community around the issue of racism and injustice.
Many listeners telephoned into the Basiden show to express their support for six black teenagers that came to be known as the Jena Six. Basiden unlike most black radio announcers used his programming in a constructive way other than clowning and “buffooning” but he used the airways as a two way communication and social apparatus as well as, a political and social instrument to foster meaningful dialog centered on the issue of injustice and racism. The Reverend Al Sharpton teamed up with Basiden and became the official voice of the Jena Six movement, Basiden gave Sharpton airtime three or four days a week leading up the March which to verbally editorialize and in Op-ed fashion build his case of why blacks needed to be in Jena.
Thus, Sharpton’s social activist record in New York as a post Civil Rights leader, established credibility to Basiden’s clarion call to bring national attention to what many become aware of as a highly racially charged environment in Jena, Louisiana. Jena in many ways appeared stereotypical of the “Old South” where segregation uses to rein under Jim Crow laws—norms, folkways, mores’, values, etc. The southern rural culture of the people, and the town in general, emerged to be a throwback in time when black and white relations were based on written and unwritten assigned social positions.
Sharpton is a season veteran post Civil Rights activist; however, he was not a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but he seems to give an unspoken inference that he was ignited by King to carry the Civil Rights torch in into 21st Century and even he knows the days of mass movements are over, but why do black people in 2007 think they need a handpick leader to serve as one monolithic voice for the entire black populous and overlook the political, economic and social diversity in the black community?
This writer often question the motives of these handpicked leaders that serve as black spokesperson because many of them are more about promoting self-interest over group interest. Cornel West in his book titled, “Race Matters” he stated, “In stark contrast, most present-day black political leaders appear too hungry for status to be angry, too eager for acceptance to be bold, too self-invested in advancement to be defiant. And when they do drop their masks and try to get mad (usually in the presences of black audiences), their bold rhetoric is more performance than personal, more play-acting than heartfelt . . . whereas most contemporary black political leaders’ oratory appeals to black people’s sense of the sentimental and sensational”
The Jena Six without a doubt heighten Sharpton’s level of visibility and gave more credibility to his organization National Action Network. Sharpton has use this new found visibility to echo and bring attention to the issue of the hangman’s noose and should the noose be viewed as a symbol of hate and those who are arrested with the intent and/or commission of criminal act relative a noose should be charged under federal Hate Crime Statues and he demanded the United States Justice Department aggressively pursue federal laws deeming the hangman’s noose as a symbol of hate. Sharpton and black leadership was asking this of George W. Bush, one of the most racist and reactionary presidents in the history of America. They did get ranking Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) of The House Judiciary Committee to hold investigative hearings on Jena Six.
The white media give the impression to be promoting Sharpton and every time an issue arises relative to black life; it appears the media both electronic and print seemed to use him as a legitimize voice to determine the mood and the overall opinion of 35-45 million black people in America. Reverend Al Sharpton does not speak nor represent the masses of black people and blacks should be appalled that this is the overt and covert suggestion.
The Jena Six demonstration and protest lacked real strategies and tactics, beyond the “FEEL GOOD DAY on September 20, because the so-called national leadership of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson had no strategy. This was more of a mere photo-opt for Sharpton and Jackson than a seriously organized movement that was built on grassroots and young black intellectuals willingness to perhaps make a commitment to remained organized after THE FEEL GOOD DAY. The one day protest in Jena did not impact that community enough to foster social and political change. All the community of Jena had to endure was one day of a crowd of black people singing songs of redemption. For example, “we shall over come” and yelling “no justice no peace” but the affect of the rally did not impact the economic structure of the city of Jena in particular and State of Louisiana in general.
Boycotts in the 1960’s disrupted the major means of production and distribution; thus eventually forcing racist Entities to come to the table of political negotiation which to end the disruption of its flow of money (boycotts and protest were bad for business) and once the racist whites came to their senses and understood public accommodation would expand their wealth base--discrimination and segregation took a back seat.
The Jena Six Movement had no real political leverage because no one was in it for the long haul; it was a protest built on sentimental value of given these young privileged and black petite bourgeoisie—middle class Hip Hop (silver platter) generation a glimpse into the past (and believe me it was only a glimpse and it was far removed from the real deal). This should not be viewed as an attack upon young black people, but we have done them a grave disservice by being in complicit to their apathy and their overall social numbness that comes across as being ungrateful and ignorant to fact that they are standing the shoulders of others that have gone before them.
We gave them too much and did require them to appreciate the lessons of struggle and now we have created a generation of undisciplined “creampuffs” who are disconnected from a history just a little over 50 years old. We must take the blame for their socialization is only an extent of us doing everything in our power to safeguard them from the cruel outside world and required very little of them, which to show themselves approved. Frantz Fanon wrote about the importance of every generation defining history and struggle for themselves and carving out a meaningful destiny or they will betray history and struggle of prior generations.
This writer has two sons, in their twenties and are members of Hip-Hop and Generation X, it is from the perspective of a father and it is sad how little interest they have shown to the word commitment and critical thinking (this is probably atypical of 80% of those under 40 years of age). The study of history develops the springs and motives of human actions. History serves as much more than the studying of people, dates and events, but as a bridging of one generation to another, which valuable lessons are passed on. History instills inspiration, motivation, and self-esteem into a people; moreover, it connects a people to their contributions made towards human civilization. This is the discipline that builds the will of a people and encourages them to go forward. African people living in America had a brilliant and glorious history before and after chattel slavery. There are those that control institutions, recognize that they must forever hide the true past of African people in order to keep them asleep to the knowledge of self. History is like a trumpet when it is sounded, the asleep must rise.
But for the first time perhaps since the 1960’s young college age black students took interest and became mobilized on black and white college campuses around the Jena Six issue. Conceivably, we received a glimpse at the power of technology and how conversations about this issue were being posted on Myspace, Facebook, and personal Blogs pages and young African Americans began to take notice of a social and political issue. The majority of the mainstream media for the most part, had ignored the Jena Six issue. They organized, as well as articulated a voice of solidarity for six of their peers who were black and perhaps were victims of the criminal justice and judicial system.
The majority of the young black students who ventured to Jena were not born when Martin Luther King, Jr., led the freedom marches throughout the deep south during the 1950’s and 1960’s that advocated nonviolent social change via civil disobedience. These young ambitious students, as a perquisite should have been required and mandated to read King’s letter written on April 16, 1963 from the Birmingham Jail, which would have given them a perspective on the term of sacrifice and liberation struggle (not that King’s movement was revolutionary, but it is a good lessons in Reform politics).
King stated, “My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privilege groups seldom give up their unjust posture, but Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. We know the painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. . . Frankly, I have yet engaged in a direct-action campaign that ‘was well timed’ in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘wait!’ it rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice to long delayed is justice denied.’ ”
These elder Civil Rights leaders, leading the Jena protest had perhaps manipulated the innocence, naïve and vulnerability of these young black college students by making them think that the protest rally in Jena was equivalent to the 1965 March from Selma too Montgomery. This writer does not want to appear of coming across as being pessimistic and cynical of the Jena Six justice movement and the effort and work it took to galvanized that amount of people. But the reality is the March on Jena was for one day and after this so-called protest the students went back to their Ivory Towers and incubated campus life, as though they had accomplished something great and were instrumental in some aspect of social and political change.
They made a one day sacrifice to leave their Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), but the elder Civil Rights leaders did not tell these young lads that it would-be persistent and relentless protest that were needed to truly alter change and some symbolic march/protest only served as symbol without real substance. The Jena demonstration was strictly based on volunteerism and little conviction to the continuum struggles for justice; this would require a lot more than missing one day of class (some students for attending the march received extra credit from professors due to their attendance in Jena), it would have required a level of organizing beyond the “FEEL GOOD DAY”.
Many of these young black students probably were not familiar with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of the 1960’s producing leaders like Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) and Jamil Abdullah AL-Amin (H. Rapp Brown), etc., the former, a student at Howard University and the latter, and a student of Southern University who sacrificed their lives for the Civil Rights struggle. They were forced to move beyond the “Yard” and the “Hill” (most HBCU attendees and alumnus know what this writer mean) which to engage in the broader struggle for justice and human dignity.
James Forman in his book titled, “The Making of Black Revolutionaries” stated, “SNCC and other civil rights organizations had always been stormy because, from the beginning, SNCC developed as an antithesis to all the other civil rights groups. SNCC strove to be a group-centered or people-oriented organization while others were leader-centered. It constantly stood in opposition to the Republican and democratic parties while others sought favors from the two-party system. It vigorously attacked the Kennedy administration for its inaction in the field of civil rights while others thought that discussion and conciliation with the executive branch could win concessions. It fought against the American value system of making money and paid its staff only subsistence while others were seeking wages for civil rights works beyond the necessary living requirements. It believed in sending its staff to work with the most wretched of the earth while some of the organizations thought this a waste of time. It believed in the absolute right of freedom of association while other organizations acted as fearful as McCarthy of communism. It argued for a basic revolution in American society”
This is the kind of mindset and commitment these students of SNCC had that you did not see in the Jena protest because there was very little political education prior to the mass demonstration and students had no guidance after the “FEEL GOOD MARCH” and Elijah Muhammad use to say do not awaken the dead unless you have something for the dead to do. Sharpton and Jackson arouse the imagination of these young black people, but were not willing to move them into organization because this would require dirty work and no cameras to captivate these egotistical grandstanding racial leaders who always appear camera ready.
Fredrick Douglas once stated, “Those who profess to favor freedom yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. . . .Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blow, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
These young African Americans were partially motivated by nostalgia and they wanted to feel what it was like to be a part of a mass movement for Justice because they had read about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or heard about the significant of King’s activism from a parent or grandparent and many of them needed to affirm their legacy by being able to state “they were part of mass demonstration for justice”, just like the Civil Rights marchers of old.
No, one informed them that the environment of 1950’s and 1960’s were entirely different during Jim Crow segregation; thus, there were white only establishments and black only establishments and race truly affected and impacted every aspect of one’s life in the America. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act were won based on relentless boycotts and demonstrations, as well as social rebellion. These 1950’s and 1960’s fights were the real deal, it was not about making a statement of having over fifty thousand protesters assemble on Jena to hear the Old Guard Civil Rights leaders give these emotional drenched speeches and trying to imitate Dr. King in order to be recorded in the history books of leading a march which to affirm their places in history.
These students were not faced with the vicious racist (tobacco chewing rednecks) and white hostility, but racism in any time, is what it is, and there is no other way to characterize or relegate or diminish its intent or objective. However, this writer must say, there were no comparison between Jena Six protest and the Marches of the original Civil Rights Movement.
Lastly, these old guard Civil Rights leaders should have been honest with these young Jena Six activist and told them that the march on Jena was a piece of cake and they would never know what it was like to be faced with vicious racist who were armed with guns, nooses, canine dogs, water hoses, blackjacks and a relentless and vicious Jim Crow system that affected black’s political, economically, and socially. Someone paid the price to have integrated school systems and so-called equal access to the concept of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These students left the Jean Six march still having no concept of what the word sacrifice mean and what good is it to have mobilization and no political education which is imperative to elevating one’s conscience level in order to develop a worldview perspective. These young students deserve better than being deceived by hustlers and conmen who had self-interest, ulterior motives and their own personal objectives. This is sought of ironic because this writer just recently saw a press conference of Al Sharpton announcing that the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Justice Department were investigating and auditing him and his organization based on monies associated with the Jean Six movement. If you lay down with dogs, you are going to get up with fleas. This writer knows that many are going to get-up set after reading my analysis and critique of the Jena Six movement and its leaders, BUT GUESS WHAT I DO NOT CARE SOMEBODY MUST TELL THE TRUTH
Fahim A. Knight Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of good will of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpret the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlighten world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight can be reached at email@example.com.
Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,
Fahim A. Knight