The Jena Six controversy began in August 2006 when two Black students stood under the “white tree” during lunch break at Jena High School. The tree and its shade had long been the preserve of white students, and the following day three nooses were found hanging from the tree. The predominantly white school board considered the nooses a prank and handed down brief suspensions.
Months of racial tensions followed, including several altercations between Black and white students. On Dec. 4, a white student was knocked unconscious in a school fight. He was released from the hospital within hours and attended a school function later that night. Second-degree attempted murder charges were subsequently filed against five Black youths for the fight, while a sixth was charged in juvenile court.
Seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, the first of the six youths to go on trial, faced as much as 22 years in prison after being convicted June 28 of aggravated battery and conspiracy by an all-white jury. As the story of the Jena Six began to spread (especially on Black blogs and talk radio), national pressure on the town began to grow. By early September, attempted murder charges against three of the youths were reduced to aggravated battery and Bell’s conviction was overturned by a state appeals court. Following the Sept. 20 protest, charges against Bell were re-filed in juvenile court and he was released on $45,000 bond.
And the “white tree?” It was cut down over the summer by town officials looking to put the incident behind them. — JT