24 September 2007

The Little Rock 9


Fifty years ago today, on September 24 1957, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock AR, in order to enforce school integration and protect the nine African American students who had enrolled at Little Rock Central High. Eisenhower also federalized the entire 10,000 member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Governor Faubus (who wasn't exactly cooperating with the whole integration thing). This is a story we should all review and ponder, in my opinion. It's an important historical event.

Instead, the news these days is full of stories about the "Jena 6," a name which seems to be an attempt to draw a comparison to the Little Rock 9. I don't claim to know all the details of either case, but it doesn't seem quite appropriate. The Little Rock 9 were fighting for civil rights. The Jena 6 were just fighting - and in a six-on-one fight, they beat some guy unconscious.

Yes, I know about the nooses and the "white's only" tree - that situation obviously wasn't handled well by anyone involved. Yes, the charges filed against these kids seem excessive, but it's worth noting that the only one who was actually tried had his conviction overturned. I agree, the justice system didn't work the way it should. It certainly seems like these kids were treated badly because of the color of their skin - and we can't sit back and let that happen. But is it really wise to hold up the Jena 6 as a civil rights rally point? They got a raw deal, yes, and we shouldn't tolerate or excuse it. But these six kids aren't exactly civil rights heroes. Not like the Little Rock 9. Not by a long shot.

13 comments:

Kim said...

I dunno, Dan... Don't you find it depressing that nooses were hung on school grounds and virtually nothing was done about it? If that's not a civil rights rally point, then what is?

Michelle said...

Living near the mess, I'm glad to hear a sane voice in the crowd. Of course the school handled this incorrectly. They had an entire school year to stop this at any point. And the charges were excessive, especially considering other students weren't punished for their crimes. BUT I take offense at the posters and t-shirts saying "Free the Jena 6." Free them? So are we saying these kids shouldn't be held accountable for their actions? Isn't that what we're always complaining about, how adults think they can get away with anything? Isn't this just an awful case of misdirection we're teaching those kids? The school should be held accountable for letting this get so out of hand, but no one should be getting off the hook here.

Kim said...

Maybe I'm simplifying too much, or maybe I just don't know all the details, but I think that the beating is certainly not the worst offense in this whole situation.

Dan said...

Thanks, Michele & Kim. As a (very) white guy from the north, I'm always a little bit hesitant to weigh in on stuff like this - but the brave, non-violent acts of the Little Rock 9 are just SO different from the violent lashing out of the students in Jena that I wanted to object to the comparison.

The nooses were terrible, of course, but six people beating another one senseless - I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's worse.

I think Dr. King was pretty clear that violence wasn't going to solve anything. The way you defend and exercise your civil rights is with dignity, compassion and love.

But hey, I could be wrong...

Kim said...

I don't know. It's a tough one. There's just so much hate involved, I find it unsurprising that, given all the preceeding events, someone got beat up. (He did go to a party that later night, so I'm not buying the attempted murder aspect.) I think that ALL of the kids involved have been let down by their families, teachers, justice system, etc.

Dan said...

I agree that the grownups really dropped the ball here. My point is simply that the violent, thuggish behavior of the Jena 6 disqualifies them from being held up as civil rights heroes. They had so many other options - all of which were clearly demonstrated and taught by men like Dr. King. Instead, they chose the path of violence and then objected when the courts came down on them.

I should also clarify that the victim didn't go to a party - he went to the school's ring ceremony with the other Juniors, and left early because of pain (he had a concussion). Oh, and he was blind in one eye for 3 weeks. Also, the AP report described the attack as coming from behind. His testimony was "I turned my back and someone hit me, and that's all I remember..."
http://www.katc.com/Global/story.asp?S=6719374

It's a messy situation, but in comparison to the bravery and sacrifices of the Little Rock 9, the Jena 6 come off looking pretty lame.

Mark said...

It is an absolute perversion of the civil rights movement to call for the freedom of the "Jena 6" simply because they are black. What happened to content of character rather than color of skin? If they did in fact commit assault and battery, then by the law there are certain punishments. "But your honor, they're African-American!" should never be an argument from the defense, just as much as it should never be an argument for the prosecution. Unfortunately, the self-named "civil rights leaders" Jackson and Sharpton tend to do more to explicitly promote racism than to counteract it, all the while claiming to speak on behalf of all people of color.
Is there a legitimate complaint about the white student's actions? Yes - despicable is not a strong enough word. Was the noose incident handled properly according to the law? I don't know. But I am pretty sure that the law would generally treat an actual violent crime more harshly than a symbolic (though disgusting) message. If the citizens want the laws changed, then so be it. To simply claim innocence by reason of discrimination is ridiculous.

The sad thing is I heard/read WAY more about the release of Halo 3 than I did about the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock 9. Thanks for pointing it out, Dan - this was the first place I read about it.

Kim said...

Dan, you've sparked a very good discussion. Almost makes me wish we were all still living at home so that we could talk it out over dinner. :)

Mark said...

Yeah... a vegetarian dinner, of course! :)

Kim said...

Hah! I was waiting for someone to say that!

Dan said...

HALO 3 is out? I'll catch up with you guys later!

Dan said...

Do read the writeup on Wikipedia about the Jena 6 - apparently one defendant (Mychal Bell) was already on probation for battery, and was convicted of another case of battery and two charges of criminal damage to property... so this wasn't a one time thing (thus the harsher charge, perhaps?)

Dick Field said...

Why isn't anybody talking about those fine young men and women in the historical Little Rock picture? Just look at them. I can guarantee they never had any doubt about their personal worth and their ambitions. No, they never let messed up ghetto behavior distract them from the dream. I get choked up every time I think of the noble sacrifices made by the early civil rights participants squandered by today's participants in the gangstuh culture. What a waste! Tell me, which group of young people make the better role models - the Little Rock students or the Jena 6?

-- A White Guy who came of age in the civil rights era and is proud of it

P.S. According to journalist Juan Williams, all of the Little Rock students were successful in later life. Anybody want to take any bets on the Jena 6?