EDITORIAL: From Little Rock to Jena

This week the nation observed the 50th anniversary of the struggle to integrate public schools in Little Rock, Ark. It came just one week after 50,000 protesters converged on Jena, La., to protest the criminalization of six African American youths for daring to stand up against lynch nooses hung on a tree at their high school. It is especially outrageous that one of the Jena Six, Mychal Bell, remains in jail even though an appeals court threw out his conviction.

Half a century after the Supreme Court struck down the racist notion of “separate but equal,” a racist double standard still rules in the U.S. The Black teenagers in Jena had the book thrown at them for lashing back at racism. The white youths who perpetrated the racist provocations got slaps on the wrist.

The court’s refusal to free Bell reminds us of fanatical segregationist Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus in 1957. Back then, the balance tipped only when President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and ordered them to escort nine Black teenagers into Little Rock’s Central High School.

Eisenhower acted when mass public pressure, African American and white, forced him to.

It would require massively bigger pressure to compel our current president to intervene in Jena, but it’s a task that needs doing.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told a news conference he will “press our government for release of Mychal Bell” and will press the Justice Department to take a hard look at the “miscarriages of justice that have occurred in Jena, La.”

This is not a struggle for the African American people alone. It requires an outpouring of Americans of all races and ethnicities, demanding, “Remember the Little Rock Nine. Free the Jena Six.” It’s time to end Jim Crow injustice in America.