This is my first post. I'll begin with my most recent column at ebonyjet.com. Tomorrow will bring something different.
Jena: Myths and Memory
setting the record straight on a crooked path
Monday, October 29, 2007
By Monroe Anderson
In the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, 131 hangman's nooses dangle from the roof in one of the exhibition galleries. This eery display is both symbolic and real. Although the nooses hanging in the museum never bore the weight of a lifeless body, each represents a political prisoner who was hanged or died in detention during South Africa's Apartheid Era.
Imagine a comparable exhibit in America. Between 1882 and 1960, more than 4,700 African Americans were lynched by sadistic white mobs in the southern United States. Incited by Klu Klux Klan terrorists campaigns, many of the victims were tortured, mutilated, dragged, or burned –- under color of the law.
In the middle of the last century, when the news media turned a national spotlight on the South's peculiar practices, the noose gave way to fire-hose and baton-wielding police with attack dogs. Their televised assaults spurred government action, and U.S. troops and national guardsmen went to the rescue, establishing some symbolism of honest-to-god law and order. Out of that -– and the voting rights law of 1964 -– we eventually got the new South.
Well, in Jena, La.–an old sawmill town that was at one time a KKK stronghold, and which now has a population of 2,971, that is 85 percent white -– what was old is new again.
Once again it's the outside-agitating media causing trouble for the good white folk in a small southern town. Craig Franklin, the assistant editor of the Jena Times, said as much in a widely-read, widely-circulated opinion piece that ran last week in the Christian Science Monitor. In his finger-pointing essay, Franklin took to task "the outside media" for creating myths about Jena because it was too lazy and too attracted to a "powerfully appealing but false narrative of racial injustice" to tell the truth.
But while Franklin would have us think that the national media has purposefully created 12 myths about his small Southern town, I think it necessary to clarify a few mitigating factors: In his Christian Science Monitor essay, Franklin failed to make a full disclosure. While he was quick to point out that he lives in Jena, that his wife has taught at Jena High School for many years and that he is "probably the only reporter who has covered these events," Franklin left out a little somethin', somethin': that Sammy J. Franklin, the publisher and editor of the Jena Times, is his daddy; that the newspaper's office manager is Bonita Franklin, his daddy's wife. Or that the sheriff-elect of LaSalle Parish, who got big backing from the Jena Times, is Scott Franklin, another of his daddy's sons.
Vested interests and conflicts of interest seem familiar to the Franklin family and the Jena Times. So, naturally, he had no interest in noting that there are no black lawyers in town. Or that Jena, which he claims in his myth piece, "is a wonderful place for both whites and blacks," has no black doctors and only one black employee in the town's half-dozen banks. Since the outside media didn't widely report it, why didn't he mention that there are only two black teachers at Jena High and that one black former teacher, Cleveland Riser, 75, who rose to become an assistant superintendent of schools in LaSalle Parish, told outside reporter Todd Lewan, that blacks have long had trouble getting ahead in Jena because "the opportunity for advancing in my profession was denied, in my opinion, because I was black." ?
Why, in cataloging his myths, did Craig point out that the all-white jury that convicted teenager Mychal Bell "withstood an investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division," but didn't bother to note that the public defender called no witnesses and that the deliberation lasted all of three hours? And why, in his mad rush to debunk, did Franklin fail to squarely–or fairly–address LaSalle Parish's double standard? Why didn't he express concern that Bell was charged with attempted murder -– armed with the deadly weapons of street sneakers he wore on his feet?
How about a real myth buster: Jena could learn loads from South Africa. The town could begin its lesson by forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Monroe Anderson is an award-winning journalist who penned op-ed columns for both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. He is a regular contributor to Ebonyjet.com.