This Small-town Drew 20,000 Protesters Over Their Excessive Murder Charge

marchers holding the banner that says free the jena 6 louisiana naacp
Cydney Smith
September 22, 2022

December 2006. The racial climate was tense in Jena, Louisiana. After a Black student asked to sit beneath the “white tree” at Jena High, three nooses were hung from it the next day, sending a clear message. Then came a school fight, and six Black students were arrested. But that was just the beginning.

After a white student got a concussion, six Black teens between 15-17 years old were handed extreme charges: attempted murder and conspiracy. But the white student, supposedly injured,  left the hospital shortly after arriving, even attending a school dance later that night!

An all-white jury set to determine their fate, the teens faced up to 100 years in prison without parole. But Black people weren’t having it. 

Jena was forever changed.

Masses signed petitions, and 15,000-20,000 demonstrators marched on Jena, leading to one of the biggest protests in decades. As a result, the excessive charges were dropped to battery! 

Years later, one of the six, Theodore Shaw, went on to law school, hoping to challenge the system that nearly took his entire life.

When Black communities showed up, a small town’s injustices were forced into the light – and that made the difference between life and death. Today, we can keep showing up for our communities and work towards liberation.

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