Top civil rights leaders are slated to lead thousands of protestors Thursday in a march in a small Louisiana town where a group of black teens stands accused of beating a white schoolmate, a case critics say reflects the unbridged racial divide in parts of the state decades after the civil rights movement.
Between 5,000 and 40,000 people are expected to descend on the central Louisiana town of about 2,900.
Racial animosity flared in the mostly white town of Jena about a year ago, when a black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for whites on the campus of Jena High School. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree, evoking for some the image of lynchings in the old South. Racial fights and confrontations culminated in the December attack on white student Justin Barker.
Five black students at the school were originally charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder, bringing widespread criticism that blacks were being treated more harshly than whites. The case drew international attention, and the charges have been reduced against all but one of the teens. A sixth student was charged in the alleged assault as a juvenile.
The Rev. Al Sharpton. . .helped organize the march that is expected to draw as many as 60,000 people.
Sharpton will also be joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, the son of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Schools in Jena will be closed Thursday, and many businesses in the town said they will shut down, concerned about safety.
About 200 students marched from the Atlanta University Center campus to Centennial Olympic Park on Tuesday in support of the six black high-school students.
The crowd of young people, mostly from Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University, held signs reading, “Stop the racist prosecution of the Jena 6,” and chanted slogans like, “Until the Six are free, neither are we!”
“We’re here to make sure our voices are heard and to make sure they see support from their peers,” Reginald McKinley, a senior at Morehouse and one of the organizers of Tuesday’s rally in Atlanta, said.
Tammy Timbers, a senior at Spelman College, said she first read about the case a month ago in The New York Times. The political science major said she immediately saw it as a violation of the 14th Amendment.
“Things like this happen all the time,” Timbers said. “Jena Six is just getting a lot of publicity.”
Rock star David Bowie made a $10,000 donation to the students’ defense fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced Tuesday.