The story of the Jena Six reveals only a small part of the discrimination in the American justice system.
The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, released a state-by-state study of prison populations that identified where blacks endured the highest rates of incarceration. The top four states were South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Vermont; the top ten included Utah, Montana, and Colorado -- not places renowned for their African-American subcultures. In the United States today, driving while black -- or shoplifting while black, or taking illegal drugs, or hitting schoolmates -- often carries the greatest risk of incarceration, in comparison to the risk faced by whites, in states where people of color are rare, including a few states that are liberal, prosperous, and not a little self-satisfied. Ex-slave states that are relatively poor and have large African-American populations, such as Louisiana, display less racial disparity.
The story behind an iconic photo of Elizabeth Ekford, one of the Little Rock Nine on her way to the newly desegregated Central High School. Oddly, she became friends with the white girl in the photograph who yelled "Go home, nigger! Go back to Africa!" at her. Even stranger is the fact that Central High is *still* segregated, more or less:
Central High School looks as imposing as ever, but over the past 50 years, its innards have changed unimaginably: the school is now more than half black. It's all misleading, of course, because Central is really two different schools, separate and unequal, under one roof. The blacks go to different classes, sit on separate sides of the cafeteria, have different, and far lower, levels of performance and expectations.
At the end of my Eyes on the Prize post from earlier this week, I asked people for their favorite books on the American civil rights movement. Here's what I got back:
Thanks to everyone for the recommendations; these all sound great.
I posted a link to this earlier, but after watching the first two hours earlier this evening, I must strongly caution against missing Eyes on the Prize on PBS this month. Using nothing more than archival film footage, on-camera interviews, period music, and a narrator's voiceover, the stories of Emmitt Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the desegregation of southern schools riveted me to the couch like few viewing experiences have. As compelling as the history of the civil rights movement in America is, the production of the film deserves some of the credit for its power. To hear the stories of these momentous events told by the participants themselves, without embellishment, is quite extraordinary. From a media perspective, watching Eyes on the Prize gives me hope that we can survive the era of the crescendoing musical scores and 20-cuts-per-minute editing and still tell powerful, engaging stories without worrying about window dressing. I won't soon forget the calm determination in the look and voice of Moses Wright or Mississippi governor Ross Barnett thundering away about segregation.
(For me, Eyes is also a nice companion piece to my twin obsessions of late, The Wire and The Blind Side, both of which deal with contemporary race relations in their own way. The PBS web site for the film lists dozens of resources for further exploration of the topic...does anyone have any specific recommendations for books about the civil rights movement? Lemme know.)
Update: Thanks for the recommendations, everyone...I posted a listing of them here.
Must see/TiVo TV: for the first time in years, PBS is airing Eyes on the Prize, a 14-hour series on the American civil rights movement. (via steve)