BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 12:50 GMT
Deep South Divide

This World returns to Louisiana where a trial involving six black students has brought the subject of racial discrimination in America's Deep South to worldwide attention.

Deep South Divide
4 March 2008
1900 GMT on BBC Two
The story began about 18 months ago in the small mixed race town of Jena, Louisiana, when two nooses were strung up on a schoolyard tree - a deliberate act by three white students against their fellow black colleagues.

The black community felt the town's largely white establishment regarded the noose hanging as a 'prank' and failed to take strong enough action against the culprits.

Racial tension simmered and three months later there were minor flare-ups and fights in town.

Then on 4 December 2006, a white pupil was attacked in school allegedly by six black students. When the District Attorney raised the charges to attempted murder and said that one of the alleged attackers, who was only 16, should stand trial as an adult, the 'Jena Six' case attracted the attention of civil rights activists.

"When blacks are suspected of a crime, the system tends to go full blast. When white are given the benefit of the doubt. That is a racist outcome, whether one goes in with a racist intent or not. And I think that's what caught the imagination of a lot of people," said black activist Reverend Al Sharpton.

Worldwide attention

activists marching
Thousands of activists marched to the local courthouse in Sept 2007
Over the following nine months Jena spiralled towards a racial showdown and in September 2007 one of the biggest black civil rights marches since the sixties strode its way through the tiny town.

American white supremacists staged their protest too, and the international media's satellite trucks watched and waited.

But in Jena, the white majority simply could not identify with the image of red-neck racism thrust upon them.

"If you want to talk about prejudiced the worst case of prejudice I have ever seen is when reporters came from outside this community with a preconceived nation that we were a bunch of backward ignorant hillbillies, and they came here to prove it," said Chuck Gifford, the owner of the general store.

A year after he first broke the story on This World, reporter Tom Mangold returns to Jena to find out what really happened and who was to blame for the escalation of events.

He asks whether the community can yet survive the storm that threatened to overwhelm it.

He talks to the shocked residents - black and white - to the race-haters of the right, and to the first ever black Federal Attorney tasked to bring law, order and common sense back to the small town in the Divided South.

Reporter: Tom Mangold
Produced/Directed: Sophie Todd
Executive Producer: Louise Norman

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