Big things happen in small towns

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 28, 2007

Two anonymous sayings about small towns go something like this:

“Half the world doesn’t know how the other half lives, but not in a small town;”

And, “A small town is a place where you chat for a while on the phone even when you get a wrong number.”

Perhaps a third can be added: If you want to mobilize people in a hurry, do it in a small town.

That’s what Angelia Cross did. Cross organized a march along Franklin’s busiest street at the busiest time of the day to protest the treatment of six black teens in Jena, La., who are accused of beating a white teen they believed was part of a group that committed acts of racial intimidation.

Cross went to church leaders, got on the phone, alerted the media as to her plans. In a matter of days, she assembled a group of about 60 marchers.

In short order, she got permission to stage behind the Exxon on Armory Drive and march to the parking lot of Paul D. Camp Community College, a walk of about 30 minutes when taken at a leisurely pace.

The Franklin Police were on hand, providing a roving escort of at least six of its cruisers to divert or stop traffic to keep marchers safe, particularly when they walked on a portion of Armory Drive in front of the construction area of Lowe’s where there is no sidewalk.

Police also kept keen eyes for anyone looking to disrupt the march or to otherwise cause trouble. At the end of the march, police staged in the college’s park lot where the group gathered to hear speeches. The police stayed out of the way of the marchers but were well within eyesight should their services be needed. They were not.

The purpose of the march was to raise awareness of what the group considers to be unfair treatment to the “Jena Six.” Some context is required.

The Jena case is a complicated one, steeped in the ugly side of history in the Deep South. According to news reports, three teens at Jena High School apparently hung nooses from what has been described as a “white tree,” supposedly where whites students assembled. Three students were suspended but it was determined by local prosecutors that no crimes had been committed.

In retaliation to the noose incident, a fight ensued between black and white students. One white student was beaten unconscious. That was in December. Six black students were arrested, and five of the six were initially charged with attempted second-degree murder. Charges against four have been reduced.

One, Mychal Bell, remains behind bars, tangled in legal matters.

The case caught the attention of national figures who organized a protest last week that brought about 20,000 people, many of whom criticized local officials of prosecuting black defendants more vigorously than white defendants.

Which brings us to this small town.

Locally, Cross said the actions in Louisiana called “to her heart” that something had to be done. Evoking the peace marches organized by Martin Luther King, the demonstrators marched carrying signs calling for justice for all, equality and supporting the Jena Six.

Some drivers passing by honked their horns in support of the marchers’ cause.

But this is not about race relations. This is about small towns and how things can get done quickly in such a settling.

Paul McFarlane is the Editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail is