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The Town Talk

July 31, 2007: Jena High 'noose' tree cut down

By Abbey Brown • • July 17, 2009

Some say it will provide a clean slate, a new beginning. Others say it will solve nothing.


Regardless of what people are saying, the tree where two nooses were found hanging nearly a year ago on the campus of Jena High School is gone.

Some in the community have said those nooses and that tree were what spawned a number of interracial fights -- one ending with six black teens charged with attempted murder and a white teen unconscious and treated for injuries.

"A clean slate," LaSalle Parish School Board member Billy Fowler said of why the tree was cut down in the past few weeks. "There's nothing positive about that old tree. It's all negative. And I'm serving on the new School Board, and we're wanting to start fresh on some things."

Schools Superintendent Roy Breithaupt authorized the tree to be cut down, Fowler said. Breithaupt on Monday refused to comment about the tree while discussing plans for rebuilding the school after an arson fire destroyed one the school's buildings.

Fowler said the tree eventually would have been cut down for construction purposes, but that he also is hopeful its removal will help heal old wounds.

"School's about to start," he said. "We don't want the blacks coming back up there looking at the tree knowing what happened, or the whites. We just want to start fresh."

The school's main academic building was destroyed in November in a fire ruled to be arson. No connection has been made between the fire, the nooses or other issues that have plagued Jena High students in the past year. No suspects have been named in connection with the fire.

Breithaupt said the district is about halfway through demolishing the destroyed building and is about to consider proposals for the building that will take its place. He said school officials plan to connect the new building with the other existing structures -- meaning they would have to build over part of the courtyard where the tree had once stood.

But the disappearance of the tree -- the same tree Caseptla Bailey has said conjures images of the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings of the past -- won't change anything, she said. Bailey is the mother of Robert Bailey Jr., one of the six black teens -- coined the "Jena Six" -- who were charged in connection with a December attack on a white student at the school.

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"Cutting down that beautiful tree won't solve the problem at hand," she said. "It still happened."


But Fowler hopes that isn't the case. He said he's confident it will help the school year get off on the right foot.

Classes are scheduled to start Aug. 17. Breithaupt said Jena High will use the same outlying buildings that it did last year after the fire and is constructing nine more that should be ready in September. And instead of a four-block-style schedule, Jena High students will go back to the traditional seven period classes.

According to Jena High students, the nooses were found hanging in the tree the day after an annual assembly where one student asked about who could sit under the tree.

The three students found to be responsible for hanging the nooses were suspended after the principal's recommendation for expulsion was overruled by a school district committee. Breithaupt accepted the committee's decision to overrule the expulsion.

The noose incident, which some have said should be handled as a federal hate crime, was never reported to the Jena Police Department, LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Office or LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, according to U.S. Attorney Donald Washington.

The school investigated the incident and determined the nooses were placed there as a "prank" in response to the question, he said. Washington's office doesn't have enough evidence to prosecute those responsible for the nooses with a hate crime, he said.