A lawyer for the teenager who set off the largest rash of racist noose incidents this country has seen in recent decades says his client will plead guilty to a federal misdemeanor Friday. Jeremiah Munsen, 19, faced up to 11 years for conspiring to intimidate a black crowd returning from a huge anti-racist demonstration last fall in Jena, La., but now will receive no more than a year, said attorney Bill Guin. Some 20,000 people had rallied in Jena earlier that Sept. 20 to protest allegedly disparate criminal treatment accorded black and white students at a local high school.
Not much is known publicly about Munsen, other than the prosecutor’s description of his willingness to use a symbol (see photo) that “physically portended physical violence.” However, some little-known facts about his hometown may offer a clue.
Jeremiah Munsen comes from Colfax, La., a town of some 1,700 people about 40 miles southwest of Jena. Colfax is the site of the Easter Sunday 1873 massacre of 150 members of an all-black militia defending the town’s courthouse against an assault by rampaging white supremacists. To this day, the town appears utterly unrepentant about its role in the bloodshed that portended the end of Radical Reconstruction and the imposition of racist Jim Crow laws across the South. A historical marker in Colfax, put up by the state Department of Commerce and Industry in 1951, calls the massacre “The Colfax Riot” and says it “marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.” Even more striking, there also still remains an obelisk monument erected in Colfax in “loving remembrance” of the three white men who died, as the monument boasts without further elaboration or shame, “fighting for white supremacy.”
Authorities say Munsen convinced a younger acquaintance to help him prepare several hangman’s nooses and then drive to Alexandria, near Jena, where hundreds of mostly black, out-of-state demonstrators had gone to catch buses home. The pair hung nooses from the back of Munsen’s pickup truck and repeatedly drove by the crowd as part of an explicit plan to intimidate people. In the months that followed that provocation, some 75 noose incidents were reported around the nation, most apparently copycat incidents expressing hatred of black Americans. The incidents, in workplaces, schools and other venues, received international media attention.
The horrific story of Colfax’s courthouse slaughter — and the town’s remaining monuments to white supremacy — is told in an excellent book published earlier this year by Oxford University Press. Written by LeeAnna Keith, the book’s title, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, & the Death of Reconstruction, pretty much tells it all.