It's been 10 years since three white men in Jasper, Texas beat 49-year-old James Byrd, chained him by the ankles to the bumper of a Ford pickup, then pulled him three miles down a country road because he was black. As MSNBC recalls:
Byrd's remains were found scattered in 75 places along the twisting path that cuts through a pine forest. His head and right arm were discovered about a mile from his mangled torso.
Media reports of race relations in Jasper today paint a mixed picture. A reflective piece in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram observes how the community came together in the wake of the killing, and that "on the surface," race relations have improved. But some in the community -- especially whites -- didn't like the idea of a memorial event Byrd because they weren't "thrilled that the family is stirring up old memories."
Perhaps more encouraging is the news that African-American residents in Jasper have found their political voice and have more say in the town's decision-making:
Ministers, both black and Anglo, have continued the alliance that they started after the killing. The group was instrumental in getting both sides of the community to really talk to each other. [Deep East Texas Council of Governments president Walter] Diggles also noted that blacks have made gains in elected offices.
"We have three black Americans on the City Council, and that gives us a majority, and three blacks on school board when we had two a decade ago. Those are things you can tangibly see as progress," Diggles said.
Whether a hate crime in Japer, Texas or Jena, Louisiana -- or a regional catastrophe like Katrina -- the media's tendency is to see such events as isolated incidents, rather than signs of a deeper racial divide in America.
There's also an inclination to dwell on the personal racial attitudes of individuals. Most of the stories about Jasper follow a predictable formula: survey a few residents, see how they "feel" about the racial situation, and conclude that, despite some lingering "problems," things are generally moving in the right direction.
Changing public attitudes about race are absolutely critical, but it's also a long-term and often nebulous process. In Japser -- as elsewhere -- a more meaningful sign of progress may be when the dispossessed gain some measure of political and economic power, and come to have a say in the decisions that effect their lives.