Catrina Wallace, who came to national prominence as a civil rights activist and the sister of one of the Jena Six, was found dead early today, the victim of a double homicide in Monroe, Louisiana. Wallace had three children.
Wallace, 35, was the sister of Robert Bailey, Jr.. In late 2006, a series of incidents in the town of Jena, Louisiana - including the hanging of several nooses in a school yard - led to racial tension and violence. After a school fight, Bailey was one of six high school students who was arrested and faced decades in prison. Catrina Wallace helped lead months of protests that eventually brought national and international attention to the case, culminating in a mass protest of nearly 50,000 in the small town of Jena, in what has been called the first major struggle of the 21st century civil rights movement. Although the story leapt to national attention in summer of 2007, Catrina and other family members had been leading protests, sometimes every week, for over six months before the first national press arrived.
The protests and the movement behind them were successful. The six young men went on to college, instead of prison. Last year, Robert Bailey graduated from Grambling University. Earlier this year Theo Shaw, another of the young men, received a full scholarship to law school.
After the young men were released, Catrina Wallace and her mother, Caseptla Bailey, stayed in Jena and remained focused on grassroots organizing. The two founded Organizing in the Trenches, a community organization dedicated to empowering youth. However, after the legal cases ended and national attention moved on, funding and support was hard to find for a small project located deep in rural Louisiana.
On July 9, 2009, Wallace was one of a dozen Jena residents arrested in a multi-agency police raid that many saw as retribution for her organizing. After the arrests, which were focused entirely in Jena's Black community, some white residents of Jena began wearing t-shirts that celebrated the police action and featured an image of a monkey behind bars.
Wallace was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In 2014, her sentences were vacated on appeal, and she was released later that year.
Wallace moved out of Jena after her release, and at the time of her death was apparently working at a bail bonds office in Monroe, LA. As of this writing, police have not released any information on who might be behind the murder, but Monroe Police Detective Reggie Brown told reporters, "We're interviewing witnesses and possible persons of interest at this time, and we feel very strongly that we're going to bring the person responsible to justice." Since earlier today, Wallace's facebook wall has been filled with dozens of heartbreak-filled messages from friends and family.
Marcus Jones, another Jena Six family member, died last year in an apparent accident.
Photos by Mavis York.