by Martin Savidge, NBC Correspondent
JENA, La.-- What's a tree worth? More accurately what's a tree stump worth?
Calvin Hardy was wondering that very same thing when I found him leaning on his old red pick-up truck a block from the Jena courthouse...
The stump was the so called "White tree" the tree that used to offer shade at the local high school under which, so the story goes, only whites could sit beneath. The same tree from whose branches 3 nooses were hung when an African American student asked to share its shade.
"Is that the tree?" I asked. Hardy pulled out the copy of his receipt showing how the Lasalle parish school board paid him $500 to take it down and get rid of it. "They said it was causing contention and they wanted it gone."
Hardy said, "They didn't say what the problem was."
So in just three hours on July 23rd, Hardy cut down the live oak that he said looked to have stood about 35 years.
"It was a good tree... There was nothing wrong with it," Hardy said.
He took the tree to his cousin's house and dumped down a slope to keep the soil from slipping.
Time passed and though the tree was dead it's impact continued to grow...
Altercations followed, the school burned, 6 black teens beat a white classmate. Charges were filed. A trial was held. And the shadow of a tree began to be felt across a nation.
Suddenly a town nobody knew was a place where many had to be: boarding buses, marching, demanding justice.
The protestors gathered at the high school and stood where the tree used to stand until Hardy and his Stihl chainsaw were hired.
"It was a good tree," he repeated. As an arborist, he would know.
After all those people came he began rethinking that tree in his cousin's dirt. So he went back to his cousins and saved the stump.
"What are you gonna do with it?" I asked.
"I was thinking about putting it on e-bay or maybe cut it up and sell pieces of it. It's history."
After a pause. "A fella from the NAACP offered me a hundred dollars. But I think I'll wait a bit."
The trees dead but the thought of money was obviously growing in Hardy's mind. "I got 5 kids."
So what's a tree worth?
In Jena perhaps there is another way to phrase that... what has it cost?