Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Some Americans do not understand why the sight of a noose causes such a visceral reaction among so many people. Bush condemns racial provocations.
Honoring African American History Month, he says noose displays and lynching jokes 'have no place in America today.'
WASHINGTON -- Responding to a rash of racial incidents in the last year, President Bush on Tuesday denounced displays of nooses and jokes about lynching, and said that as past racial injustice fades in memory, the nation risked forgetting the suffering it brought.
The president's remarks, at a White House program marking African American History Month, were among his most pointed in recent years on the subject of racial tensions.
They grew out of concern, his spokeswoman said, that even as the nation made progress toward overcoming racial inequality, symbols of past injustice still flared up.
The president's focus on race coincides with the attention being devoted to the role of race in politics, with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in contention to be the first African American candidate to receive a major political party's presidential nomination. He is drawing the support of a cross section of voters and is finding a deep well of votes in states with large white populations.
"The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history. The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice. Displaying one is not a harmless prank. And lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest," Bush said.
"As a civil society, we must understand that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive," the president added. "They are wrong. And they have no place in America today."
Bush, who leaves on Friday for his second trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa, saluted four African Americans: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; former Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman Jr., the first black to clerk on the Supreme Court and the first to hold a Cabinet post in a Republican administration; Ernest Green, who with eight other African American students integrated Little Rock, Ark.'s Central High School in 1957; and Otis Williams of The Temptations, the singers who drew fans across racial lines.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, citing news accounts, said there had been more than 70 reports of nooses being displayed since December 2006.
The Justice Department said that the agency, along with state and local officials, had investigated "dozens" of noose displays and other racially motivated threats.
In perhaps the most infamous recent incident, the town of Jena, La., was roiled after three nooses were hung from a tree that had long been a gathering point of white students.
Bush said the reports of such activities had heightened racial tensions and "revealed that some Americans do not understand why the sight of a noose causes such a visceral reaction among so many people."
He noted that for decades it had been a tool of murder and intimidation directed at African Americans, when "summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds," with law enforcement officers who were responsible for protecting the victims instead being "complicit in . . . their deaths