Michael Abramowitz and Hamil R. Harris, Washington Post, February 13, 2008
President Bush warned yesterday that the United States is at risk of losing sight of past racial suffering, describing recent displays of nooses and jokes about lynching as “deeply offensive” in a speech to a largely African American audience invited to the White House.
Responding to news coverage of such episodes since the “Jena Six” case in Louisiana last fall, Bush said: “These disturbing reports have resulted in heightened racial tensions in many communities. They have revealed that some Americans do not understand why the sight of a noose causes such a visceral reaction among so many people.”
“This is a very strong statement,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was recognized by Bush from the dais. “I wish that he would add legislation to it, but I am glad that he has finally addressed this issue.”
Bush’s relations with the African American community have been tense throughout his presidency, but he has tried to mend fences in recent years. He appeared before the NAACP in 2006 after shunning the group his first five years in office.
Bush referred to the noose cases in his remarks yesterday. “Our nation has come a long way toward building a more perfect union,” he said. “Yet as past injustices have become distant memories, there’s a risk that our society may lose sight of the real suffering that took place. One symbol of that suffering is the noose.”
Bush described the era of rampant lynching as a “shameful chapter” in U.S. history. “The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice,” he said. “Displaying one is not a harmless prank. And lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest.”