President Bush said Tuesday that recent displays of nooses are disturbing and indicate that some Americans may be losing sight of the suffering that blacks have endured across the nation.
"The era of rampant lynching is a shameful chapter in American history," Bush said at a black history month event at the White House, which began with serious comments about prejudice and ended with music performed by the Temptations.
"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice," the president said. "Displaying one is not a harmless prank. Lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest."
As a civil society, Americans should agree that noose displays and lynching jokes are "deeply offensive," Bush said.
For decades, the noose was a symbolic part of a campaign of violence, fear and intimidation against blacks, the president said. Sometimes, he added, it was orchestrated by the law enforcement officers charged with protecting them.
The Justice Department says it is actively investigating a number of noose incidents at schools, workplaces and neighborhoods around the country.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was at the White House, said he was pleased that Bush addressed the issue. Sharpton helped organize a massive rally in September in Jena, La., to protest what marchers believed to be the unfair treatment of six black students charged with beating a white student at Jena High School. The beating came months after three other white students were suspended, but not criminally charged, for hanging nooses in a tree at the school.