WASHINGTON (CNN) - During an election year notable for the diversity of the Presidential candidates that include Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, whose father is from Kenya, and former candidate Arizona Gov. Bill Richardson, whose mother is Hispanic, President Bush today both touted progress on race relations in the United States and reminded Americans the country still has a long way to go.
Amid the festivities at the annual White House event celebrating African-American history month, President Bush condemned what he called a symbol of suffering, the noose.
"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice," President Bush stated. "Displaying one is not a harmless prank."
Explaining its history, the President said the noose played a central part in a campaign of violence and fear against African-Americans. In stark terms, Bush described how African-Americans were terrorized for decades saying, "Fathers were dragged from their homes in the dark of night before the eyes of their terrified children. Summary executions were held by torchlight in front of hateful crowds."
The President's comments come after a recent wave of racially charged stories, including a noose display in the Jena Six case, a noose found on the door of an African-American professor at Columbia University, and comments by a Golf Channel anchor, who joked that Tiger Woods competitors might want to "lynch him" in order to win. The anchor later apologized.
At Tuesday's event, Bush said that "lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest. As a civil society, we should understand that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive. They are wrong. And they have no place in America today."
President Bush also honored four people who contributed to African-American history, including civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis and former Secretary of Transportation William Coleman, the first African-American cabinet member of a Republican administration.
Reflecting on their accomplishments, the President expressed hope for continued progress on race relations in America, saying, "...in the example of the leaders like those we honor today, we see strength greater than any division."
- CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano