President Bush marked African-American History Month in the United States with a ceremony at the White House, where he spoke of the need to purge the country of symbols of intolerance. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports.

For many African-Americans, a rope tied into a noose is a frightening symbol of bigotry and hatred.

It reminds them of a time when the fight for civil rights in America was underway, and those who preached bigotry thought nothing of chasing and hanging anyone who sought equality.

President Bush says all Americans need to realize that this symbol stirs up powerful emotions. And he says those who use the noose to taunt and tease must stop.

"Displaying one is not a harmless prank. Lynching is not a word to be mentioned in jest. As a civil society, we should be able to agree that noose displays and lynching jokes are deeply offensive. They are wrong. And they have no place in America today," he said.

The president says recent reports of noose displays are disturbing and have led to racial tensions. He says some Americans may be losing sight of the suffering that blacks have endured in the past.

As a result, he used the annual White House celebration of African-American History Month to offer a blunt reminder, saying for decades the noose played a central part in a campaign of violence, fear and intimidation. "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. In many cases, law enforcement officers responsible for protecting the victims were complicit in their deaths," he said.

The president called it a shameful era in the nation's past, and stressed it is important for all Americans to know the history of the struggle for racial equality in the United States. He said no one must forget that the slave trade brought many Africans to America in chains, and not by choice.

"We must remember how slaves claimed their God-given right to freedom. And we must remember how freed slaves and their descendants helped rededicate America to the ideals of its founding," he said.

Mr. Bush honored several African-American leaders at the White House event. They included Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement,and Otis Williams, a founder of one of the most successful vocal groups to emerge during that era, The Temptations.

The president said it was fitting to have the Temptations sing at the White House celebration of African-American History Month. He said the group paved the way for other black artists, and its melodies continue to bring Americans of all races together.