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 in an event marking African-American history month at the White house.

"The noose is not a symbol of prairie justice, but of gross injustice," the president said. "Displaying one is not a harmless prank, and 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.

"They are wrong. And they have no place in America today."

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. Bush also said the noose was a tool for intimidation and killing that conveyed a sense of powerlessness to millions of blacks throughout the country.

"Fathers were dragged from their homes in the dark of night before the eyes of their terrified children," he said. "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."

At the event, Bush is honoring Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement who organized freedom rides, sit-ins and voter registration drives; and William Coleman, the first black American to be a clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court and who served as President Ford's transportation secretary. Coleman thus was the first African American to hold a Cabinet post in a Republican administration.

Bush also recognized Ernest Green, one of the nine black students in Little Rock, Ark., who were escorted into the city's all-white Central High School following the historic Brown vs. Board of Education of the mid 1950s, and Otis Williams, a leader of the vocal group "The Temptations."