For the second time at a Smithsonian museum in less than a week, someone left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The tied rope was found on Wednesday at a public exhibition space in the Segregation Gallery, the Washington Post reported. A noose was also found hanging on a tree at the Hirshhorn Museum on Saturday.
“The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans,” Lonnie Bunch III, the museum’s founding director, said in a statement. “Today’s incident was a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.”
The noose is a symbol of hate against African Americans, calling back to the thousands and thousands of people who were murdered by lynching up to the 1960s. A report by the Equal Justice Initiative found lynchings of African Americans by white communities in the South killed more than 4,000 people between 1877 and 1950. That’s hundreds more than prior studies estimated. But it likely doesn’t account for the full death toll — the report only covered 12 Southern states, and many of these horrific attacks went unreported, making it hard to pin down just how many people were killed.
The Smithsonian incidents are also the latest to draw attention to a potential growing tide of racism and bigotry in America.
In the month after President Donald Trump was elected, there were more than 860 reports of hate attacks to the Southern Poverty Law Center — including school teachers making Islamophobic comments, students telling Latino peers that Trump would deport them, and outright physical violence that was seemingly motivated by racism.
There have also been violent attacks in which race was a potential motive. In Portland, Oregon, last Friday, a man made racist and Islamophobic comments before stabbing three people, killing two, on a light-rail train. Earlier in May, Sean Urbanski, who’s white, stabbed and killed Richard Collins, who’s black, at the University of Maryland. And before that, there were reports of mosques being burned, violent attacks against Indians, and a drive-by shooting at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, headquarters for the LGBTQ organization Oklahomans for Equality. Not all of these attacks have been verified as acts motivated by bigotry, but they’re certainly a cause for alarm.
Critics have drawn links between the attacks and Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, where he repeatedly made racist comment after racist comment. He called to ban all Muslims from entering the US. He called for a judge to recuse himself from a Trump University case strictly due to the judge’s Mexican heritage. He told black communities, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
In response to some of the early post-election reports of hate crimes, Trump asked people to “stop it” during a 60 Minutes interview that aired in November. But that hasn’t done much, it seems, to prevent more incidents — as the Smithsonian has seen in the past week.