Durham News: Opinion

Bob Wilson: A noose is not a joke

If the perp(s) who hung a noose from a tree at Duke University’s Bryan Center in the wee hours of April 1 did it as a joke, here’s a dose of reality: A noose is not a joke.

And if the perp(s) did it in all seriousness, here a double dose of reality: A noose is not only a symbol of hate, but also of a twisted personality. You need help, now.

I suspect this assault on civility came from a person, or persons, who know nothing the ghastly history of lynching in the South. (Editor’s note: On Thursday, Duke said a student who admitted to the deed was no longer on campus. Please see newsobserver.com for the latest.)

Lynching was part and parcel of the white supremacist uprising after the Civil War, it and lasted into the mid-20th century. Lynching took black lives in all the Southern states, and it was not always a simple hanging. Sometimes black men were castrated before hanging and their bodies burned afterward.

A study by the Equal Justice Initiative found 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern States from 1877 to 1950.

Regrettably, two of the those lynchings occurred in my hometown, Hattiesburg, Miss., in 1895 and 1905. I remember the oak tree near the Forrest County Jail where those murders – that’s what they were, premeditated murders – occurred before cheering gawkers.

The end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the subsequent rise of white supremacy in the South is an aberration that haunts us to this day – hence the revulsion one feels at the sight of the a noose.

We like to think that an institution such as Duke nourishes the better angels of our nature. Think of the medical researchers at Duke who have achieved astonishing success against deadly brain and other cancers by harnessing the polio virus to help kill malignant cells.

Think too of the men’s basketball team under the tutelage of Coach K, a program that defines excellence in sport.

Then think of what the noose on a tree outside the Bryan Center does to the reputation of the university.

Some minority students say that they no longer feel safe at Duke because of the noose incident and alleged racial taunts. They are wrong. Duke is one of the safest places on the planet for minorities, and there is no reason to believe that will change.

We may never know much about who strung the noose on the tree. If so, it’s of little consequence in the long run, because Duke can’t be brought to its knees by cowards.

The people who do this sort of thing lack the spine to stand by their convictions. They are the ones who in earlier times donned the white hood of the KKK, America’s Taliban.

They might think they are for God and country. What they are really for is discord and hate.

As one who spent 15 years at Duke during the Terry Sanford years, who earned a master’s degree there and had a book published by Duke Press, I share ownership in the university’s reputation. I am immensely proud of those four letters – DUKE – on my diploma.

I’ve had my philosophical differences with Duke, as some alumni invariably do, especially regarding the Brodhead administration’s handling of the 2006 lacrosse debacle.

But that hasn’t kept me from giving money to the university for special purposes such as the Liberal Studies program and the Duke Marine Laboratory.

I believe in Duke because the university isn’t just an idea, it’s an ideal. So I say to whoever thought hanging a noose at Duke was a hot-shot thing to do, trust me: You don’t want to mess with me and thousands of other Dukies.

Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.

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