Wave of Nooses: A Resurgence of Hate?

An orange hangman's noose reported nailed to a tree Friday in Ogle County, Ill., is the latest of several nationally reported cases of hanging nooses -- which many consider to be a symbol of racist tension from America's past.

"I was disgusted, you know, with everything going on nationally," said Ogle County resident Tom Ashelford.

Some believe the nooses are a response to debate ignited by the case of the Jena Six in Louisiana, in which six black male high school students were charged in the beating of a white student after a noose was found hanging from a tree near the school. Allegedly, prior to the noose's appearance, black students had sat under what was known locally as a whites-only tree.

National law enforcement officials have not taken the incidents lightly. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI currently are investigating approximately 20 incidents of hanging nooses that have taken place since the Jena Six case gained attention in August.

"Such incidents are shameful," said acting attorney general Peter Keisler in a statement to ABC News. "The message of fear and terror that nooses communicate is deplorable. Many of these cowardly actions may also violate federal and state civil rights and hate crime laws."

But do the nooses reflect a resurgence of racism in America?

The noose has an infamous reputation in American as a hate symbol dating back more than a century. It was used in the past for violent lynchings against black Americans, so the revival has some concerned.

"It's not different from the domestic terrorism we experienced during the civil rights movement," NAACP CEO Dennis Cortland Hayes said, "and even in the early 1900's, when the NAACP was founded to respond to lynchings that were occurring."

But hip-hop star RZA told "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" that the latest generations are more open-minded and steering away from divisive racial clichés.

"We're erasing all those old-school stereotypes," he said. "People are really respecting each others' cultures."

The music star cited the idea of Barack Obama, who is black, being able to make a viable run for president as evidence of the nation's progress.

"I think America is ready [for a black president]," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be this election, but I think we've come a long way in this country."

Yet, nooses have continued popping up in the most unlikely of places, including an Ivy League campus in ethnically and culturally diverse New York City, and stirred the hot pot of racial tensions.

Last month, when someone hung a noose on the office door of a black teacher at Columbia University, it gained national headlines.

"Hanging the noose on my door reeks of cowardice and fear on many, many levels," Columbia University professor Madonna Constantine said.

Later, in Greenfield, Wis. a mannequin was hanged from a tree and later removed.

Such episodes have some civil rights advocates on edge.

"I'm sure some of the incidents are a reaction," Hayes said. "There are some people who are resorting to terror, fear, instilling fear, intimidating people to win their demands -- the demand that black people stay in place."

Some advocates believe the nooses' impact may be difficult for some to comprehend.

"It may be hard for others to understand, but if you are the target of an incident like this it can be genuinely terrifying," said Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Center. "It's a kind of terrorism."

Some believe it is important to educate people that hanging nooses is not a harmless prank, but a racially insensitive act.

"It's certainly something we have to understand has no right, has no place in present-day society," Hayes said.

RZA said he was unsure how personally blacks should take the hanging nooses because there always will be people who try to incite fear.

"We've just got to watch how we treat symbols," he said, "how we use them and how we exploit them."