Halloween Noose Display Nixes Christmas Decor in NJ

Recent news reports surrounding the racial overtones represented by the hangman’s noose in Jena, La. and other areas has reach into the festive seasons of Halloween and Christmas. From New Jersey today comes this report:

Chesla Flood couldn’t believe her eyes. A hangman’s noose circled the neck of a black-hooded, jeans-clad dummy suspended from the chimney of a house in Madison.

Flood called her mother, Millie Hazlewood, who reported the Halloween display to police. She wasn’t the only one. Police went to the property at least three times starting Sunday, and even the mayor asked the homeowners to take down the figure.

At 8 last night, the family relented, saying they feared for their safety.

“It’s no more like freedom of speech anymore,” Cheryl Maines said. “My son had to take this down because these people have blown this thing out of proportion.”

Before the figure was removed yesterday, Madison Mayor Ellwood “Woody” Kerkeslager said “the appearance and the suggestion (of racism) is there, and it’s inappropriate.”

At least four recent noose displays — one each in Jena, La., and Philadelphia and two in New York City — are drawing renewed attention to a potent symbol of racism, lynchings and the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Unlike those incidents, the Madison figure was part of a Halloween display, and for two days, homeowners Cheryl and David Maines, the borough’s superintendent of public works, refused to budge. They said they had done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denounced the display as offensive, racist and insensitive.

“I think there are many people who understand the significance of a noose as it relates to the history of African-Americans,” said James Harris, president of the NAACP’s state chapter. “We thought we lived beyond the era when people felt it was okay to have that type of display.”

Last night, the Maines family said they would be replacing their Halloween display and erecting a sign reading: “Thanks to the assistance of Millie Hazlewood and her friends, Halloween and Christmas decorations will no longer be celebrated here.”

The incident revived the persistent question of what is entertaining and what is offensive.

“The lines have all been blurred, and people push the limits just to see how far we can go” to shock each other, said James Farrelly, a Halloween expert and professor of Irish studies at the University of Dayton. But Farrelly, a Newark native, said, “I don’t know if we have a blank check to celebrate this by putting out our own sense of what we think is evil or might scare people.”

D.J. Maines, the 27-year-old son of Cheryl and David Maines, has bedecked the house for seven Halloweens using $5,000 worth of decorations he has collected. He has used the hanging dummy each year, but usually it is partially hidden by other decorations.

George Martin, a deacon at the First Baptist Church, which Hazlewood attends, said the noose evoked personal memories of terror and loss growing up in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. He said he lost his great-uncle to a lynching in South Carolina. His father watched his uncle and a friend die in a lynching, he said.

“It’s the same imagery we saw as young people — black faces, dungarees and ropes around the body and neck,” said Martin, who is also a member of the district board of education.

Cheryl Maines said she was not swayed by Martin’s personal history.

“Don’t bring your ancestors into this — it’s something that happened; you’ve got to get beyond it or you’re going to make yourself sick,” she said.

Madison police checked with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether the noose display was illegal or could be ordered down, according to police records. Two assistant prosecutors and a detective reviewed the matter and answered no to both questions.

In New York, politicians, community leaders and activists are calling for a law that would make it a felony to use a noose to harass or play a prank. State Sen. Eric Adams and New York City leaders gathered Sunday on the steps of Columbia Teachers College to call for the stiffer penalty on noose incidents.

(Source: New Jersey Star Ledger – 10/16/07)

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