Utah Man Refuses to Take Down Hangman in Front Yard After NAACP Protests Ghoulish Halloween Decoration
Every October for the past six years, an animated hangman wearing a noose and a gunny sack has been on display in Kevin Van Miltenburg’s front yard. But the NAACP thinks that Van Miltenburg’s tradition should be put to an end.
Local members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently took offense at Van Miltenburg’s Halloween decoration and issued a statement this week saying that his hangman should be taken down.
“The NAACP finds the hanging character to be extremely offensive,” said Jeanetta Williams, president of NAACP’s Salt Lake Branch. “There is no doubt what this is. The founding in 1909 and history of the NAACP was because of the many lynchings in our country and has become synonymous with the lynchings of African-Americans. This display makes a mockery of the history of lynchings in our country.”
Van Miltenburg, 24, says it never occurred to him that anyone would find his hangman decoration racist.
“It’s sad to me that a few people are playing the race card and trying to take the fun out of Halloween,” the tile contractor tells PEOPLE. “You see hangmen every year in haunted houses and on people’s front porches. My hangman’s hands are clearly white. It’s hard to see how I’m being racist. This is all done in the spirit of Halloween.”
Since 2009, Roy residents have come by the hundreds every October to the house Van Miltenburg shares with his parents and his wife, Merissa, to see his elaborate collection of ghosts, ghouls and decorated trees.
Besides the animated hangman, he’s created creepy groundskeepers, skeletons, grim reapers and clowns, using windshield wiper motors to activate the displays.
“My hangman was the very first prop I ever made,” says Van Miltenburg, who starts setting up his display in mid-September every year. “He swings his legs back and forth like he’s just been hung. It’s definitely everyone’s favorite prop. Not once has anybody – black or white – ever told me it’s offensive.”
Neighbor Earl Downing, 81, says many residents of the small town look forward to October, when they know they’ll find Van Miltenburg in his front yard, putting the final touches on giant spider webs, witches’ cauldrons and cemetery headstones.
“I’ve known that kid since he was a baby, and he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” Downing tells PEOPLE. “He not trying to make a political statement – he’s just doing something creative that people can enjoy. He’s just a guy who likes Halloween and wants to share a little fun.”
Officials at the NAACP certainly aren’t smiling.
“We don’t find this to be funny, but it is scary to know we have people that are not sensitive or perhaps knowledgeable about history to put up such a display,” Williams said in a statement. “We find this display is not sensitive to the cultural climate of the country. There are certainly other types of Halloween displays that could been displayed other than a ‘hanging man.’ We are asking that Mr. Van Miltenburg remove the hanging man character immediately.”
Van Miltenburg says that won’t happen until Nov. 1. “My hangman isn’t going anywhere – I have no intention of taking it down,” he tells PEOPLE. “I’m not breaking any laws. And not once has the NAACP even contacted me directly.”