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This undated file photo provided by Gary and Alina Grewal of Hardwick Township, N.J., shows a charred cross that had been burned on the lawn of their home. The Grewals placed a banner congratulating President-elect Barack Obama on his election victory in their yard and found the banner wrapped around the charred cross Nov. 6, 2008. (AP / Courtesy of Grewal family)

This undated file photo provided by Gary and Alina Grewal of Hardwick Township, N.J., shows a charred cross that had been burned on the lawn of their home. The Grewals placed a banner congratulating President-elect Barack Obama on his election victory in their yard and found the banner wrapped around the charred cross Nov. 6, 2008. (AP / Courtesy of Grewal family)

Barack Obama’s election as America’s first black president has unleashed a wave of hate crimes across the nation, according to police and monitoring organisations.

Far from heralding a new age of tolerance, Mr Obama’s victory in the November 4 poll has highlighted the stubborn racism that lingers within some elements of American society as opponents pour their frustration into vandalism, harassment, threats and even physical attacks.

Cross burnings, black figures hung from nooses, and schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama” are just some of the incidents that have been documented by police from California to Maine.

There have been “hundreds” of cases since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

The phenomenon appears to be at its most intense in the Southern states, where opposition to Mr Obama is at its highest and where reports of hate crimes were emerging even before the election. Incidents involving adults, college students and even schoolchildren have dampened the early post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, with some African American residents reporting an atmosphere of fear and inter-community tension.

Signs hang on the office door of University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as Houston posted a message against racism after someone defaced a previous poster of Barack Obama and his family with a death threat and racial slur. (AP Photo / Jay Reeves)

Signs hang on the office door of University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as Houston posted a message against racism after someone defaced a previous poster of Barack Obama and his family with a death threat and racial slur. (AP Photo / Jay Reeves)

In North Carolina, four students at the state university admitted writing anti-Obama comments in a tunnel designated for free speech expression, including one that said: “Let’s shoot that (N-word) in the head.” Mr Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect, authorities say.

Marsha L. Houston, a University of Alabama professor, said a poster of the Obama family was ripped off her office door. A replacement poster was defaced with a death threat and a racial slur. “It seems the election brought the racist rats out of the woodwork,” Ms Houston said.

Second and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho, chanted “assassinate Obama,” a district official said.

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