Former president Jimmy Carter, 84, believes much of the opposition directed at Barack Obama since his election stems from deep-seated roots of racism and a fear that an African American is at the head of the U.S. government.

Speaking at a Sep. 15th town hall meeting in Atlanta, Carter said the recent outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who yelled, “You lie” during Obama’s address to Congress on health care last week, was also an act of racism.

“Those kind of things are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care,” said Carter. “It’s deeper than that.”

“I think it’s based on racism,” said Carter. “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African American should not be president.”

Speaking on NBC television Carter later added, “I think an overwhelming proportion of the intensely-demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he is African American.”

Carter said he lives in the South, and that he has seen the South come a long way over the years. However he also points out how much of the rest of the country has shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at times, particularly among African Americans.

“That racism inclination still exists, and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but across the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country,” said Carter.

“It’s an abominable circumstance, and grieves me and concerns me very deeply,” he said.

Town hall meetings led by Republicans over the last several weeks on health care have displayed intense anger among participants. Some carried signs calling for Obama’s death and compared him to Nazi leaders. Others are calling for a movement questioning his citizenship.

Many elected officials and civil rights leaders including Carter say these outrageous claims are fueled by the fact that a Black man sits in the Oval Office.

Yet Carter predicts that Obama will be able to triumph over the racist attitude that has been the basis for much of the negative environment demonstrated in public affairs in recent days, especially as the president fights to overhaul the current health care system.

Meanwhile House Democrats pushed a vote Sep. 15th reprimanding Wilson for heckling Obama during his speech. The vote of censure was split 240:170.

After his outburst Wilson said he apologized to President Obama but House Democrats felt he should also apologize to Congress for what they called an unprecedented breach of decorum.

Wilson refused saying his initial apology was good enough leading to the vote of censure.

Rep. David Scott, an African American Democrat from Georgia was one of the first to argue racism played a role throughout the whole ordeal.

“Racism is playing an extraordinary unfortunate role in this,” he said in an interview recently.

Scott went on to say it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the racism swirling around the health care debate because its potency could derail real efforts at reform. Scott recognizes that a small minority potentially represents the racist feelings.

“What speaks for America is what happened last November,” he said. But ignoring the negative sentiments, especially acts of bigotry would be a disservice, said Scott.

“Nothing is more important than health care,” he added. “We’re this close to getting something that will lift this nation to another level. We must not let the hate win,” he said.