On January 5 and again on February 1 and 2, twenty-two Historically Black Colleges and Universities received bomb threats. We are disgusted and enraged at the ongoing terror posed to innocent Black lives. Currently, there is an open investigation that should demand all perpetrators of this racially motivated attack answer for their crimes.
While we are grateful the lives of students, faculty and staff were not directly harmed by these targeted, malicious attacks, we must understand there is a historical trend involving racist threats to Black students and predominantly Black cultural and social spaces and institutions. These bomb threats in 2022 are not isolated events, nor are they new or surprising to Black people or those who have studied our country’s history.
Most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established after 1865. Diverse groups of philanthropists and educators worked together to upend the lasting results of discriminatory policies that severely limited or outlawed Black Americans’ educational opportunities. Julius Rosenwald, in partnership with Booker T. Washington, founded Rosenwald Schools, public schools for Black children. The unique relationship and allyship between Jews and African Americans, in simultaneous struggles for civil rights in America, extended into the halls of HBCUs, where Jewish professors fleeing persecution in Europe found employment and refuge from antisemitism that prohibited Jewish social mobility.
Over the storied history of these illustrious institutions, HBCUs have produced some of the nation’s preeminent scholars and leaders in all areas of American society, in realms including education, government, literature, social justice and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Today there are 107 HBCUs, enrolling over 250,000 students. Attendees and graduates from HBCUs are drawn together by celebratory chants and rally calls. The sport rivalries between schools liven up any family gathering. And for those “crossed” (pledged) into a Divine Nine sorority or fraternity, they will never forget their line names or numbers.
As Black Americans started to socially advance in their communities, cultural hubs for Black life, such as churches and HBCUs, became targets of white supremacist rage. In 1865, an arsonist attempted to burn Wilberforce University in Ohio. Race riots in 1866 resulted in the complete burning of LeMoyne College. Nearly a century later in February 1960, nonviolent sit-ins organized by students from North Carolina A&T were disbanded after a bomb threat was called in to the building. A visit and speech from Dr. King at Fisk University a few months later in April was disrupted by a bomb threat. In 1968, police killed three unarmed students who were part of a civil rights protest at South Carolina State University.
These recent bomb threats instilled fear in the hearts of over 100,000 students for a single reason: because they were born with darker skin. 100,000 innocent lives who are working and studying. 100,000 students who were so courageous and filled with pride that they chose to further their education at HBCUs, remarkable institutions that have remained critical to the advancement of Black students and America’s future as a whole.
There are students on college campuses today that face the same fear tactics and threats to their lives that their grandparents did in the 1960s. This should enrage and activate every person of conscience. The fact that these students have faced multiple threats within a month reminds us we do not have the luxury of complacency to disregard sustained threats to Black life and Black lives.
Historically, progress by Black Americans has been met with lashings of rage – the same rage that can and has easily targeted Jews, LGBTQ+ Americans, Indigenous communities and more. We call on everyone to pay attention and call these bomb threats out for what they are: terror.
We say today and everyday that Black lives matter and we celebrate, today and everyday, the historic legacy and profound impact of HBCUs.