Eight HBCUs Received Bomb Threats for the Second Time in 2022

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On August 31, 1999, Lawrence Lombardi set off a pipe bomb on the campus of Florida A&M University; much less than a month later, on September 22, he spark off any other and much larger bomb in FAMU’s Perry Paige Hall, causing damage to the historically Black campus, but no fatalities. The worry and anxiety of those attacks are nevertheless in the hearts of the students and school who live with the phobia they endured.

White supremacy is sharpest when it can destroy all sense of safety and autonomy. The latest breaking news of bomb threats at HBCUs nationwide rings true with the history of various kinds of racial violence that have threatened the safety of these institutions, which Black folks created despite the impending domination of white violence.

The first wave of bomb threats occurred on January 5, impacting at least eight HBCUs. The latest wave of threats occurred on February 1, the first day of Black History Month, impacting faculty, students, and bringing to the surface again a long-lost conversation about racial terror in America.

“I’m just ultimately tired of dealing with this level of unsolicited hatred,” Spelman College student Saigan Boyd, 19, told CNN about the bomb threat the college received overnight on Tuesday. “I’m just tired of being terrorized like how my grandparents were.”

In addition to Spelman, Tuesday’s bomb threats were sent to Alcorn State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, Jackson State University, Fort Valley State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Kentucky State University, Tougaloo College, Howard University, Xavier University, the University of the District of Columbia, and Edward Waters University.

No explosives have been found on any of the campuses, but the FBI has identified six people of interest in these pointed attacks on HBCUs, which appear to be racially motivated and are being investigated as hate crimes.

On January 31, prior to the second round of attacks, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that President Biden had been made aware of these threats and the news was being taken seriously. “I will say that these are certainly disturbing,” she stated, “and the White House is in touch with interagency partners, including federal law enforcement leadership, on this.”

In their founding, HBCUs were created to be sacred Black spaces, and they have continued to serve that purpose when faced with the threat of white supremacist violence during political upheaval many times over. “This is not the first instance of HBCUs being threatened by the larger society,” says Dr. Jelani Favors, author of Shelter in a Time of Storm: How Black Colleges Fostered Generations of Leadership and Activism and a professor at North Carolina A&T.

“Almost all of these institutions were founded during the Reconstruction Era, which of course was one of the most violent periods in American history,” Dr. Favors tells Teen Vogue, commenting on the legacy of racial terrorism that birthed the creation of HBCUs and how these schools were targeted by white supremacist violence during the Civil Rights Movement. “Knowing that, we understand that Black institutions have always presented a threat to the dominant culture.”

The 1968 Orangeburg Massacre at South Carolina State College left three students dead, shot by local law enforcement officers in response to a student protest against segregation. In May 1969, students at North Carolina A&T were put under one of the largest state occupations of a university, which left 18-year-old freshman Willie Grimes dead, possibly at the hands of local law enforcement. Most notably, in May 1970 at Jackson State College, Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green were killed and 12 other students were injured during a 28-second volley of bullets in an attempt to quiet student protest of overlapping, local political turmoil.

The similarities in racial violence faced by HBCU’s during the Reconstruction Era, the Civil Rights Movement, and today are not lost on Dr. Favors. But the quiet erasure of this history in the public sphere can, for the general public, make it seem as if these threats arrive in a vacuum. “Even this week, as I am lecturing on the history of racial violence in my classes,” Dr. Favors shares, “so many of my students that have arrived at these institutions, many of them don’t know about these chapters in our nation’s history.”

Even in 1906, when white mobs overtook and terrorized Black neighborhoods such as Brownsville, which surrounded Clark College, now part of Clark Atlanta University, in what became known as the Atlanta Race Riots of 1906, and as police killed and injured student organizers at HBCUs, there has been one solid through line: HBCUs have weathered turbulent times before and will continue to do so, no matter what.

“They are on their path to greatness, and they cannot let individuals who[se] intention is to cause destruction, chaos and fear and doubt, stop them from walking and their purpose,” Sabrina Taylor, an undergraduate program director at Coppin State, told CNN about how she is checking on her students in this time.

Noella Williams, a journalist and senior journalism student at FAMU, says that while FAMU was not subjected to bomb threats this week, she still feels unsafe on campus given the school’s past of racial violence. “I wish we were talking about it more on campus. Like, instead of social media posts, we should be sharing an action plan,” Williams tells Teen Vogue.

As racial terrorism has evolved throughout the history of white supremacy, forms of suppression such as lynching, sexual violence, over-policing, and criminalization of dissent have been critical to causing chaos and fear in the minds of Black people looking for refuge from a world built on anti-Black chattel slavery.

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