Throughout February, students in elementary through high school have celebrated Black History Month through lessons centered around African Americans and their achievements. The concept originated in 1915 with Carter G. Woodson. It became a week-long celebration in 1926 and evolved to be a month-long tradition in the late 1960s. Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month; from this point on, the month was officially recognized by every president as a time of learning about and celebrating the accomplishments of Black people. Lessons taught in school during Black History Month honor Black people while also discussing the resilience of African Americans as a result of the racism they have experienced. While many discuss this racism in the past tense, the immense number of bomb threats to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) shows that the crisis of white supremacy remains ongoing today.
Within the first 9 days of Black History Month, 20 HBCUs received bomb threats. Though no bombs were set off, these acts of terrorism were created to evoke feelings of fear and intimidation among Black students. Not only does targeting these colleges and universities disrupt learning, but the timing of these hate crimes disturbs what was created to be a time of honor. Moreover, Michelle Asha Cooper, Deputy Assistant for higher education programs in the U.S. Department of Education, states that “the timing of these threats… was a likely attempt to exploit tensions among some factions of our society." Attempts to “exploit tensions,” have occurred throughout time to terrorize Black people. Just as the bombing of Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church which killed four young girls during the Civil Rights movement is rooted in white supremacy, bomb threats at HBCUs are also part of the greater narrative of terrorists targeting historically Black institutions.
Collective feelings of exhaustion and outrage are shared by students and professors alike at HBCUs. Many members of HBCUs, such as president Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University in New Orleans, believe that they cannot “stop doing everything” in response to these threats. He elaborates by explaining how because these acts were committed in order to disrupt HBCUs, universities must work to continue campus life as usual so that supremacists fail at this mission.
Understandably, students at HBCUs are angered by these threats. Nina Giddens, a student at the Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, states “you get really, really frustrated when you are trying to get an education and you’re trying to do better for this world and this country and people are trying so hard to stop you from doing that.” From this testimony, it is evident that these threats disrupt collegiate routines and limit academic experiences. Clearly, the Civil Rights movement did not put an end to problems associated with Black people experiencing quality education.
These bomb threats occurring during a month dedicated to celebrating the resilience of African Americans and the progress the world has made towards racial equality reveal the opposing forces working in our society today. In his “Progress” essay, Ibram X. Kendi explains the intersection of these opposing forces, stating, “the singular racial history of the United States is, therefore, a dual racial history of… historical steps toward equity and justice and historical steps toward inequity and injustice.” These bomb threats reveal the deep-rooted supremacy ingrained in the United States and that progress is necessary to create a just society.
Scholars find that implementing Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools is an important step in creating a just society. CRT is “an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society.” CRT is necessary to educate future generations about the racist history of the U.S, and it is needed to destroy systematic barriers. Today, political forces are contributing to keeping these barriers up rather than tearing them down. Namely, conservative states are moving to ban critical race theory in schools. This conversation dominating during Black History Month and a period of bomb threats demonstrate how the opposing forces of progression and supremacy are working hand in hand today.