WASHINGTON—Students, faculty and staff are still deeply concerned and on alert in the aftermath of ongoing investigations into ominous threats leveled at Black institutions of higher learning. Bomb threats were sent to at least 14 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including Spelman College, Jackson State University, and Bethune-Cookman, at the start of Black History Month. The schools are located in the Mid Atlantic, Delaware State University, across the South to Southern University.
“This is done just to strike fear in the hearts of students and administrators at Historically Black Colleges,” Rev. Dr. Janette Wilson, Esq., National Director of Education PUSH for Excellence told The Final Call. “We must look at where these colleges are located. It’s in the South where a significant number of African Americans live.
It’s in the South where we have seen the rollback of all of the gains that we’ve made as African Americans with respect to voting rights, and with regard to admissions to institutions of higher learning. There are attacks now on affirmative action,” she added.
“There are attacks on every freedom that Americans should enjoy and should be guaranteed by the Constitution. There is a move, I call it a storm, that’s of hatred and racism that is moving rapidly across the nation to roll back all of the gains to take us back to post reconstruction, where there were no rights for African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and even Latino Americans,” Rev. Dr. Wilson explained.
The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces are leading the investigation into the bomb threats that are being probed as hate crimes. They have identified six “tech savvy” juveniles as persons of interest in these threats with a racial motivation. The investigators believe a spoofed phone number was used to make the threats, according to the FBI. However, no arrests have been made.
“This investigation is of the highest priority for the Bureau and involves more than 20 FBI field offices across the country,” the FBI said in a statement.
“Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the locations, the FBI takes all threats with the utmost seriousness and we are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats.”
The threats garnered national responses with Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Joyce Beatty and HBCU Caucus founder and co-chair Alma Adams issuing a joint statement on February 1.
“The continued bomb threats against HBCUs are hate crimes that must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This third round of bomb threats on Historically Black College and University campuses demands a swift response from federal and state law enforcement agencies. It is especially jarring that these threats come during Black History Month, when we not only celebrate the immense contributions of Black Americans, but also remember the violence so many had to endure to secure civil rights and voting rights,” the statement noted in part.
“Indeed, sixty-two years ago today, courageous students at North Carolina A&T State University demonstrated the resolve of HBCU students, faculty, and staff by putting their lives in mortal danger to protest segregation. We know from history that in spite of external threats, HBCUs are resilient institutions that will persist through all forms of adversity,” the statement continued.
Dr. Kevin Washington, chair of the psychology and sociology department at Grambling State University in Louisiana, explained why there is a rise in hate among young Whites. They are the children of parents who lived through eight years of a Black president and many Whites feel as if they have to “take their country back” from the people, “mostly Blacks,” who stole it, he argued.
“White children are getting the identity of their prowess, their strength, their invincibility, their high order within the system of hierarchy that says they are privileged, and all others are beneath them,” Dr. Washington told The Final Call.
“Children have to figure out how to demonstrate this prowess. They act out with the belief this is what their parents desire for them to do. That is to show that I’m superior.”
On HBCU campuses across the country the bomb threats produced a range of emotions from fear to anxiety to anger. Some have wondered, “Why us?” and “Please leave us alone” because they selected HBCUs to avoid the racism that permeates many Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).
“It’s just very unsettling to have to wake up to a bomb threat,” Jennifer Thompkins, a sophomore at Bowie State University, told The Final Call. She heard about the bomb threat through a campus alert early January 31.
“I’m at an HBCU intentionally. Black students at HBCUs do better than Black students at PWIs. We have more Black graduates, more Black doctors, engineers and the list goes on and on. I came to get away from the racism and threats. So sad to see this happening,” she said.
Some schools cancelled classes, others opened as soon as the all clear was given by law enforcement officials. Many of the schools have heightened their security measures after receiving multiple threats. It was Howard University’s third bomb threat in 30 days.
“Make no mistake: We have remained on alert on campus since the very first threat and have not stopped our work of assessment and scaled surveillance for suspicious activity, in partnership with local and federal law enforcement,” wrote Marcus Lyles, Howard University’s executive director of Public Safety and chief of police to that community.
“We are committed to, and confident in, the work of our on-campus police force and partnerships with regional agencies in ensuring safety and stability for our campus community.”
Social media reflected the frustration and anxiety students and administrators feel.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure that our students and staff on campus are safe during this lockdown,” Southern University President Ray L. Belton tweeted. Their campus also cancelled classes, January 31. “Law enforcement agencies continue to investigate this heinous threat.”
“I don’t understand why people are sending Bomb Threats out to HBCUs and this is what makes the Black Community mad as it is Y’all act like we can’t have anything in this world,” tweeted @jasonkillmonger.
“The @FBI has never taken these threats seriously and it needs to stop. This is pathetic,” tweeted @tonycaldwell.
That distrust in the FBI and its ability to find the perpetrators was also felt by Sheldon Ellington of Baltimore County, who has a son at Coppin State University in Baltimore. “They can fly all around the world and with laser precision find so called terrorists to drop bombs on them. Will they find who’s doing this? Will they arrest anyone? Only time will tell. Maybe if the government really saw this as terrorism something might get done,” he told The Final Call.
Bethune Cookman University in Daytona, Florida, received a threat January 31 that included an elaborate plot involving seven bombs hidden in duffel bags and backpacks around the school’s perimeter, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young said at a news conference.
In addition to the bombs the caller also said a gunman would open fire on the campus around lunchtime the same day, according to Chief Young. He said the caller he spoke with claimed to be affiliated with the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division also known as the National Socialist Order.
Reassuring their community was paramount for each HBCU. The list that received threats also includes Alcorn State University, Coppin State University, Edward Waters University, Fort Valley State University, the University of the District of Columbia, Morgan State University, Kentucky State University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Philander Smith College, Arkansas Baptist College and Jackson State University.
Howard cancelled classes on February 4, to give students a mental health day in response to the ongoing threats. President Wayne A. I. Frederick explained that the recent events from the persistence of the Covid-19 pandemic to the multiple bomb threats had taken a toll on the community.
Dr. David K. Wilson, president at Morgan State University responded with a letter to their community.
“My message to you this morning is to stay strong, remain resilient, and continue to prepare yourselves to grow the future and lead the world because our nation and world desperately need more leaders steeped in the values we teach here at Morgan. Those values are Leadership, Integrity, Innovation, Diversity, Excellence and Respect. Hate is not one of them!”
Samuel X Greene, CEO and co-founder of BUSI (Black United Summit International), an organization designed to increase HBCU enrollment and build community connections, told The Final Call that there is a historical significance to these threats.
“We’re dealing with a paradigm shift,” he explained. “There’s almost like an HBCU renaissance that’s taking place. Anytime Black excellence starts thriving, White supremacy becomes threatened,” he added.
“It’s a fear factor that’s associated with the resurgence of Black students coming back to HBCUs and the attention that’s given to HBCUs (increased celebrity donations). In sports NFL greats, such as Deion Sanders, went to Jackson State as a coach. Now at Tennessee State University, former Titan Eddie George is the football coach. All of this attention is making some feel threatened.”