The Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center on the Bethune Cookman University Campus in Daytona Beach. The 100,000 square feet building holds 2,500 seats. Photo credit: Willie J. Allen Jr.

21 HBCUs targeted in bomb threats, White House says terrorist act “disturbing”

Black History Month for almost two dozen historically Black colleges and universities starts with an unwelcomed bang. 

Since January 31, HBCUs have been on high-alert for the rollout of terrorist threats for two days. From Howard University, down to the small-sized Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, students have been ordered to shelter-in-place while police check for explosives or dangerous devices on campus. 

“Let me just reiterate that we condemn these disturbing threats, and our thoughts are with the students, faculty, and staff of these storied institutions,” emphasized Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Tuesday. She also said that the Administration was “working in close coordination with our law enforcement authorities and ensuring that the leaders of these institutions and the students know that we are watching closely and that we are standing with them as they face these threats.”

One of the terrorist threats happened not far from the White House at Howard University. Around 4:20 a.m. on January 31, Howard University and law enforcement officials received bomb threats. Subsequently, classes were canceled and the institutions went into lockdown. By that afternoon, most restrictions were lifted.

In Florida, the private, long standing Bethune Cookman University received a bomb threat, along with warnings of an active shooter on campus. Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young said his department received a 20-minute call at 4.32 a.m. on Monday by a caller claiming to be affiliated with a Neo-Nazi group. The caller said that several explosives would detonate at noon. 

“It’s not clear at this point who is responsible for making the call about this unfounded threat, but it appears to be a hate group who are specifically targeting African-Americans,” the Daytona Beach Police Department wrote in a press release.

Several universities that received a generous multi-million dollar donations from Mackenzie Scott in 2020 were also on the bomb-threat roster. One of them is Morgan State University. “Morgan is one of the most historical and consequential universities in the nation. Our history has been one where we have endured all kinds of challenges and disruptions, but we have always emerged stronger,” President David K. Wilson said in a statement.

Currently, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is investigating. They mentioned in a release that they are, “aware of the series of bomb threats around the country and . . . are working with our law enforcement partners to address any potential threats.”

The terrorist act comes just three weeks after similar threats were made to some of the aforementioned. However, all claims were later debunked. Nonetheless, the threats occur all in the face of increased violent acts and frustrations looming. Although school administrators like Bowie State University president Aminta H. Breaux try their best, safety remains elusive. 

“The list of targeted HBCUs made my blood run cold,” asserted Wake Forest University professor and author Melissa Harris-Perry on her National Public Radio program, The Takeaway. “We’re grateful and relieved that there were no acts of physical violence, but I just want to point out that these threats themselves, they recall a history of racist bombings in the U.S. South aimed at Black churches and schools.”

Not so ironic, the threats occur on the eve and first day of Black History Month, and in the midst of controversial school talks on the history of the U.S. and if critical race theory should be used in schools.

At least 21 historically Black higher education institutions across the U.S. reported on their social media that they had to shelter–place or evacuate all or parts of their campuses after bombs threats were made. The HBCUs targeted were as followed: Albany State University in Albany, Georgia; Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida; Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland; Morgan State University and Coppin State University in Baltimore; Delaware State University in Newark, Delaware; Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky; Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans; Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Florida; Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi; Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi; Spelman College in Atlanta, Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi; Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi; Philander Smith College in Arkansas; Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas; The University of the District of Columbia in Washington D.C.; Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis, Missouri; Howard University in Washington D.C.; and Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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