We Remember: When Bombings In Black America Weren't Threats, But Reality


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More than two dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities received bomb threats at least twice this year –– many on the same day. The threats, seemingly a coordinated and targeted attack on Black educational institutions have caused disruptions –– campus evacuations, shut downs, and class cancelations.

Thankfully, no explosives have been found on the site of these cherished institutions.

On February 8, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington DC received a bomb threat while Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff was speaking at Black History Month event. Emhoff, the husband of the nation's first Black Vice President, Kamala Harris, was evacuated off the premises.

These wave of threats tap into a very real history of bombings in American history when such terroristic violence was used as a tool of white supremacy to destroy Black communities.

We Remember: From Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to Philadelphia's MOVE Community

On September 15, 1963, four Black girls –– Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair –– were killed in an explosion at the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama after members of the Ku Klux Klan planted bombs in the back stairwell where the girls were before service. The bombing is seen by many historians, including Birmingham native Angela Davis, as a turning point in the fight for civil rights.

Davis lived in Birmingham when it was known as "Bombingham" due to the amount of bombings carried out by the KKK. One neighborhood had donned the name Dynamite Hill because of the terror campaign.

In a 2013 interview, Davis said Black men armed themselves and began patrolling the neighborhoods as a result and noted that in addition to the four girls that died in the bombing that day, two Black boys, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robertson were killed by Klan sympathizers.

On May 13, 1985, the city of Philadelphia dropped an aerial bomb on the residential home occupied by members –– adults and children –– of the MOVE Organization. The blast damaged an entire city block and killed 11 people. Bones of the child victims collected from the site were being used to teach a forensics class as recently as last year.

The reality of racial hate and violence are echoed in these horrific events –– separated in time by two decades, and they aren't the only documented bombings. The homes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other civil rights leaders were also bombed.

In 1951, Harry Moore, a founder of the Brevard County, Florida Chapter of the NAACP, was killed by a bomb placed under his bed.

When Freedom Riders arrived in Alabama in 1961, a mob chased the bus down and threw a bomb into it, forcing the Riders off the bus and into the hands of the violent mob who brutalized them.

Four years after the MOVE bombing, in 1989, a package containing a bomb was sent to Robert Robinson, legal counsel for the Savannah, Georgia NAACP, killing him. At the time, several packages had been mailed to NAACP chapters in Florida but were intercepted by authorities.

The NAACP has been attacked as recently as 2015 after a bomb exploded outside of the NAACP building in Colorado Springs

We Know: Bomb Threats in Context of Today

By targeting HBCUs –– the very pillars of academic excellence, leadership and legacy –– and Black History Month events, it can be argued that attackers are intentionally weaponizing our collective conscious of this type of violence used against our communities for decades.

The threats against HBCUs come as enrollment and support for the colleges are breaking records and while the nation deals with an attack on Black literature, and the manufactured issue of Critical Race Theory –– a tactic Republicans began using in the final days of Donald Trump's presidency, to push for "patriotic education" –– and it wasn't the first time the strategy was used.

The number of lynchings skyrocketed across the South during the period immediately after the Civil War known as Reconstruction –– a time when Black people wielded political power to send a Black senator to the Capitol, and most farmers in the US were Black. One contributing factor to the Great Migration was the terrorism Black people in the South endured for centuries and across generations.

The installment of Jim Crow laws, convict leasing programs, and other systematically discriminatory measures were solidified with the threat –– and carrying out –– of white terrorism.

The threat of white violence –– be it bombs on an HBCU campus or the signature on a no-knock warrant –– weighs heavy as Republican-sponsored legislation restricts access to voting, Black unemployment remains double the nation average, and mass incarceration and police brutality disproportionately ravages our communities.

Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available: 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264

The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001

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