Daytona’s Bethune-Cookman among HBCU campuses threatened nationally with bombings
Bethune-Cookman’s classes were canceled for the day and Daytona Beach police maintained a presence on campus for the rest of the day.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
It was still dark early Tuesday morning when Roderick Smothers, president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, received dire news.
Little Rock Police Department had received word of a bomb threat targeting Smothers’ university, a small historically Black college that enrolls less than 1,000 students a semester in Arkansas’ capital.
“The threat indicated that the bomb was to go off at 12 noon today,” Smothers said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Philander Smith College was one of more than a dozen historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) known to have received bomb threats on Tuesday, the first day of Black history month.
No bombs were detonated Tuesday. The FBI arrived at Philander Smith by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and had the campus swept by 10:30 a.m., Smothers said. Most of the HBCUs declared campuses cleared by Tuesday afternoon.
Still, the start of a month intended to celebrate Black Americans was marred by many HBCUs having to pivot to a day of virtual learning. And the scope of the threats sent shockwaves through the HBCU community.
“There is a level of ignorance and hatred that is tied to this racial awakening that is going on in our country,” Smothers said. “Education is a way to overcome those challenges.”
More: The importance of HBCUs
Largely Southern HBCUs targeted
The majority of the HBCUs targeted are located in the South: Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans, La); Arkansas Baptist College (Little Rock, Ark.); Shorter College (North Little Rock, Ark.); Spelman College (Atlanta, Ga.); Fort Valley State University (Fort Valley, Ga.); Alcorn State University (Lorman, Miss.); Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena, Miss.); Jackson State University (Jackson, Miss.); Rust College (Holly Springs, Miss.); and Tougaloo College (near Jackson, Miss.).
Other universities targeted were Howard University (Washington D.C.); Morgan State University (Baltimore, Md.); Kentucky State University (Frankfort, Ky.); Edward Waters University (Jacksonville, Fla.); and Coppin State University (Baltimore, Md.).
“This is the start of Black History Month,” said Tiffani Perry, chief of staff for Rust College. “While we don’t know if the two are related in any way, it’s just unfortunate that the education of African Americans continues to be a threat to some people in this country. But we will remain strong and steadfast as we always do in the face of adversity, and continue on the business of educating the future leaders of tomorrow.”
The bomb threats were seemingly a continuation of a trend that began Monday when at least six HBCUs — including Howard University, which received two threats in two days — were forced to investigate campuses for possible explosives.
Perry and Smothers said a group chat between HBCU presidents helped their schools prepare after the initial bomb threats were announced Monday.
“Our president was alerted by some of the other HBCU presidents that they had received threats. We did at that time, inform our security team to be on high alert,” Perry said. “As a result, they were completely prepared to deal with this today when it happened on our campus.”
Tuesday’s threats also came exactly four weeks after at least eight HBCUs received bomb threats on Jan. 4.
When asked if threats were a common occurrence during or around Black History Month, HBCU leaders reached for interviews said they were unaware of similar threats being made in previous years.
Larry Orman, vice president of marketing and communication for Alcorn State, called Tuesday’s events “highly unusual.”
A spokesman for the Little Rock Police Department said bomb threats to area universities were “rare.”
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they have no public data specific to bomb threats made to universities.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no arrests had been announced. The FBI is leading the investigation due to the interstate nature of the threats.
“HBCUs were founded during a time in this country when African Americans and Black and brown people could not go to other institutions to receive an education,” Perry said. “I hope this moment sheds light on the systemic and racial issues that still exist in this country where some people still, in 2022, would threaten the lives of these young people.”
Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Laura Testino contributed to this report.
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