News Topic

Advocacy, Historians at Risk


African American, Current Events in Historical Context

The AHA has released a statement historicizing and condemning the numerous bomb threats received by at least 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in early 2022. “These crimes are part of a long history of attacks on institutions that serve the Black community,” writes the AHA. “[These acts] spawned not only a hateful legacy, but also a current, ongoing threat to the physical safety and emotional well-being of all Black Americans.”

To date, 45 organizations have signed onto the statement.

Approved by AHA Council, February 22, 2022

The approach of Black History Month this year ignited the simmering bigotry underlying much of American domestic terrorism, with bomb threats sent to at least 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) between January 30 and February 1. At last count the number had risen to at least 19 targeted institutions, with most of them recording multiple incidents. These crimes are part of a long history of attacks on institutions that serve the Black community—churches, schools, and civil rights organizations—as well as on the individual men, women, and children associated with these institutions. Violent intimidation directed toward Black Americans has a long and bloody history, and recent events suggest that these acts have spawned not only a hateful legacy, but also a current, ongoing threat to the physical safety and emotional well-being of all Black Americans. Whether or not such threats indicate the presence of explosives on campuses, they are intended to terrorize, intimidate, and harass students, faculty, and staff.

The institution of chattel bondage had as its foundation physical violence or the threat of it against enslaved women, men, and children. After the Civil War, whites (especially but not exclusively those in the South) sought to replace the legal system of slavery with a form of social and legal control that relied on terrorism directed toward Black voters, school children and teachers, political activists, and anyone whose success or even mere demeanor appeared to threaten the imperatives of white supremacy. White vigilantes burned churches and schoolhouses in an effort to eliminate Black community centers and institutions of faith and formal education. Whites intended that lynching and the public burning and dismemberment of Black men and women and other horrific acts of violence should serve as a warning to all those who aspired to an education or sought to exercise their newly won rights as American citizens according to the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Well into the 20th century throughout the United States, white Americans rioted to protest Blacks’ attempts to integrate whites-only neighborhoods and public spaces, and burned and shot at places where Black activists gathered.

Today, the domestic terrorists issuing bomb threats against HBCUs hide behind the cloak of anonymity to instill fear in everyone connected with these institutions. The threats disrupt classes, upend the rhythm of the semester, and wreak havoc with the routines of everyday college life. Directed at pillars of Black higher education, the threats strike at the heart not only of the aspirations of Black students and the work of Black faculty and staff, but also at the ideal of higher education itself. The AHA condemns this latest in a centuries-old series of assaults on Black Americans and on the educational institutions that are integral to a diverse, free, informed, and open society.

To date, the following organizations have signed onto this statement:

African American Intellectual History Society
African Studies Association
Agricultural History Society
American Association of Geographers
American Studies Association
Association for Documentary Editing
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Association of College & Research Libraries
Association of Research Libraries
Association of University Presses
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Philosophical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Environmental History
American Society for Theatre Research
American Sociological Association
Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
College Art Association of America
Conference of Latin American History
Dance Studies Association
Forum on Early-Modern Empires and Global Interactions
French Colonial Historical Society
German Studies Association
Historical Society for Twentieth Century China
History of Science Society
Immigration and Ethnic History Society
Middle East Studies Association
Modern Language Association
National Council of Teachers of English
National Council on Public History
North American Conference on British Studies
Organization of American Historians
Rhetoric Society of America
Sixteenth Century Society & Conference
Society for Cinema and Media Studies
Society for Ethnomusicology
Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender
Society of Architectural Historians
Society of Biblical Literature
Urban History Association
Western History Association
Western Society for French History
World History Association