I’ve been noodling around with an idea for a post about the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 (and all the other Klan bombings of homes and churches in that city that garnered it the name “Bombingham”), in light of the recent spate of bomb threats against Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). No bombs have been found on these campuses (yet). But the history of 1960s Birmingham can teach us something important, and highly relevant today. Because we know what happens after bomb threats: bombs happen.
But then I got this email today from author, political leader and civil rights lawyer Steve Phillips, the founder of Democracy In Color:
Democracy in Color is a political media organization focused on political strategy and analysis at the intersection of race and politics.
We create and elevate content that influences public opinion and steers political behavior towards a more progressive and inclusive country. Using research and data-driven analysis, our multimedia content lifts up the voices and issues of the multiracial, progressive New American Majority and includes a podcast, articles, reports, and social campaigns.
I recommend signing up for their email newsletter, which is always informative and provides links to additional great content. Today’s newsletter is no exception, as you can see for yourself below. I’ve posted it in its entirety not just because it’s exceptional content – though it is that – but because Steve Phillips wrote that post I wanted to write, only far, far much better than I ever could:
Social change is never as easy or as straightforward as we would like to imagine. This February—in the same month we remember Rosa Parks’ defiance during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts or the revolutionary leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—at least 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country so far have received bomb threats that sent campuses into lockdown. From Spelman College in Atlanta to Howard University in D.C. to Morgan State University in Baltimore, threats of violence against Black students mirrored similar critical moments in our country’s history.
As one Spelman student told CNN, “I’m just tired of being terrorized like how my grandparents were.”
These recent bomb threats at HBCUs like Spelman and Howard are just the latest reminders of the threat white domestic terrorism continues to pose to Black people and other people of color in a country undergoing significant political and cultural change. And these are not just abstract threats—they are targeted attacks on the institutions producing the leaders that are transforming this nation. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended an HBCU. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams attended HBCUs. My mother and my brother attended HBCUs.
The Confederate battle plan to silently sanction terrorism
White supremacist attacks on Black institutions have a long history in the U.S. When coupled with the attacks on “CRT” (critical race theory) and the fight to prevent the accurate teaching of our nation’s history, the recent bomb threats tell a larger story about the nature of the moment we’re in. As I write in my new book How We Win the Civil War (due out later this year), domestic terrorism is a key component of the Confederate battle plan to keep America white.
During the 1920s, decades before the Civil Rights Movement, an estimated 5% of the adult population were dues-paying, robe-ironing members of the Ku Klux Klan (the equivalent of 15 million people in today’s population). The group’s political influence was so great that during the 1924 party conventions neither Democratic nor Republican Party members could muster the support to pass a resolution condemning the Klan’s violence and terrorism. This failure to sanction domestic terrorism then led to the rapid spread of lynchings across the country.
Following the Montgomery Bus Boycotts in 1957, a wave of bombings took place across the city, targeting churches and homes of civil rights leaders. In 1963, Klan members bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church killing four school-age girls and injuring several others. Bombings of Black homes and churches became so frequent, the city was nicknamed “Bombingham.” In 1964, my family was the first Black family to move into our neighborhood in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and my mother slept in her clothes the first few weeks in our new home because she was afraid someone would firebomb our house.
From lynchings to bombings, Black people have always faced the threat of racial violence in the pursuit of basic human rights. And throughout history, few political leaders have risen to condemn white extremism. Instead, many of our country’s leaders have silently sanctioned domestic terrorism by white nationalists, a long-standing, tried and sadly all too true tactic of modern-day Confederates. Little has changed today as Lt. Michael Byrd, an African American law enforcement officer who defended Congress from the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021, has received hundreds of death threats. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to defend and excuse the violent insurrection.
The true purpose of Black History
Today hate crimes are the highest they’ve been in a decade and most are racially motivated. According to CNN, in 2020 hate crimes reached their highest level since 2008 and 56% of those crimes were motivated by anti-Black bias. Many of these hate crimes fly under the radar, uncovered by media outlets who have yet to understand the reality of how white domestic terrorism works and how the rise in these hate crimes correlates with the rise in population growth of people of color and our collective power in this country.
This is why Black history matters all year round: not just to learn the truth about our nation’s past, but to understand how Black people and other people of color have fought and continue to fight to overcome injustice even in the face of violence and hate.
If, as Democrats and progressives, we are truly vested in learning from the heroes we celebrate during Black History Month, we must not allow the same history of white racial violence and grievance to continue to play out as it did in the past. Instead, we must prioritize fighting white domestic terrorism head on and look to leaders of our past and present who exemplify what it takes to advance justice and equality.
In Solidarity and Hope,
Steve and the Democracy in Color Team
- Stacey Abrams’ Vision for ‘One Georgia’ by Jewel Wicker, Capital B Atlanta
- Wildfires’ unequal impacts on pregnant people by Sarah Sax, High Country News
- 10 LGBTQ+ Athletes Set to Make History at the Winter Olympics by Sydney Bauer, Them
- These 6 women want to be the first Black female governor in the US, but they have to overcome fundraising and party support obstacles their white counterparts rarely face by DeArbea Walker, Insider
- The surprising liberal consensus emerging about Biden’s Supreme Court decisionby Ron Brownstein, CNN
- A Latina scientist co-created a new Covid vaccine. She’s nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. by Albinson Linares, NBC Latino
What We’re Streaming
The Linda Lindas: Growing Up—On “The Late Late Show with James Corden”, musical guest The Linda Lindas perform their title track “Growing Up” from their upcoming debut album. We’ve missed this band!
UCLA Gymnast Sekai Wright—Just going to let Ebony Magazine say it, because they took the words right out of our mouth! “Breaking cultural ceilings with her prolific floor routine and tribute to DMX, Sekai Wright reminds us that it is BLACK HERSTORY MONTH!”
Do Democrats Win When They Talk About Race?—The correct answer is yes, and it’s time for Democratic Party leaders to get involved in this debate. Steve takes this message to the national media as he joins The New York Times’ Jane Coaston on “The Argument” podcast to break down why popularism is a flawed political strategy and why Democrats can’t run from talking about racism.
If you appreciate this quality of content I urge you poke around their site, check out their podcasts, read some of their analyses and reports to get a sense of the topics they cover in-depth, and sign up for the newsletter here.
Day 1 of Black History Month 2022 (Lori Teresa Yearwood) is here.
Day 2 of Black History Month 2022 (Mallence Bart-Williams) is here.
Day 3 of Black History Month 2022 (Emmett Till) is here.
Day 4 of Black History Month 2022 (A Tale of Two Citizens) is here.
Day 5 of Black History Month 2022 (Trayvon Martin) is here.
Day 6 of Black History Month 2022 (Franchesca Ramsey) is here.
Day 7 of Black History Month 2022 (National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the Black Aids Institute) is here.
Day 8 of Black History Month 2022 (extreme racial disparities in marijuana arrests.) is here.
Day 9 of Black History Month 2022 (Summer of Soul/1969 Harlem Cultural Festival) is here.