On the first day of Black History Month, 13 historically black colleges and universities received bomb threats, including Xavier University in New Orleans.
Xavier University of Louisiana, founded in 1915, is the only historically black university in the United States that is also Catholic. This is the second bomb threat the school has received this year. These bomb threats horrify us as Catholics and Americans.
These bomb threats are part of a long-standing pattern in America. White supremacists, from the Reconstruction era until today, have historically used bomb threats/violence to intimidate black Americans.
When the Ku Klux Klan was launched in the aftermath of the Civil War, its goal was to intimidate newly freed black Americans from participating in political and social life, and to undermine reconstruction governments in the states of the old Confederacy in check. . Vigilante violence, particularly lynching, was his preferred method of intimidation.
In the years following Reconstruction, state-sanctioned violence was also deployed, but vigilante violence was never abandoned. Sometimes it was impossible to know where one started and where the other stopped. The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama shocked the nation, in part because the aftermath was televised. For white supremacists, the bombing was an extension of their intimidation standard operating procedures, a difference in target but not in method.
The goal is always the same: to intimidate black women, men and children by using violence to destabilize intimate and communal parts of their daily lives, including schools and places of worship.
As Catholics, we are called to show our solidarity by denouncing any aggression that threatens the dignity of any person. This is what it means to be a pro-life church, and it is imperative that church leaders and local church authorities condemn this violence.
If churches, schools, being with friends have all been deemed unsafe, where do black women, men and children go for communion?
For those who are black and Catholic, the assaults on Xavier and other HBCUs are also spiritual attacks. The attacks come at a time when Church leaders, including the President of the American Episcopal Conference, Archbishop José Gomez, are speaking out against the Black Lives Matter movement and critical race theory, movements and theories which many Catholics have found helpful in learning what it means to oppose such racial violence. Our bishops must be shepherds of a flock that is vulnerable because it is suffering, and suffering because it is vulnerable.
Last month, Gomez spoke in memory of Martin Luther King Jr., saying Catholics must continue to “continue his work for equality and justice.”
Gomez added, “Let us continue to learn from him and emulate his prophetic example and testimony.”
We agree, and therefore look forward to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops not only explicitly condemning this violence, but also offering all possible support to Xavier and other schools affected by this. Bishops must authentically take up the torch of spiritual, moral and civic leadership that King carried.
Pope Francis, when addressing the US Congress, only cited the example of four Americans, and one of them was King. Francis urged the country to heal the wounds of racial division that have lingered. The American bishops must take up the legacy of the king and take up the challenge launched by Francis. They must urgently and consistently condemn all attacks on the black community.