|The Racist Attack on the Highlander Center
News of the recent cowardly terrorist attack on the Highland Research and Education Center hit me like a punch in the gut. A fire completely
engulfed the administrative building, which housed priceless historic documents and artifacts leaving in its wake unrecognizable charred
remains. The racist symbol found at the scene is the same one on the recovered gun used by the white shooter in the New Zealand massacre.
There was one consolation that tempered my outrage.
I found out that all was not completely lost. The Wisconsin Historical Society located in Madison has been collecting the Highlander’s
documents and artifacts since 1971. WHS has been traveling to the center in New Market, Tennessee, about every five to 10 years since to
collect documents, photographs, film, recordings and other goodies. Ironically the next collection visit was scheduled for this summer.
During my 2017 semester fellowship at the University of Wisconsin’s Havens Center, a Black History exhibit took me to the Society and
exposed me to its vast repository. Had I known then I could access Highlander archives, I would’ve dived into the nearly 30,000 pieces of its
For decades, thousands have made their trek to the Highlander to build, to plan, to rejuvenate — in the name of civil and human rights. I was
privileged to spend a week there last year as part of the Black Feminist Organizing School. I have been there several times on the years and
always considered it to be hallowed ground.
The Center’s co-executive directors, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxwell-Steel were shaken but resolute in their response
to the racist attack.]
“Highlander has been a movement home for nearly 87 years and has weathered many storms. This is no different.”
According to a recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crime totals in the 10 largest cities are at an all-time
high. Since African Americans were the most targeted group, I’m thinking we need to start thinking strategically and offensively in real time.
We must prepare for such looming domestic attacks.
Three Black churches were destroyed in rural Louisiana over a 10-day period, which coincidentally started about the same time as the
Highlander fire. Like that fire, no one was physically injured, but Black history undeniably took a hit. All three churches were over 100 years
old. The white suspect, Holden Matthews, faces three counts of arson.
This latest rash of racist attacks should give us pause about how to protect the lives of citizens and even institutions like the Highlander and
even the Wisconsin Historical Society.
There are some things we can do as justice-loving citizens. We need to be more proactive. Like being better organized at public events and
knowing who’s coming and going. Like challenging white folks to check their own. These mass shooters and white supremacist activists
belong to families and to communities. Like lobbying to make hate crimes carry stiffer penalties. Like advocating for more and effective
mental health programs.
Lastly, we must dethrone the imperial wizard occupying the White House. He’s done enough damage on multiple levels and trump has been
unapologetic for his racist and xenophobic rhetoric and actions. He is truly making America unsafe for anyone who isn’t a white, straight,
Christian male. We can stop him.
by Jamala Rogers