It was a grey day in the Atlanta University Center. I was a freshman at Morehouse College headed back to my dorm room between my morning and afternoon classes.
8:46 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
There was chatter on the yard of an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. I said to myself, “man that’s awful” writing it off as a single-engine plane with an inexperienced pilot meeting his or her unfortunate demise in a fiery accident. It wasn’t until I returned to my dorm to learn that what I assumed to be a plane of 1 was in fact a commercial jetliner of 100s, and what had gone terribly wrong was not an accident at all, but an intentional act of terror against our country.
America was under attack.
9:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
I didn’t have a TV in my room, but one of my dorm-mates did, so I went down the hall to find him glued to the news of yet another plane crashing into the other tower or the World Trade Center…
9:37 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 77 (traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles) strikes the Pentagon Building in Washington.
…followed by a plane flown into the Pentagon. He was speechless – his back to me with his hand strangling the life out of his cell phone. He looked over his shoulder at me and said solemnly, “My mother works in the Pentagon.” He was from Maryland and was unable to reach his mom because all the phone lines were down.*
9:59 a.m. ET – South tower of WTC collapses in approximately 10 seconds.
While I was confident that no one in my immediate circle of family and friends could have been affected by this senseless tragedy, seeing my brother sitting on his knees in front of the TV like a helpless child nervously trying to reach his mother made this personal for me. A plane might as well have crashed into our dorm room.
10:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
But even while this was happening hundreds of miles away, on the campus of Morehouse College, we still had class to attend. There’s a saying that “rain can’t stop The House, snow can’t stop The House…Nobody stops The House!” This time was no different.
10:28 a.m. ET – North tower of WTC collapses. The time between the first attack and the collapse of both World Trade Center towers is 102 minutes.
As schools were closing all over the country for fear of where the next potential attack might occur, we were business as usual at Morehouse.
I made my way to my 1 o’clock Calculus II class with Dr. McLaughlin, a cheeky white fellow with glasses who always wore bowties with penny loafers. Even more so than his dress, Dr. McLaughlin was known for his sarcastic, rigid, unsympathetic attitude. This act of terrorism however had altered his natural state just as it had affected me.
It was personal.
Needless to say no Calculus was taught or learned that day and Dr. McLaughlin instead gave us a lesson in humanity by dismissing class for those who wanted to leave, allowing those who wanted to stay and talk about what was happening the option to do so.
No one left.
Here was a middle-aged white male Calculus professor and a classroom full of young black men at an HBCU in solidarity with one another. It didn’t matter what our race, age, or background was in that moment, it only mattered that we were American.
December 13, 2001 – The US government releases a tape in which Osama bin Laden takes responsibility for the attacks.
On September 11, 2001 American security was breached. American sovereignty was fractured. But American citizens were united. More than 3000 lives were lost, and even more lives changed – some for the better. But America, America was united.
December 18, 2001 – Congress approves a measure to allow the president to designate September 11 as “Patriot Day” on each anniversary of the attacks.
As we find ourselves divided over so many things today be it race, gender, faith, sexuality, or class; let us never forget that in all of its loss and sacrifice, the greatest act of terror on American soil united us as one people. Let us honor those who made such great sacrifices on that day, by remembering that we still have at least 2,977 reasons to unite as one on this day, and days to come.
*My dorm-mate eventually was able to reach his mother to learn that she was not harmed in the attack.