The college began as Augusta Institute, founded during Reconstruction in 1867 by William J. White and Richard C. Coulter, a former slave. Located in Augusta, the school received support and sponsorship from the American Baptist Home Mission Society, an organization involved in the development of several colleges for blacks during the nineteenth century. The first few years proved difficult for the school. Financial troubles plagued the institute and forced its temporary closure on several occasions. It also encountered trouble from the white population of Augusta. One of the school's early leaders, the Reverend W. D. Siegfried, was forced out of the community after it became known that he had written a letter to a northern newspaper criticizing the treatment of blacks by whites in the city.
In 1871, under the leadership of Joseph T. Robert, Augusta Institute began a period of stability. Still, the school's location in Augusta hampered recruiting and fund-raising efforts, and in 1879 the institute relocated to Atlanta, the center of black higher education in the South. The school became the Atlanta Baptist Seminary. The new Atlanta location at Elliott and West Hunter streets soon proved challenging; the site was adjacent to a railroad yard and a lumber mill, and the noise and smoke made teaching all but impossible. In 1885 the school moved to Atlanta's West End neighborhood. The campus encompassed fourteen acres and contained remnants of the defensive positions occupied by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War siege of Atlanta.
Atlanta Baptist College
In 1897 the institution again changed its name, to the Atlanta Baptist College, and granted its first baccalaureate degrees.
In 1913 the school changed its name for the final time, becoming Morehouse College. The new name honored Henry L. Morehouse, the corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
In 1929 Morehouse officially affiliated with two other local colleges for African Americans, Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) and Spelman College. Morehouse and Spelman served as the undergraduate institutions, and Atlanta University served as a graduate school, thereby providing the undergraduate institutions immediate access to graduate facilities in an era when blacks were denied entrance to southern research universities. This partnership evolved to become the Atlanta University Center, which now contains five member colleges. The affiliate members also chose Hope as the new president of Atlanta University. Over the next several years Hope worked to ensure the financial future of Morehouse before resigning the presidency of Morehouse in 1931 (although he remained the president of Atlanta University).
Morehouse suffered a decline during the 1930s. Despite Hope's success at fund-raising, the school struggled financially during this period. Although other schools also experienced difficulties during the Great Depression, the situation became so critical at Morehouse that the Atlanta University Board of Trustees placed responsibility for Morehouse's finances in the hands of administrators at Atlanta University and Spelman College. Morehouse experienced little growth in enrollment numbers but did manage, in large measure, to maintain the high academic standards implemented during Hope's administration.
During the early 1960s, many Morehouse students became involved in the civil rights movement and often received encouragement and support from Mays. In March 1960 Morehouse students Julian Bond and Lonnie King helped organize the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights and participated in an eighteen-month campaign to desegregate the businesses and restaurants in downtown Atlanta. By the time of his retirement in 1967, Mays had helped rebuild Morehouse into a nationally recognized college with an excellent academic reputation and a strong financial foundation.
Today, Morehouse continues to build on its legacy of commitment to African American education. Its long list of prominent alumni includes, besides King and Bond, actor Samuel L. Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, Olympic gold medal winner Edwin Moses, and the first black mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson. Hamilton Holmes, who along with Charlayne Hunter desegregated the University of Georgia, first attended Morehouse before transferring to UGA.
In 2006 Morehouse acquired a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, which include his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and his "I Have a Dream" speech. As of 2007 the papers were housed in the Archives and Special Collections Department of the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center.
Addie Louise Joyner Butler, The Distinctive Black College: Talladega, Tuskegee, and Morehouse (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977).
Leroy Davis, A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998).
Edward A. Jones, A Candle in the Dark: A History of Morehouse College (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1967).
Benjamin E. Mays, Born to Rebel: An Autobiography (New York: Scribner, ; reprint, with a revised foreword by Orville Vernon Burton, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003).
Christopher Allen Huff, University of Georgia
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