The Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) is America’s foremost center of historically African American theological training and graduate study. Located in the heart of the Atlanta’s West End Historic District, it began in 1958, when four denominations agreed to join their seminaries: Morehouse School of Religion (Baptist), Gammon Theological Seminary (Methodist Episcopal, later United Methodist), Turner Theological Seminary (African Methodist Episcopal), and Phillips Theological Seminary (Christian Methodist Episcopal). In 1969 the Johnson C. Smith School of Theology (Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, and in 1970, the Charles H. Mason Seminary (Church of God in Christ) completed the six institutions that make up the ITC consortium. An Episcopal seminary, the Absalom Jones Theological Institute, became part of the ITC in 1971, but it closed in 1979 after declining enrollment.
The histories of five of the seminaries that make up the ITC go back much farther than the ITC itself. Morehouse began in 1867 at Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, under the auspices of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society. Its previous names include the Augusta Institute, Atlanta Baptist Seminary, and Atlanta Baptist College. The name Morehouse was chosen in 1913 in honor of Henry Morehouse, who was the corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society.
Johnson C. Smith also began in 1867, as the Biddle Memorial Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. (It was also known as part of the Freedman’s College of North Carolina.) In 1923 philanthropist Jane Berry Smith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, donated funds to build a campus, and upon receipt of these funds the name of the school was changed to Johnson C. Smith University. The seminary remained part of this university until it relocated to Atlanta to join the ITC.
Gammon began in 1869 as part of Clark College (later Clark Atlanta University), a college initiated by the Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1888, after Clark moved to a new location in southwest Atlanta, Gammon became a separate institution. Gammon was named after the Reverend Elijah Gammon, a retired minister from Illinois who donated more than $700,000 toward its endowment and intended that the seminary be the central training place for students in the Methodist Episcopal Church across the South, regardless of race.
Turner began in 1894 as a department of Morris Brown College. In 1900 the seminary became known as Turner Theological Seminary, in honor of Henry McNeal Turner, who was then resident bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Turner remained affiliated with Morris Brown until 1957, when it joined the ITC. It did not obtain an independent charter until 1975.
Phillips, which today is the only seminary of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, began as part of Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1944. From 1954 until Phillips joined the ITC, it worked through an extension curriculum that provided training for student ministers in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Phillips is named after Bishop Charles Henry Phillips, who also donated funds toward the endowment of the school.
Charles H. Mason was chartered around the idea that the Church of God in Christ would set up a seminary affiliated with the ITC. In 1965 the president of the ITC, Harry Richardson, traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to discuss that possibility with denominational leaders, though the seminary was not established until five years later.
The mission of the ITC is to educate Christian leaders committed to a liberating and transforming spirituality, academic discipline, justice and peace, an appreciation of diversity, and a desire to engage the public arena for the common good. It fulfills this mission by training students for the pastorate and church work but also through encouraging students’ development as public theologians who can facilitate alliances between churches and the government, corporations, foundations, and other academic entities.
The ITC had an enrollment of 472 students in fall 2006. Students affiliate with the seminary that represents their respective denominations, or they attend as “at large” students. In 2004 at-large students made up the ITC’s fourth-largest constituency. More than fifteen denominations of students attend the ITC.
The ITC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada. It offers master’s degrees in divinity, Christian education, and church music, and doctoral degrees in ministry and in theology in pastoral counseling. It is a member of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education.