In 1867 the Augusta Baptist Seminary was established in Augusta, Georgia, with the aid of the Washington, D.C.–based National Theological Institute. The seminary soon became affiliated with the American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS), which provided financial and moral support to the fledgling venture. The first class of thirty-seven men and women took courses in the Springfield Baptist Church; the class had three female missionary teachers.
In 1871 Joseph T. Robert became the first president of the institution. After seven years of pressure to move the seminary to Atlanta, the ABHMS purchased land, and the seminary moved in 1879. It was rechristened the Atlanta Baptist Seminary. Accompanying the move was an increased determination to improve the quality of education at the seminary. Within three years, the all-male institution opened a collegiate department; students could enroll in either a four-year scientific course or a six-year classical course.
By the end of the nineteenth century, school officials sought to amend the charter, changing the name of the school to Atlanta Baptist College in 1897. Nine years later, John Hope became the first African-American president; he would lead the college until 1931. Hope oversaw the rapid expansion of the institution and was largely responsible for its excellent reputation both in the region and the country. In 1913 the name of the college was again changed to honor longtime ABHMS stalwart Henry Lyman Morehouse. The newly renamed Morehouse College had about sixty students in the collegiate program in 1915.
Morehouse offered an education weighted heavily toward both spiritual and academic advancement. Teachers such as Morehouse alumnus Benjamin Brawley, who taught there in 1902–1910 and 1912–1920, provided intellectual stimulation and served as role models for the student body. During John Hope's tenure, the "Morehouse man" began to symbolize an honest, intelligent African-American male who could succeed at anything. Partially as a result of the spread of this image, the school was criticized for catering primarily to the black elite and restricting its educational efforts to the Talented Tenth.
Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Atlanta University merged some of their operations in 1929 to streamline administrative functions and pacify philanthropists who believed the merger would simplify donations to any of the participants. Academic resources were pooled. Atlanta became solely a university for graduate study; Spelman catered to undergraduate women, and Morehouse to undergraduate men. Students could take courses at the affiliated schools. Classroom space and some faculty responsibilities were also shared.
While the affiliation maintained each school's financial and administrative autonomy, the Great Depression caused Morehouse significant difficulty. John Hope's successor, Samuel Archer, turned over much of Morehouse's financial and budgetary control to Atlanta University, leaving Morehouse with almost no decision-making power.
Students and faculty at Morehouse chafed under the new arrangements. When Benjamin Elijah Mays became president of Morehouse in 1940, he made the reempowerment of Morehouse a priority. Mays was responsible for drastically increasing the college's endowment, wresting financial control from Atlanta University, and instituting an aggressive program of construction and expansion. He was also leading Morehouse when the 1957 creation of Atlanta University Center further consolidated operations between the original three participants and the new additions of Morris Brown College, Gammon Theological Seminary, and Clark University.
Morehouse was ahead of some of its contemporaries by instituting a non-Western studies program in the early 1960s. Students at Morehouse were also active participants in the civil rights movement. The most notable Morehouse alumnus undoubtedly was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a 1948 graduate. Julian Bond, a student at Morehouse in the early 1960s, left school to be a full-time activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Mays retired in 1967, passing the torch to Hugh Gloster, who led Morehouse for the next twenty years. Gloster attempted to expand the endowment, which was always a critical issue at Morehouse. The late 1970s saw the establishment of the Morehouse School of Medicine (1978), originally a two-year institution providing a grounding in primary-care and preventive medicine to students who would then continue at four-year institutions. In 1981 the medical school, which remained autonomous from the college, switched to a four-year curriculum; its finances were bolstered by millions of dollars in donations from governmental and private donations.
Leroy Keith Jr. became president of Morehouse in 1987. He faced many of the same problems as his predecessors had. Budget difficulties, the endowment, and other issues remained pressing crises. Other events, like fatalities caused by fraternity hazing, brought unwanted attention to the college and threatened to tarnish the image of the three thousand "Morehouse men" enrolled there. In September 1994 Keith resigned under pressure after a financial audit revealed that he might have received more than $200,000 in unapproved benefits. Despite these setbacks, Morehouse remained one of the most prestigious of historically black colleges, committed to academic excellence and the distinctive educational needs of African Americans.
In June 1995 Dr. Walter Massey became the president of Morehouse. During his tenure the college has worked to improve its infrastructure and academic programs. The following year the college inaugurated a capital campaign, The Campaign for a New Century, to raise more than $100 million. As of 2004, Morehouse had raised more than $80 million toward that goal. That same year, Oprah Winfrey announced a second gift of $5 million to the college, bringing to $12 million the total amount of money pledged by her to Morehouse over time.
Brawley, Benjamin G. History of Morehouse College. 1917. Reprint, College Park, Md.: McGrath, 1970.
Butler, Addie Louis Joyner, ed. The Distinctive Black College: Talladega, Tuskegee, and Morehouse. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Jones, Edward Allen. A Candle in the Dark: A History of Morehouse College. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1967.
john c. stoner (1996)
Updated by author 2005