Westside History is Black History that Made American History: Atlanta University Center Neighborhood Historical Highlights

During #BlackHistoryMonth, we are highlighting some of the places, people and events that form the rich history of our neighborhoods — English Avenue, Vine City, Ashview Heights and Atlanta University Center.

Atlanta University Center

1865: Atlanta University founded

Founded by the American Missionary Association and supported by the Freedman’s Bureau, Atlanta University was once the nation’s oldest graduate institution serving a predominantly African-American student body. In the early years of its existence, the university served primarily to educate and train teachers and librarians for Black communities. In the 1920s, the programs expanded and the school began offering graduate programs in liberal arts and social and natural sciences, later further expanding to offer library science, business and social work programs. In 1947, the Atlanta School of Social Work gave up its charter to join the university. One of the leaders of that effort was W.E.B. Dubois who had worked in faculty at the university for a total of 23 years by that time. Dubois would go on to become a world-renowned author, with many of his most influential works being written during his time at the university.

1867: Morehouse College founded

While often viewed as a staple of Atlanta, the city wasn’t always home to Morehouse College — at least not in its original form. Morehouse was originally named the Augusta Institute and was located at Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta. The school was founded by Rev. William Jefferson White alongside Rev. Richard C. Coulter and Rev. Edmund Turney. Just over a decade later in 1879, the institute moved to Atlanta’s Friendship Baptist Church and became Atlanta Baptist Seminary. In 1897, the school again changed its name, this time to Atlanta Baptist College to reflect the expansion of programs within the school beyond theology. At last, it came to its modern name in 1913 being renamed Morehouse College to honor Henry Lyman Morehouse, corresponding secretary of American Baptist Home Mission. Over the next few decades, the school would rise to fame as a result of being the alma mater of national Black icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and more. In 1975, the school opened the Morehouse School of Medicine, which at the time would be only the third medical school in the state (today there are five) and would go on to be a leading educator of Black doctors in the Nation.

1869: Clark University founded

Having been founded by Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Clark University shared a close bond with the denomination. Its named after Bishop Davis W. Clark, who was the first president of the Freedmen’s Aid Society and became bishop in 1864. The first class held at the school took place in Clark Chapel, a small Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta. The university was viewed as the flagship school of the denomination, “giving tone” to all other institutions of the Methodist Episcopal Church providing education for Black people according to Bishop Gilbert Haven, Bishop Clark’s successor. Clark University would go on to be renamed Clark College in 1877, and the Methodist Episcopal Church would join with the other branches of Methodists to become the United Methodist Church in 1968. Clark University was one of the first research institutions established in the Nation and today is internationally known for its research contributions.

1881: Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (later Spelman College) founded

Founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles, Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary held its first classes in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church. Despite only having four teachers and being housed in a basement, John D. Rockefeller pledged $250 to the school in 1882 after meeting Packard and Giles in just the start of the school’s rise to fame. A year later, the school moved to its current location, occupying nine acres with five frame buildings. In 1884, the school is renamed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Mrs. Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her parents Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, longtime activists in the antislavery movement. The name would formally become Spelman College in 1924. Over the next century to the present day, Spelman would expand its extensive liberal arts and sciences programs and become a model university, winning countless awards and being acknowledged as one of the top universities in the country.

1881: Morris Brown College founded

Similar to most of the universities, Morris Brown College was founded with religious roots. Reverend Wesley John Gaines of the African Methodist Episcopal Church saw a need for additional higher education institutions in Atlanta for Black youth. Just 20 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, over 100 students and 9 teachers walked into a wooden building at the corner of Boulevard and Houston Streets in Atlanta, Georgia, marking the opening of the first educational institution in Georgia under sole African-American patronage. The school was named to honor the memory of the second consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

1929: Atlanta University Center Consortium, Inc. is formed

Generations after their foundation, five historically Black institutions cemented their partnerships and consolidated into what is today called the Atlanta University Center Consortium, Inc. The consortium is comprised of four institutions today: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College. Both Morris Brown College and the Interdenominational Theological Center are former members who are largely significant to the Consortium’s rich legacy.

1960: Morehouse students Lonnie King, Joseph Pierce, and Julian Bond organize the Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR)

Inspired by the sit-in movement in other cities, students of the black colleges in Atlanta formed the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. The group went on to lead protests and sit-ins in Atlanta and nearby areas, and within a short time, inspired the start of the Atlanta Student Movement.

1988: Atlanta University and Clark College merge to form Clark Atlanta University

Having complimentary programs and a need for closer working arrangements between the two universities, a joint committee formed in 1987 by the Boards of Trustees of Atlanta University and Clark College authorized an exploration of the potential of a consolidation of the two universities. After a year, the group delivered a report of the exploration entitled Charting A Bold New Future: Proposed Combination of Clark College and Atlanta University to the Boards for ratification. The report recommended the two schools be combined — and both Boards agreed. That year, the schools merged in a historic moment, forming what is now Clark Atlanta University.