Established in 1881 and chartered by the State of Georgia in 1885, Morris Brown College is a private, liberal arts college located in Atlanta, Georgia. The school opened its doors on October 15, 1885 with 107 students and 9 teachers. Morris Brown College was founded by members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and is named in honor of Rev. Morris Brown of Charleston, South Carolina, the second Bishop of the AME Church.
The founding of the college is attributed to a visit by a group of Clark College trustees to Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta. The Clark trustees hoped to get the church’s support for a classroom at their institution. Big Bethel layman Steward Wiley instead proposed that an AME-supported college be built in Atlanta. On January 5, 1881, Reverend Wiley John Gaines introduced a resolution during the North Georgia Annual AME Conference calling for the establishment of an institution for the moral, spiritual and intellectual growth of Negro boys and girls. The Conference supported the idea and plans were laid for the college.
Annie B. Thompson served as the first principal of the school when it opened in 1885 and five years later Laurene Chandler became its first graduate. In 1894, the school formally opened the Department of Theology with the enrollment of 12 young men. Four years later, in 1898, the first class to complete the four-year college curriculum graduated.
Morris Brown joined four other African American institutions, Clark (now Clark-Atlanta), Spelman, Morehouse and Atlanta University to make the Georgia capital the most important or center of higher education for African Americas in the United States. In 1929, those institutions came together to form the Atlanta University Center. Atlanta University became the site of graduate study, while the colleges trained undergraduate students.
Morris Brown expanded its curriculum over the early 20th century. By the late 1950s, Morris Brown students were performing at high academic levels and in 1959, undergraduate Edwina Woodard Hill received the school’s first Rhodes Scholarship. Morris Brown students and alumni were also active in the Civil Rights Movement. Bernard Lee became special assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rev. Hosea Williams led the Atlanta chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
By the early 1990s the college faced a $10 million deficit that caused students, faculty, alumni and the local Atlanta community to question its future. In response to this crisis the Morris Brown college community, which included a number of prominent alumni in the Atlanta area, launched a fundraising campaign that retired most of the deficit. In 2002, however, the College was mired in controversy again when it was discovered that the administration had misused federal funds. As a result, the Southern Association of College and Schools revoked its accreditation, causing hundreds of students to lose federal financial aid.
As of 2009, Morris Brown College struggled to remain open. The campus, which in 2003 had an enrollment of 2,700 students, now has fewer than 100 students.