Morehouse College Sesquicentennial Celebration

College History

In 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, Augusta Theological Institute was established in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.  Founded in 1787, Springfield Baptist is the oldest independent African American church in the United States. The school’s primary purpose was to prepare black men for ministry and teaching. Today, Augusta Theological Institute is Morehouse College, which is located on a 66-acre campus in Atlanta and enjoys an international reputation for producing leaders who have influenced national and world history.

Augusta Theological Institute was founded by The Rev. William Jefferson White, an Augusta Baptist minister, cabinetmaker and journalist, with the encouragement of The Rev. Richard C. Coulter, a former slave from Augusta, Georgia, and The Rev. Edmund Turney, organizer of the National Theological Institute for educating freedmen in Washington, D.C.  From 1867 to 1871, White appointed five ministers to serve as Augusta Institute principals:  James W. Parker, J. Mason Rice, Charles Henry Corey, Lucian Hayden and W.D. Siegfried. White appointed The Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Robert, a trained minister and physician and the father of the author of Robert’s Rules of Order, the Institute’s first president.

In 1879, Augusta Theological Institute was invited by The Rev. Frank Quarles to move to the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta and changed its name to Atlanta Baptist Seminary.  Later, the seminary moved to a four-acre lot near the site on which the Richard B. Russell Federal Building now stands in downtown Atlanta.  Following Robert’s death in 1884, David Foster Estes, a professor at the Seminary, served as the institution’s first acting president.

In 1885, when Dr. Samuel T. Graves was named the second president, the institution relocated to its current site in Atlanta’s West End community. The campus encompasses a Civil War historic site, a gift of John D. Rockefeller, where Confederate soldiers staged a determined resistance to Union forces during William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous siege of Atlanta in 1864.  In 1897, Atlanta Baptist Seminary became Atlanta Baptist College during the administration of Dr. George Sale, a Canadian who served as the third and youngest president from 1890 to 1906.

A new era, characterized by expanded academic offerings and increased physical facilities, dawned with the appointment of Dr. John Hope as the fourth president in 1906. A pioneer in the field of education and civil rights, he was the College’s first African American president. Hope, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University, encouraged an intellectual climate comparable to what he had known at his alma mater. He openly challenged Booker T. Washington’s view that education for African Americans should emphasize vocational and agricultural skills.

Atlanta Baptist College, already a leader in preparing African Americans for teaching and the ministry, expanded its curriculum and established the tradition of educating leaders for all areas of life.  In addition to attracting a large number of talented faculty and administrators, Hope contributed much to the institution we know today. Upon the death of the founder in 1913, Atlanta Baptist College was named Morehouse College in honor of Henry L. Morehouse, the corresponding secretary of the Northern Baptist Home Mission Society.

Dr. Samuel H. Archer became the fifth president of the College in 1931 and headed the institution during the Great Depression. He gave the school its colors, maroon and white, the same as those of his alma mater, Colgate University. Archer retired for health reasons in 1937.  Dr. Charles D. Hubert served as the second acting president until 1940, when Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays became the sixth president of Morehouse College.

A nationally noted educator and a mentor to The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., class of 1948, Mays is recognized as the architect of Morehouse’s international reputation for excellence in scholarship, leadership and service.  During the presidency of Mays, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bates College and the University of Chicago, the number of faculty members grew and the percentage holding doctoral degrees increased from two to 34 out of 65 teachers. The College earned global recognition as scholars from other countries joined the faculty, an increasing number of international students enrolled, and the fellowships and scholarships for study abroad became available. Morehouse received full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1957, and Mays’ 14-year effort to win a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at Morehouse was realized in 1968. This same year, Dr. Mays delivered the eulogy for alumnus Martin Luther King Jr. on the Century Campus, on April 9th. Charles E. Merrill served as chairman of the College’s board of trustees.

In 1967, Dr. Hugh Morris Gloster, class of 1931, became the first alumnus to serve as president of the College. Under his leadership, Morehouse strengthened its board of trustees, conducted a successful $20-million fund-raising campaign, expanded the endowment to more than $29 million and added 12 buildings to the campus, including the B.T. Harvey Stadium and the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, and appointed Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter the first dean of the Chapel. Morehouse established a dual-degree program in engineering with the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and Boston University. Gloster founded the Morehouse School of Medicine, which became an independent institution in 1981. He appointed Dr. Louis Wade Sullivan, class of 1954, its first dean. Sullivan later became the school’s first president.

In 1987, Dr. Leroy Keith Jr., class of 1961, was named eighth president of Morehouse. During the Keith administration, the College’s endowment increased to more than $60 million, and faculty salaries and student scholarships significantly increased. Construction of the Nabrit-Mapp-McBay Science Building was completed; Thomas Kilgore Jr. Campus Center and two dormitories were built; and Hope Hall was rebuilt.  In 1994, Nima A. Warfield, a member of the graduating class that year, was named a Rhodes Scholar, the first from a historically black college. Under Keith’s leadership, “A Candle in the Dark” Gala was founded in 1989 to raise scholarship funds.

In October 1994, Dr. Wiley Abron Perdue, a member of the class of 1957 and vice president for business affairs, was appointed the third acting president of Morehouse. Under his leadership, national memorials were erected to honor Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and internationally noted theologian Dr. Howard W. Thurman, class of 1923.  Perdue launched an initiative to upgrade the College’s academic and administrative computer information systems, finalized plans to build a dormitory and undertook construction of a 5,700-seat gymnasium to provide a basketball venue for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

On June 1, 1995, Dr. Walter Eugene Massey, class of 1958, took office as the ninth president of Morehouse College. A noted physicist and college administrator, Massey called on the Morehouse community to renew its longstanding commitment to a culture of excellence. Before joining the College, Massey held several notable positions, including senior vice president and provost of the University of California System, director of the National Science Foundation and director of the Argonne National Laboratory.  Massey, who is a former chairman of Bank of America, is currently the president of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Under Massey’s leadership, the College embraced his vision of becoming one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges and accepted the challenge of providing students a quality 21st-century education. Morehouse expanded its dual-degree program in natural sciences with Georgia Institute of Technology; launched the Center for Excellence in Science, Engineering and Mathematics with a $6.7-million U.S. Defense Department grant; established a new African American Studies program and a Center for International Studies named for former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; and established the endowed Goldman Sachs Chair for the executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection with a $2-million gift.

The College was reaccredited by the Southern Association of Colleges of Schools, and the Division of Business Administration and Economics was accredited by the America Association of Schools and Colleges of Business, making Morehouse one of only a handful of liberal arts colleges in the nation with both Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation and a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The physical infrastructure also was significantly enhanced. Construction was completed on Davidson House Center for Excellence, which serves as the president’s official residence and houses a mini-conference center on its lower level. In 2005, a new Leadership Center (named the Walter E. Massey Leadership Center in 2012) was opened, with a comprehensive conference center, the Executive Conference Center (named the Shirley A. Massey Executive Conference Center in 2012). Other additions included the John H. Hopps Technology Tower, a 500-car parking deck and an expanded campus bookstore. Renovations were made to several dormitories, classroom buildings, Archer Hall Recreation Center, Chivers-Lane Dining Hall and the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel.

Also during his tenure, the  College produced its second and third Rhodes Scholars: Chris Elders, class of 2002, and Oluwabusayo “Tope” Folarin, class of 2004. In June 2006, the College successfully completed its most ambitious capital campaign – raising a record $118 million, exceeding the campaign’s goal of $105 million. The same year, Morehouse became the permanent custodian of the coveted Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, which includes more than 13,000 hand-written notes, sermons, letters, books and other artifacts belonging to its most noted alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., class of 1948. The College also acquired the $1-million Purvis Young Art Collection.

On July 1, 2007, The Rev. Dr. Robert Michael Franklin Jr., class of 1975, took office as the 10th president of Morehouse College. He was former president of the Interdenominational Theological Center. Prior to coming to Morehouse, Franklin served as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at the Candler School of Theology and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, both at Emory University. He was a program officer in the Human Rights and Social Justice Program at the Ford Foundation and served as Theologian-in-Residence for The Chautauqua Institution, both in New York.

During his tenure, Franklin led the institution forward with his vision of the “Morehouse Renaissance,” which he accomplished in part by establishing the concept of the “Five Wells,” an ideal to cultivate men of Morehouse as “Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective” who are well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced.

Under Franklin’s leadership, the College reaffirmed its commitment to academic vigor, and was re-accreditation in 2009 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. During this period, the College also developed a Quality Enhancement Plan that focused on internationalization, global learning and world perspective.

In a project initiated by Massey, Franklin oversaw the completion and opening of the $20-million Ray Charles Performing Arts Center and Music Academic Building, a 75,000-square-foot facility named after the late legendary musician. 

Franklin led and supported cultivation efforts – such as establishing the Renaissance Commission, a blue-ribbon group of 150 influential volunteer stakeholders – that increased the total number of new donors by an average of 1,000 per year. The College generated in excess of $128 million since 2007 (grants and contracts, private fundraising and federal appropriations).

In January 2013, Dr. Willis B. Sheftall, class of 1964, served the College as acting president, before returning to the position of interim vice president for Academic Affairs and interim provost.        

On January 28, 2013, Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr., class of 1979, took office as the 11th president of Morehouse College. After graduating from Morehouse, he continued his education at Harvard University, where he earned master’s degrees in theological studies and education, followed by a doctorate in education in the area of administration, planning and social policy.

Wilson’s career in higher education began in 1985 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he served for 16 years in various roles and ultimately as the director of Foundation Relations. In this role, he helped to manage two record-breaking capital campaigns, with combined results approaching $3 billion.  In 2001, his career led him to the George Washington University (GWU), where he served for eight years as executive dean of the university’s Virginia campus and associate professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education. His research focused on best practices for optimal fiscal management and transformative institutional advancement in higher education.

He would later be appointed by President Barack Obama as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which serves as liaison between HBCUs, the White House, 32 federal agencies, and the corporate and philanthropic sectors.

Since assuming the presidency, Wilson has outlined his strategic vision for the College and its quest for capital and character preeminence. That vision is predicated on the need to strengthen the financial base of the College by securing new resources and transformative investments and simultaneously focusing on the College’s mission to consciously cultivate distinctive values, patterns of behavior and standards of excellence that have characterized Morehouse College since its inception.

Toward these ends, he has recruited an outstanding senior administrative team and has initiated an overhaul of the College’s enrollment management, information technology and fiscal management systems in order to achieve optimal efficiency. Under his leadership, plans are currently underway to significantly expand the College’s endowment through a comprehensive capital campaign coinciding with the College’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

As Morehouse prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2017, the College continues its long and unique history of delivering an exceptional educational experience that meets the intellectual, moral and social needs of students representing more than 40 states and 14 countries – a distinguished institution dedicated to producing outstanding men and ethical leaders.