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This month in Black History: Morehouse College

By Kalin Thomas Contributing Writer | 2/1/2013, noon

Soon after President Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1863 release of the Emancipation Proclamation, schools of higher learner were quickly being founded to educate newly freed slaves.

And on Feb. 14, 1867, Morehouse College – an all-male historically black college – was founded in Augusta, Georgia as the Augusta Theological Institute.

The college is known today for its famous alumni, men such as civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1948), former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson (1956), civil rights leader Julian Bond (1971), actor Samuel Jackson (1972), Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses (1978), and filmmaker Shelton “Spike” Lee (1979).

Founded in the basement of Augusta’s Springfield Baptist Church – arguably the oldest independent African American church in the United States – the school

originally was established to prepare black men for ministry and for teaching.

In 1879, The Rev. Frank Quarles persuaded the Augusta Institute 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. And in 1885, the institution relocated to its current site in Atlanta’s West End community.

Atlanta Baptist Seminary became Atlanta Baptist College in 1897, and in 1906, Dr. John Hope became the college’s fourth president and its first African American leader.

Hope, a pioneer in education and civil rights, openly challenged Booker T. Washington’s view that education for African Americans should emphasize vocational and agricultural skills by expanding the curriculum to all areas of education.

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.

And in 1940, Morehouse got its sixth and most famous president, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, who led the college for 27 years.

Mays, former dean of the School of Religion at Howard University, is widely recognized as the architect of the college’s international reputation for excellence in scholarship, leadership and service. He was also a spiritual leader and mentor to Dr. King – who entered Morehouse at age 15.

Today, Morehouse is the permanent custodian of the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection, which includes more than 13,000 hand-written notes, sermons, letters, books and other artifacts belonging to its most famous alumnus.

Rev. Dr. Robert Michael Franklin Jr. (class of 1975) became the 10th president of Morehouse in 2007, and led the institution with his vision of the “Morehouse Renaissance” – an ideal to cultivate “Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective who are well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced.”

And on Jan. 28 of this year, Dr. John Silvanus Wilson Jr. (class of 1979) took office as the school’s 11th president.

Recently, Morehouse officials noted that a drop in enrollment (less than 2,500) and declining revenue had forced the college to cut budgets and staff.

So Wilson, a former executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), is considered an ideal choice to lead the college in the 21st century and work to guarantee its survival.

In a society where black men frequently are seen as predators, Morehouse has been a safe haven for nurturing young black males and turning them into local and global leaders, school officials say.

And as Morehouse prepares to celebrate its 146th Founder’s Day Observance this month, officials say they are proud of the school’s long-standing tradition of graduating more black men than any other institution in the world.