On January 5, 1881 during the North Georgia African Methodist Episcopal Annual Conference at Big Bethel A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, Georgia, the ideology that created Morris Brown College was born. Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) trustees visited Big Bethel and proposed that the church would furnish a room at Clark College. Layman Steward Wiley, an ex-slave, responded “if we can flourish a room at Clark college why can’t we build school of our own?”
Reverend Wiley John Gaines, also an ex-slave, introduced a resolution to the annual conference calling for the establishment in Atlanta of an institution for the moral, spiritual, and intellectual growth of (Negroes) African-Americans. The Georgia Conference, which consist of the entire A.M.E. Church connection in the State of Georgia, was persuaded to join in the endeavor. An assembly of trustees from the North Georgia Conference and the Georgia Conference convened in Big Bethel and selected a site for the school.
In May of 1885, the State of Georgia granted a charter for Morris Brown College of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. On October 15, 1885, 107 students and nine teachers walked into a crude wooden structure at the corner of Boulevard and Houston Street in Atlanta, marking the formal opening of the first educational institution in Georgia that was founded by ex-slaves solely Under African American patronage. That institution is Morris Brown College, named to honor the memory of the Second Consecrated Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The fact of its founding as a "child" of the church not only determined the institution's philosophical thrust, but also created a system of support which functioned to channel its early energies toward developing programs to serve the needs of students from low socio-economic backgrounds. The College, at that time, was largely dependent upon a denomination whose constituency was primarily unskilled, untrained, and economically unstable. In order to survive, the College had welcomed into its enrollment a large segment of students whose parents were loyal supporters of the Church that kept its doors open. What began as survival strategy of Morris Brown in 1881 became the liberation cry for Black masses and the country at large in the 1960s.
If there is uniqueness about Morris Brown College, it is perhaps a kind of institutional flexibility based on the assumption that a college can serve the needs of all students with the desire and the potential to earn a college degree.
For many of its students, Morris Brown College provides “A Bridge to Professions” that may not have likely been accessible to them had they not crossed its threshold.
FOUNDER OF MORRIS BROWN COLLEGE
February 13, 1770 - May 9, 1849