Even though I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, I’m fiercely protective of all historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). While I may talk trash about rival institutions like Howard—it’s really only a rivalry in our hearts; Howard literally does shit no other HBCU can do, and it’s “the Mecca” for a reason—I can do that because of my unyielding love as both a graduate of an HBCU and lover of the mission. For me, it’s all in good fun. I don’t feel as warm and fuzzy about non-HBCU grads making HBCU jokes.
Further, when members of the Georgia state legislature proposed to consolidate Georgia’s three public HBCUs—Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University—into the Georgia Agricultural & Mechanical University System, some viewed it as a way to save money and consolidate schools with myriad issues into one system that hopefully benefits all, but I thought about the lost traditions and erasure of our institutions. And don’t get me wrong, I will happily have the conversation about the idea that some HBCUs probably do need to close in order to benefit the whole, but they shouldn’t just be treated as schools as much as lifelines for so many students in the black community.
Morris Brown College is one of those institutions that has had every problem under the sun. The Atlanta school, which was formerly part of the Atlanta University Center (AUC), once had almost as many students as Morehouse College and was actually founded by black people. Morris Brown was affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal church, had a huge 1996 Olympics-provided football stadium, and even though it was the butt of AUC jokes, it was still a better HBCU than a significant number of the over 100-plus others. But in 2002, financial embezzlement issues on the behalf of the school’s president and top administrators led to an eventual loss of accreditation. At one point, the school was in debt more than $20 million dollars, and considering how small most HBCU endowments are compared to most predominantly white institutions, it was basically a death knell. Enrollment declined, since who wants to go to a school where your degree isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on? Plus, there’s no federal financial aid for a non-accredited school.
Over the 2000s and 2010s, Morris Brown struggled to stay open, sometimes enrolling as few as 40 students. Somehow, it never closed and through what can only be called an absolute faith in a higher power, the school recently took the first big step in getting reaccredited.
Recently, Morris Brown College was approved as an institute of higher learning by the Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission. According to the commission’s website, the GNPEC “authorizes and regulates the operations of in-state nonpublic and out-of-state postsecondary colleges and schools operating or offering instruction in Georgia.” Along with the GNPEC approval, Morris Brown has been working on brand management and raising funds for the school.
While Morris Brown was working on the approval from GNPEC, they were also working on being accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which, if approved, would put them back in the running for federal financial aid, and that could lead to an increase in enrollment and monies coming to the school. While Morris Brown College might not ever get back to the prominence it once had as an out-of-state destination HBCU—any and all jokes aside, it was considered a prominent HBCU; the band was renowned and that matters in the black college world—the AUC hasn’t felt right without Morris Brown. The buildings on the campus are historic landmarks and shouldn’t be in disrepair and neglected. Also, the fact that the school has remained open for almost 20 years DESPITE nobody wanting to go there (or going there, for that matter) and maintaining enough to even be back in this position must mean that Morris Brown’s fate is above all of us now.
Who knows, in a year or few, Morris Brown College might be a school that folks are actively seeking to attend again (allegedly they receive thousands of applications a year DESPITE, ya know, granting degrees that don’t matter). And let’s be real: There are plenty of Morris Brown alums for whom the school might mean enough to send their kids to. Ultimately, Morris Brown is headed in a positive direction and I’m here for it.