Morehouse School of Religion

Morehouse School of Religion Reunion, circa 1957

Morehouse School of Religion reunion portrait. Identified individuals include Dr. Benjamin Mays (standing, third from left), Dr. Levi Terrill (standing, eighth from left), and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (standing, ninth from left), circa 1957.

The Civil War was a recent memory in February of 1867. Two years after the war had ended a group of African-American Baptists and some White teachers from the North gathered in Augusta, Georgia, at the Springfield Baptist church, under the sponsorship of the American Home Missionary Society (an affiliated Department of the Northern Baptists) to establish the Augusta Institute. Its purpose was to provide training for minsters and other church leaders. Twelve years after its founding, the school moved to Atlanta and was renamed the Atlanta Baptist Seminary. After winning support from local area Baptists and embracing a larger mission, the name was changed to Atlanta Baptist College in 1897. The vast majority of the students of Atlanta Baptist College were ministers. Not until the 1923-24 academic year did liberal arts undergraduates outnumber theological students.

In 1906 the college installed its first African-American President, John Hope, who served in the position for twenty-five years. In 1913 the Atlanta Baptist College was renamed Morehouse College in honor of the long time Secretary of the sponsoring American Baptist Home Missionary Society, Henry L. Morehouse. During John Hope’s time as president, Morehouse experienced an enhanced reputation. This development under President Hope had implications for the institution's mode of preparing ministers. Separate faculties developed, one for the college and another for the Morehouse Divinity School, which in 1924 became Morehouse School of Religion. 

"The Centennial Commencement Address by Benjamin Elijah Mays", 1967

Twenty-Seven Years of Success and Failure at Morehouse by Dr. Benjamin Mays, a centennial commencement address with an introduction by Alvin Darden, 1995.

Among the school's most prominent Deans were C.D. Hubert and George D. Kelsey, who both served as the undergraduate faculty in the late 1940s, and along with President Benjamin E. Mays, greatly influenced an undergraduate student by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1951, Benjamin Mays, mentor of King and president of Morehouse, faced growing pressure from within concerning Morehouse School of Religion. Running an unaccredited Department like that of the School of Religion was becoming a risk to maintaining accreditation of Morehouse’s other undergraduate programs. President Mays was desperately seeking a way out of this dilemma, which eventually led to the formation of ITC. Talks had already been underway, but in 1958 Harry V. Richardson of Gammon Theological Seminary and Benjamin E. Mays agreed to bring together Gammon Theological Seminary and Morehouse School of Religion to establish the Interdenominational Theological Center.