Exhibit Overview

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are valuable institutions that provide intellectual domains for racial uplift, racial refuge, and cultural empowerment within a continually polarized nation” (The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past, Present, and Persistence)

Two Graduates Embrace at Commencement

Two Graduates Embrace at Clark Atlanta University Commencement, 1989

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a rich history in the United States beginning in 1937 with Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. With its establishment, a legacy was created. After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, HBCUs continued to be built across the country in order to provide educational opportunities for African Americans who previously had limited access to education. These early schools had humble beginnings with classes conducted in people’s homes, church basements, and old schoolhouses, but were vital starting points for the development of the schools still in existence today. The Morrill Act of 1890 changed where these schools were located. It required that states provide land-grants for colleges to serve Black students. This act enabled HBCUs to build more traditional campuses.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created the designation of Historically Black College and Universities and instituted legislation. The act solidified the significance of the schools that first gave Black students the opportunity to obtain higher education. These schools became the hub for activism during the Jim Crow era. HBCUs still exist today and provide a unique experience and culture rooted in the rich history of offering opportunities for Black students to gain higher education in a safe space dedicated to them. They prepare each generation of students for the challenges they will face and create Black leaders.

Unidentified Students and Professor in Classroom, circa 1965

Unidentified Atlanta University Students and Professor in Classroom, undated

Atlanta, GA is home to some of the oldest HBCUs in the country. The Atlanta University Center (AUC) is the largest consortium of HBCUs in the world today. The consortium was established in 1929 through the Agreement of Affiliation, which established a relationship between several HBCUs in the Atlanta area, including Atlanta University (founded 1865), Spelman College (founded 1881), and Morehouse College (founded 1867). Throughout its history, its members have included Atlanta University, Clark College, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Interdenominational Theological Center, and Morehouse School of Medicine. Students of the AUC participate in a unique HBCU experience through the expanded and enhanced educational environment of the Atlanta University Center, namely in the establishment of the AUC Consortium and the shared AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library. Each campus has its own traditions and culture, and student life and activities are core to the traditions of the HBCU life and legacy. Students are able to experience homecomings, events, athletics, clubs and organizations, and more during their time at an AUC school.

Homecoming Queen Irene Burch Williams, and Runner-up Lithia Bailey, Clark, 1928<br />

Clark College Homecoming queen Irene Burch Williams, and runner up Lithia Bailey, 1928

This exhibit celebrates student life at both past and current schools in the Atlanta University Center. Through archival materials held in the Archives Research Center of the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, this exhibit illustrates various aspects of student life from fraternities and sororities to homecoming and events. Collections include the Atlanta University Photographs, Clark College Photographs, the Interdenominational Theological Center Audio Visual collection, the Hugh M. Gloster collection, the Edward A. Jones papers, and the Morris Brown College Photographs.

Exhibit created by Brittany Newberry.

Information from this section of the exhibit was obtained from the following sources: 

  1. The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: 
    Past, Present, and Persistence
    edited by Billy Hawkins; Joseph Cooper; Akilah Carter-Francique and J. Kenyatta Cavil
  2. The Black Colleges of Atlanta by Rodney T Cohen
  3. "Historically Black Colleges and Universities," Affordable Colleges Online
  4. "HBCUs: The history and importance of historically black colleges and universities," by Arianna Herriott, Scripps Media, Inc.
Exhibit Overview