Atlanta has been a pivotal landmark in black history and the civil rights movement, and many of its leaders are alumni of the city’s highly acclaimed Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Most of the top HBCUs in Atlanta are conveniently located in the same area near downtown, at the historic Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC Consortium). Read on to learn more about them, from their historical beginnings to their current goals.
Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC Consortium)
The AUC Consortium is the world’s oldest and largest association of HBCUs. Members and closely related institutions of the AUC Consortium include:
- Clark Atlanta University
- Morehouse College
- Morehouse School of Medicine
- Spelman College
- Morris Brown College
- The Interdenominational Theological Center
Clark Atlanta University
We start our list with the first HBCU in the South, and the largest higher education institution in the AUC Consortium, Clark Atlanta University (CAU).
In 1865 the historic Atlanta University joined Clark College to form Clark Atlanta University. It’s the United State’s first graduate institution to award degrees to African Americans students.
Today CAU is the most comprehensive higher education institution in the AUC Consortium. Its students can choose from over 40 degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. 30% to 40% of the student body consists of Georgia residents, while the remaining comes from the outstate. CAU still has a predominantly African American student demographic. In 2018, nearly 90% of students identified as African-American/Black.
The institution has a lively student body, with a popular marching band that appeared in the film Drumline (2002), and all of the National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations have chapters established at CAU. Other Greek letter organizations present on campus include Sigma Alpha Iota, Kappa Kappa Psi, Gamma Sigma Sigma, Tau Beta Sigma, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and Gamma Phi Delta.
The university has groomed several alumni who would later hold pivotal leadership roles in the community.
- Horace T. Ward – lawyer and judge, the first African American student to legally challenge segregation in higher education in the South.
- Rachel Elizabeth Pruden-Herndon – attorney, the first African American woman admitted to the Georgia Bar.
- Marvin S. Arrington, Sr. – jurist and politician, one of the first two black students to undertake full-time studies and graduate from Emory University School of Law.
Morehouse College is a private, historically black, all-men, liberal arts college founded in 1867 by journalist and civil rights leader William Jefferson White and James E. Tate, who was one of the founders of today’s Clark Atlanta University. It’s the largest men’s liberal arts college in the nation and one of the top HBCUs in Atlanta.
In its beginning, it adopted a theological seminary model, focusing on Baptist tradition instruction. However, throughout the 1800s and 1900s, the college established its reputable liberal arts curriculum, which appealed to young black men hungry for knowledge from all over the United States.
Constantly striving for innovation, in February 2021, the college announced its new online degree completion program, and later Morehouse launched its first online certificate course focused on social activism and athletics.
Morehouse College had a significant role during the civil rights movement, producing many leaders who would go on to fight for racial equality in the United States, including none other than Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Among the notable alumni of Morehouse Men are five Rhodes Scholars, five Marshall Scholars, and 11 Fulbright Scholars.
Morehouse College’s mission is to “develop men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.” In January 2022, the college announced the launch of the Black Men’s Research Institute to study economic, cultural, social, and personal issues affecting Black men and explore their potential solutions.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – a baptist minister who became the most visible leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 -1968.
- Maynard H. Jackson, Jr – a Georgia politician and attorney, became the first African American mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, and any major city in the deep South at age 35.
- Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson – pastor and educator, the first African-American president of Howard University 1926-1960.
Morehouse School of Medicine
In 1975 Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) was originally founded as a part of Morehouse College. The School of Medicine began as a two-year program teaching basic science disciplines, and after its completion, students were transferred to other medical schools for their clinical training.
Students now complete their training at the college and at Grady Memorial Hospital, which is one of the largest public hospitals in the Southeast region.
In 1981 Morehouse School of Medicine branched off and became an independent institution, and unlike Morehouse College, which is an all-men school, Morehouse School of Medicine is co-ed.
One of the institution’s main goals is to increase diversity in the health and clinical research space and improve healthcare access to the minority community.
One of the institution’s main goals is to increase diversity in the health and clinical research space and improve healthcare access to the minority community. Alumni of MSM have held high-ranking positions in public health and politics.
- Admiral David Satcher – physician and public health administrator, the 16th Surgeon General of the United States.
- Regina Marcia Benjamin – physician, 18th U.S. surgeon general of the United States.
Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College is the oldest private historically black liberal arts college for women in the United States. Spelman is considered to be one of the most selective women’s colleges in the U.S. and has the highest graduation rate among all HBCUs, so it’s not surprising that it’s one of the top HBCUs in the city.
The students of Spelman enjoy a close camaraderie with the other HBCUs in the vicinity, including the highly anticipated joint homecoming with Morehouse College, traditionally called “SpelHouse Homecoming.”
Much like the Morehouse Men at the time, the young women of Spelman College were active in the civil rights movement in Atlanta. In 1962, some of its students were arrested for participating in sit-ins in the city.
The acclaimed historian Howard Zinn, who was a professor of history at Spelman at the time, served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chapter of the college.
Zinn mentored Spelman’s students who would later become public figures of the civil rights movement, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Marian Wright Edelman.
Spelman College’s mission is to be a global leader in African American women’s education and to support their strive to achieve academic brilliance in the liberal arts, sciences, and leadership.
The college offers bachelor’s degrees in over 30 majors. It has also implemented strategic partnerships with over 30 accredited universities to help students complete degree programs that aren’t offered on campus in law, healthcare, and engineering.
Spelman College has ranked in the top spots in the U.S. News Education Rankings, including first in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, fourth in Top Performers on Social Mobility, and seventh in Most Innovative Schools.
The women’s college also has its own museum – The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, which is the only museum in the nation that emphasizes art by and about women of African descent.
- Alice Walker – novelist and social activist, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her acclaimed novel The Color Purple.
- Gen. Marcelite J. Harris – the first African-American female general officer of the U.S. Air Force.
- Rosalind G. Brewer – businesswoman, the first African American woman to be appointed CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, making her one of only two Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
- Stacey Abrams – lawyer, politician, and minority leader, she served in the Georgia House of Representatives 2007-2017.
The Interdenominational Theological Center
The Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) is a consortium consisting of five predominantly African-American denominational Christian seminaries that cooperate as a graduate school for theology studies.
The ITC is the largest independent African-American theological school in the United States and the only graduate theological education institution that is a member of the United Negro College Fund.
The theological center awards a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and a Master of Arts in Christian Education (M.A.C.E.). It also offers a Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.). The institute neighbors the popular AUC consortium institutes Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College.
ITC aims to be “a major center of progressive, African American theological thought.”
- Rev. Joseph Boone – civil rights activist and organizer who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
- Rev. Katie Cannon – Christian theologian and ethicist associated with black theology and womanist theology
- Dr. Mordecai Johnson – an educator and pastor who served as the first African-American president of Howard University.
Morris Brown College
The Morris Brown College (MBC) was founded in 1881, becoming the first higher education institution in the state of Georgia to be owned and operated entirely by African Americans. The Methodist co-ed HBCU was named in honor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s second bishop, Morris Brown.
MBC takes pride in its tradition of serving the educational needs of its gifted young minds while simultaneously supporting students who might not otherwise receive the opportunity to learn at a college level. The students of the latter are given special tools to fulfill their potential for earning a college degree.
MBC has been successful in its mission to create a future generation of educators, and thousands of its students from underprivileged backgrounds have returned to their hometowns as teachers, local activists, and politicians.
After being considered one of the top HBCUs in Atlanta for decades, unfortunately, MBC went through a rocky period through which it even lost its accreditation in 2003. However, as of 2021, the HBCU has been reaccredited and is currently accepting new applicants.
The new administration plans to make the historic college better than ever and restore its acclaim. They’re inviting bright African American talents from across the nation to help them write the new chapter of the college’s history.
- Hosea Lorenzo Williams – Renaissance man, civil rights leader, activist, ordained minister, businessman, politician, scientist, philanthropist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner
- Beverly Harvard – Atlanta’s first female police chief and the city’s first black police chief.
Fort Valley State University
Fort Valley State University (FVSTU) is located an hour and a half outside of Atlanta, but this HBCU deserves an honorable mention on our list. FVSU’s campus covers 1,365-acres making it Georgia’s second-largest public university.
Formerly known as Fort Valley State College and later Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School, the campus’s first buildings were built by its students and founders. A major part of its funding came from its neighbors who were uneducated African Americans who donated their modest salaries to make the education of the younger generation a reality.
The university is made up of three colleges, the College of Arts and Sciences, which is its oldest and the largest college, the College of Education, and the College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology.
This public land-grant HBCU takes pride in its predominantly African American student body (Approximately 90%!).
- Jo Ann Gibson Robinson – educator and civil rights activist, she was the visionary behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott after being attacked for sitting in the front of an empty “Whites only” section of a bus.
- Austin Thomas Walden – a prominent lawyer who became Georgia’s first black judge.
- Howard Nathaniel Lee – the first African American to be elected mayor of a majority white city in the South.
Best Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta, Final Thoughts
That wraps up our list of Top HBCUs in Atlanta. If you plan to get your higher education in the black Mecca, you have a plethora of excellent institutions that will groom you to be the best version of yourself. Whether you’re looking to major in the liberal arts, sciences, theology, and more, there’s a place for you in one of the city’s historic HBCUs.