Morris Brown College students Seranita Lewis, Shannon Wright, Erica Lloyd and Shannon Allen sit in the courtyard underneath the campus clock tower in 1996. (Eric Williams/AJC file)

Morris Brown: How an Atlanta HBCU  fell into bankruptcy

Morris Brown, the first HBCU in Georgia founded by black people, has been open since 1881 but filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and currently has only 55 students enrolled. Below are some of the moments from the school's history.

AJC INVESTIGATION: For more information about the problems many HBCUs face, the unique role they play in students’ lives, and the perils that lie ahead, check out the AJC’s special three-part series “HBCUs: A Threatened Heritage.”

1881 Founded by the Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and named for one of its bishops. It is the first HBCU in Georgia that was founded by black people for black people. 

1885 Opens doors to 107 students on a tract of land at Houston Street and Boulevard. 

This is a detail from a "Bird's Eye View of Atlanta" map from 1892. The original location of Morris Brown College can be seen next to the number "39" -- the two buildings in red at the corner of Houston Street and Boulevard. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Photo: Library of Congress

1894 Opens a theology department, which becomes the Turner Theological Seminary in 1900. 

The Morris Brown College baseball team from 1899 or 1900. (Library of Congress)
Photo: Library of Congress

1908 Enrollment reaches more than 1,000. 

1912 The college receives a state charter and becomes Morris Brown University. 

1928 The school's rapid growth and financial practices force Morris Brown into bankruptcy. 

1932 The seventh president, the Rev. W.A. Fountain, reorganizes the school substantially, leading it out of bankruptcy. Atlanta University has vacated its campus in West End, and Fountain persuades its trustees to let Morris Brown take over the campus. 

This is a detail from a "Bird's Eye View of Atlanta" map from 1892. The location of Atlanta University can be seen next to the number "18" -- a complex of three buildings, including Stone (Fountain) Hall, on both sides of West Hunter Street (today's MLK Jr. Drive). Atlanta University would vacate these buildings and allow Morris Brown College to move here in 1932. (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Photo: Library of Congress

1930s-40s Fountain hires numerous new faculty members and shores up the school's finances during his 22 years as president. 

1940 Morris Brown is crowned Black College Football's National Champion. The school would build a powerful sports program throughout the decade and would win the same title in 1941 and 1951. In their last year of football, 2002, they finished 1-11. 

The coaching staff for the Wolverines of Morris Brown College are shown in this b/w photo copied from a 1951 football program. L to R, they are: William T. Greene, Backfield Coach; Edward J. Clemmons, Head Coach; Clarence O. Brown, Line Coach; and Thomas L. Caldwell, Asst. Line Coach. (AJC file photo)
Photo: COPY

1941 Morris Brown joins the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of the area's historically black colleges. 

1950 The school dismisses Fountain amid allegations of financial improprieties and hires John H. Lewis, who modernizes science labs, expands the library and builds more dorm space for women students. 

A group of people talk on the grounds of the Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Ga., in this undated photo. Standing from left to right are, Dean Albert Whiting; William Gordon, an instructor at the black college; Ralph Geer; Frederick Hall; Mary Ann Lewis; and Sallie Ivery. (AP Photo)
Photo: AP file

1965 The college embarks on another expansion, adding a student union building and new science and language departments. 

1973 The school withdraws from the Atlanta University Center in protest of a reorganization by AUC. But the trustees ask to rejoin later that year. 

1999 Morris Brown is on the brink of ruin, again. New president Dolores Cross inflates enrollment numbers to draw in millions of dollars in federal student aid. She diverts the money to expenses and to pay down Brown's enormous debt. 

Dr. Dolores Cross on the Morris Brown campus bridge over MLK Drive in 1999, the year she became president of the school. (JOHN SPINK / AJC file)

1999 Buoyed by a new $21 million stadium built for the 1996 Olympics, the school successfully petitions the NCAA to convert it from Division II to Division I. The Southwest Athletic Conference invites Morris Brown to join but then revokes its offer - even after Brown had scheduled games with several SWAC teams. 

Former Morris Brown football player Henry Huntley enjoys the view from the 50-yard line at the school's new $21 million Herndon Stadium during practice in 1996. (Rich Addicks / AJC file)
Members of the Morris Brown University marching band drumline get ready to perform at the premiere of the movie, 'Drumline' in 2002. (RICH ADDICKS / AJC file)

2002 Morris Brown's Marching Wolverines band is featured as the big-school rival in the film "Drumline." The real-life band played at the film's premiere. 

2003 The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revokes Morris Brown's accreditation because of the school's ballooning debt. Because the school is not accredited, students are not able to receive federal loans and enrollment begins to drop. As a result, Morris Brown is forced to withdraw from the AUC. 

2004 Cross and her financial aid director, Parvesh Singh, are indicted on 34 counts of financial aid fraud. Singh is accused of collecting financial aid for students who were no longer enrolled at the school. 

2006 Cross and Singh plead guilty to one count of embezzlement. Singh agrees to testify against his former boss in exchange for a reduced sentence. 

A still from the video for the OutKast song "Morris Brown" from 2006, which featured the school's marching band. (Sony)
Photo: Sony

2006 OutKast releases "Morris Brown," which features the school's Marching Wolverines band. 

Morris Brown's former president Dolores Cross (rt) enters U.S. district court with Drew Findling in 2004. (T. LEVETTE BAGWELL / AJC file)

2007 Cross, 70, is sentenced to five years on probation, including a year of home confinement. Singh gets five years on probation, plus 18 months of home confinement. Both are ordered to pay restitution and fines. 

2007 At its peak, Morris Brown enrolled 2,700 students. But the loss of accreditation has caused enrollment to plummet to 72 in the fall of this year. Only 10 faculty members remain, but Morris Brown continues to enroll and teach students. 

2008 Water service is cut off to the campus because of unpaid bills. 

Stanley J. Pritchett Sr., seen here in 2012, became president of Morris Brown College in 2010. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)
Photo: Hyosub Shin/

2010 Stanley Pritchett Sr. becomes president of the college. Debt stands at $28 million. 

2011 The college reaches a deal with the U.S. Department of Education to pay $500,000 on its debt of $9.4 million; the balance is forgiven. 

2012 The college files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and erases tens of millions of dollars in debt. 

Gaines Hall on the campus of Morris Brown College in 2013. The historic building was gutted by fire in 2015. (KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC file)

2015 Fire guts historic Gaines Hall, once a dormitory at Morris Brown but long since shuttered. Atlanta fire officials say the building, which went up in 1869 on the Atlanta University campus, should be torn down. 

2017 Morris Brown continues to enroll students — about 55 in the fall of 2017.

The damaged clock tower on Morris Brown College's Fountain Hall in 2014. (BEN GRAY / AJC file)
Photo: BEN GRAY / AJC/

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