Morris Brown’s possible end a tale of upkeep for HBCUs

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(Photo courtesy of AJC.com) Gaines Hall, one of the shuttered buildings on the failing Morris Brown College campus

If your parents were anything like my mom, they would tell you as a child to take care of what you have. You don’t let someone come in your home and tear up any of your possessions. And if you don’t take care of what’s yours, you’re bound to lose it.

Those who love Morris Brown College are about to learn this lesson the hard way as Friendship Baptist Church, the entity that owns MBC and its land, may soon sell to the city of Atlanta, Georgia so that the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League can build a billion-dollar stadium in that area. Friendship Baptist as of Monday morning is still scheduling a vote that would decide the fate of one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges.

It’s unfortunate that Morris Brown is on life support and as an HBCU alum, I certainly wish there was something that could be done to save it. Sadly, the caretakers of MBC didn’t do a good job of taking care what was theirs, so now it’ll almost certainly belong to the pages of history.

The sad demise of Morris Brown College began in 2002, when the school lost its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation because of persisting financial problems. Those problems came to light when former president Dolores Cross and director of financial aid Parvesh Singh were found to be defrauding on student loans for personal staff, although the judge felt it was a misguided attempt to keep the school going.

Ever since then, Morris Brown has been in a vegetative state. The school discontinued athletics in 2003 and has had fewer than 1,000 students every year since the scandal first became public knowledge. Attempts by radio personality and HBCU philanthropist Tom Joyner were rebuffed and as recently as June, an offer from the city of Atlanta to settle the debt and allow Friendship Baptist to continue to operate MBC on a rent basis was rejected.

If Friendship Baptist opts to sell to the city (and at 19.5 million dollars, I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t), then MBC’s buildings – the four that remain – would almost certainly be torn down to make way for a revitalization project that would include a grand stadium for the Falcons, who have become a power team in the sports world. This would also make Morris Brown the second HBCU to close its doors this summer – Saint Paul’s College of Lawrenceville, VA discontinued classes earlier this year and ceased operation June 30.

The sale of the land would be the final nail in the coffin in a sad, brutal and painfully drawn-out demise of Morris Brown College, one that could’ve been avoided. Friendship Baptist should have taken Tom Joyner up on his offer years ago or had a better plan in place than relying on Family Dollar to save them. Either way, it’s been painful to watch MBC fade away. Hopefully this, along with Saint Paul’s closure, will help HBCU alums realize that our time, our money and our resources are sorely needed to keep our schools going.

The mission of Historically Black Colleges and Universities is still as relevant today as when the first wave of HBCUs opened during Reconstruction. HBCUs have always served as a chance for African-Americans wanting to continue their education to have somewhere to go, learn from great professors, meet new people and have positive experiences that will stay with them for life. That mission is becoming more important now that Affirmative Action is facing its greatest challenge.

Regardless of what happens to Morris Brown, HBCU staff, students, alumni and admirers must do a better job of taking care of what is ours.

If not, we’re surely going to lose it all.

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3 thoughts on “Morris Brown’s possible end a tale of upkeep for HBCUs

  1. Although most facts in the article appear to be correct, I am woefully disappointed that the writer assumes that the fate of Morris Brown College lies in the hands of its apparent owner–Friendship Baptist Church. As a result of the Atlanta Falcons expressing interest in the property of Friendship Baptist Church, the church, in turn, must seek another location. Friendship Baptist Church, to my understanding is looking to purchase a portion of existing Morris Brown College from the college’s owner–the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). To the author, respectfully, Morris Brown College has never been owned by Friendship Baptist Church.

    Friendship Baptist must determine, internally, if it will sell its property to the Falcons but, at this point, the sale hinges upon it ability to purchase property from Morris Brown College.

    Forgive me as I know that I am about to digress from the original topic but—I do not necessarily agree or disagree with the impact that the sale of even a portion of the campus might have on Morris Brown College. As a member of the AME Church and one who is saddened by my denomination’s complicity in the demise of this sacred institution (anything founded and financed by the first generation of freedmen and freedwomen is sacred) simply by not having adequate processes and people in place to protect the institution from the alleged mal/misfeasance that is so apparent.

    Unfortunately, Morris Brown’s situation is a reality. The school was on shaky ground financially, to say the least, when Dolores Cross took the helm. She found inherited a difficult situation which she then compounded by her admitted, fraudulent behavior. The question is not why she did what she did but how was she able to do it and what created the situation or environment that the she inherited in the first place. We don’t like that discussion too much because the cause and the “only real” solution–to maintaining its heritage and history–both look like us. There are other solutions to “bail us out” but, we cannot cry that “our heritage and legacy are going to be re-shaped.” Yes they are. “But that is a historical building, or its the dorm that I hung-out all night in and discovered who I was as a person.” Yes it is. Unfortunately, its the same school that finds itself in a financial quagmire and those that bail it out and have not share in its history, may not respect, honor or maintain that history. To the author’s final point, we have to take care of what is ours. Its a situation that WE have put ourselves in. Paul Quinn College, in TX, and Edward Waters College, in FL, are facing the same issues. St. Paul College in VA has already closed its doors!!

    To the brother above, ‘yes’ Morris Brown needs and deserves our prayers but, lets be honest, “…faith without works…”

  2. Mr. Stevens,

    Thank you for your call to arms on the perceived plight of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Unfortunately your information is incorrect and very misleading. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of technology, you have failed to do the minimum amount of research required prior to posting such an incorrect portrayal of my alma mater.

    Friendship Baptist Church does NOT and never has owned any portion, parcel, or acre of land on which Morris Brown College presently sits or has sat on in the past. Morris Brown College is one of the few HBCUs owned, paid for and supported by blacks. (We were called black in 1881)! It is part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and therefore definitely not owned or supported by the Baptist Church! A cursory glance at our website would have provided you with this information.

    Yes, Mr. Joyner did attempt to make an offer to “assist” the school by purchasing a “portion” of the property. The offer was not accepted based on the “strings” attached to such a deal. You also have referenced the deal with FD LLC, which was on the table in a “ready, set” status until the illustrious Mayor of Atlanta decided to hold conversations with FD LLC with respect to a property that neither he, the city of Friendship Baptist church actually own or have a vested interest in.

    Yes, my school has had financial struggles over the last decade and has had several disappointments. Yet, we have continued (despite all hardship) to remain open for those individuals who continue to seek higher education. In spite of all of the negative commentary, fallacious comments, lack of support by the other institutions in the Atlanta University Center, we have remained strong in our belief that we will not only remain open, but continue to strive as our founders would have wanted.

    It would be best going forward for you to contact the Presiding Bishop of the 6th District of the AME Church and the President of Morris Brown College prior to making statements about the perceived finances of this institution.

    Submitted respectfully,

    Allyson J. Brown
    1980 Graduate, Morris Brown College

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