Nestled on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta is Morris Brown College. Established in 1881 and chartered by the State of Georgia in 1885, Morris Brown College opened its doors on October 15, 1885 with 107 students and 9 teachers. Founded by members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the school is named in honor of Rev. Morris Brown of Charleston, South Carolina, the second Bishop of the AME Church.
Morris Brown was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 13, 1770. Although the city he lived in was comprised of a mostly enslaved African-American population, Brown’s parents were part the city’s small free black community. In the year of Brown’s birth, more than 5,800 enslaved blacks and 24 free blacks resided in the city, compared to a total of 5,030 whites. Brown’s family was part of an elite black society, whose members were often so closely related to aristocratic whites in the city that they were exempt from the racist restrictions imposed on the majority of enslaved people.
A successful shoemaker and religious leader, Brown traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to collaborate with the Rev. Richard Allen in the founding of the country’s first African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in 1816. In 1818, Brown left a predominantly white but racially segregated Methodist Church in Charleston in protest against discrimination. When he left, more than 4,000 black members of the white churches in the city followed Brown to his new church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, later named Emanuel AME Church.
In 1822, Brown and Emanuel AME came under investigation during the Denmark Vesey controversy. In 1821, Vesey, a freed slave, organized a slave uprising in the city. Alerted to the coming revolt, white authorities arrested hundreds of alleged participants and a white mob burned the church building to the ground. Rev. Brown was implicated in the plot, but was never convicted. After the Vesey incident, Rev. Brown and his family left the south and settled in Philadelphia. Upon the death of Bishop Richard Allen in 1831, Brown took over the pastorate at AME Bethel Church, becoming the second bishop of the AME church.
Bishop Morris Brown died in Philadelphia on May 9, 1849.
We honor Bishop Morris Brown during Black History Month.