Skip to content

MOURNING ANGELA

 

My body tried to warn me, but I didn’t want to listen. On Saturday, it sent a back pain; I ignored it. On Sunday, it sent  stomach ache. Not feelin’ it. On Monday, the spotting was the final hint, and then on Tuesday,  the geyser came. Another miscarriage..

 

At 10a.m. on a cloudy day in September, I was midway through an experiment on a new cortosteroid that would just have to wait. My mind had flipped into mushroom mode, and all I could think of was getting back home to the comfort of my own bathroom where I could hide from the world and cry in peace. So I ran to the ladies’ room, stuffed my underpants with paper towels then fled the lab with its sterile blue walls, institutional tile floors and rows of test tubes and microscopes, holding up my “everything’s fine” countenance until I could get to my car.

 

The brief drive home required just enough concentration to block out everything but the pain. But when I got home, I couldn’t escape the voices in my head. Two years, five miscarriages.  Each one took another piece of my sanity. I had a PhD in pharmacology and ran a cutting edge research lab, but I couldn’t do the most natural thing in the world. Rows of prenatal vitamins, immunological and progesterone boosters, and herbal remedies mocked me from my medicine cabinet. The reality of my failure and the treachery of my uterus surrounded me. Seventeen years ago, when I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, I was. Now at age thirty four, when I wanted to have a child, I couldn’t. So there I sat in my cream-colored upstairs bathroom, crying. Again. Just as I had five months ago, and three months before that. Was this some sort of punishment of a vengeful God?

 

Only my mother and my husband Randall knew about the abortion. To the rest of the world, I was an obsessive ice queen who had probably never thought about love, let alone sex. I had spent nearly fifteen years of my life immersed in books and research, clawing my way through college and grad school, then letting my Ph.D. and my “I’m-in-control” attitude open new doors for me while I slammed the door shut on the disaster of my youth and my ill-fated attempt at love.  Darryl, the boy who had gotten me pregnant seventeen years ago, had disappeared from my world as soon as I’d told him. Evidently he didn’t love me the way he said he did when we’d been rutting like pigs in the back of his car.  I dated sporadically after that, until I met Randall.

 

 

My marriage to Randall had shocked my co-workers, but he had broken through my ice shield with an overwhelming barrage of warmth and laughter, from holding hands and kissing in movie theaters to watching Tyler Perry movies and the Daily Show at night… to breakfast in bed before church. Randall had pulled me out of my career-minded rut and giving me a reason to try to love again.

 

We had met when my lab needed an IT consultant to create a system for the reams of data that threatened to drown us. Randall was completely in his element and had hit the ground running. He learned everyone’s jobs – the high minded researchers, the clinicians, the research assistants and the lab technicians. He looked up enough on rheumatoid arthritis and cortosteroids to make sense of our research. Then he designed a database that would fit our project and gave it enough bells and whistles to make us want to use it. All that with a laid-back, “I got this!” attitude that was so different from our pressure-cooker environment. In fact, I hung around him as much as possible, supposedly to help him tweak the database. He would make me laugh at myself with a stream of “hate the manager” jokes and I loved it. After he finished his contract, we started dating.  At thirty nine, he was still awkwardly lanky  with glasses and a receding hairline –  a typical black geek. With me being short and chubby, we were the comical perfect pair.

I remembered the night I had told him I’d been pregnant before. We met for dinner at a waterfront seafood restaurant; I picked a place we’d never been to before, a symbol for exploring new territory. We dined to the sounds of a jazz quartet with a window view of the marina filled with sailboats. We could see the sun setting on the horizon. It was a perfect evening.

 

Just before the check came, I said, “Randall, there’s something I need to tell you. It could change how you see me, but it’s important. I think you know how much I like you. I hope we’ll become very close, but you also need to know how seriously I take birth control. I got pregnant when I was seventeen. I thought I was in love and I didn’t understand enough about sex. I didn’t think that one time would do it. But it did. And I didn’t want to be a teenaged mother or waddle through my senior year pregnant.”

 

I stopped. I’d never wanted to get serious enough with someone to trust him with these three pieces of information: I had sex at age seventeen, I got pregnant, and I aborted the child. I wasn’t ashamed.  The abortion had been a pragmatic decision, but no one liked to hear that. I was supposed to have anguished about this for days and weeks, teetered on the fence, contemplated keeping the child and raising it. I did none of that. I was too young, too scared, too busy, too “teenage” self-centered, too carefree, just-plain-not-ready-to-be-a-mommy.I aborted the child and never looked back.

 

Randall  reached across the table, took my hands in his and kissed them. “It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “Our pasts are in the past.”

 

The relationship turned serious after that and that’s when I allowed myself to fall in love again.  About three months after our dinner conversation, Randall presented me with a nice big box of condoms. We gleefully used them up. He bought more. A year and a half later, we eloped, honeymooned in Aruba and started the fun-filled task of making babies. We’d been trying ever since, and failing miserably.

 

Because Randall knew about my first pregnancy, it never occurred to either of us that we’d have any trouble having a child. But after the second miscarriage, we went to a specialist. When he couldn’t find a problem, I researched how to prevent miscarriages. I cut out our one-on-one basketball games and pillow fights. I gave up my favorite cheeses, along with my daily cups of coffee and nightly sip of wine. I tried omega 3 and calcium tablets along with my prenatal vitamins. I took hormone supplements. I switched from burgers and pork chops to beans and quinoa. I gave up sugar and switched to honey. I drank sixty four ounces of water a day and bought a juicer. I tried pre-fertility cleansing and self-massage. I followed every instruction, tried every remedy. The miscarriages kept happening. But this was the one that crushed me.

 

All the other pregnancies had ended within a month, so when we got to seven weeks, complete with morning sickness and too-tight jeans, we got cocky. Randall dangled my wedding ring over my belly. It moved in a circle – a boy. I even went to the maternity section at Macy’s. Their pants looked as though they were made for women who were in their third trimester, but I bought a few pairs anyway. That’s how far it had gotten.

 

Randall came home early when he couldn’t reach me at work or on my cellphone – I had left it on the kitchen counter. I’d already been in the bathroom for 5 hours, sobbing off and on and bleeding non-stop. I could hear him as he pulled into the garage, and as he bounded up the stairs to my sanctuary. I didn’t want to come out so he talked to me as I sat on the throne, saying anything he could think of that might comfort me, but not really having the words. After he brought me hot herbal tea and Aleve, he started to talk about God. He told me that he prayed for my happiness more than he prayed for a baby – that a baby would come when God was ready to send us one. Sadly, I wasn’t convinced, and cried some more.

 

After 2 more hours, the worst of it was over, so I left the bathroom, grabbed a Depends from the linen closet – after the first two miscarriages, I knew the routine – filled a hot water bottle and climbed into the bed. Randall lay down with me, and rocked me back and forth until I fell asleep in his arms.

 

The dream started out with gentle fluffiness. Then scenery appeared – a yellow room with little bears on the walls in red jackets. The curtains with little piglets and stuffed sad donkeys fluttered in an open window; a lamp with little balloons sat on a bureau in the corner; a cherry stained wooden crib with yellow blankets and a mobile over top rested against the wall, along with a matching changing table. I was sitting in a rocking chair, barefoot with carpet under my feet, holding a baby. Nursing a baby. So contentedly. Stroking his fuzzy hair, smiling at his chubby little hands, ignoring the slight pain of his gums against my nipple. Then my son let go of my breast, with white dribble running down the side of his mouth, and looked up at me. He had the softest brown eyes with jet black eyelashes, a button of a nose, and plump cheeks, just like Randall’s baby pictures.

 

As he smiled at me, he began to fade. His beautiful brown skin became translucent as though I was looking through him at my lap. Then my baby disappeared altogether, and I sat there, bare-breasted, confused, shaken and wondering where he went. I looked around and the bears, piglets and donkeys all looked back at me with sad eyes. The donkeys were crying. The balloons at the lamp base had turned into yellow roses, for death and funerals. At that point, I knew my son was gone for good, never coming back. I began to cry.

 

As I rocked back and forth sobbing in my chair, another image began to appear in front of me, a teenaged girl, a carbon copy of me at seventeen. She had my long legs, my curvy hips, my rounded chest, my freshly permed hair. Then all of a sudden, she didn’t look like me at all. She looked like Darryl. That’s when I knew it was Angela, the name I’d given to the child I aborted. Now Angela stood in front of me with a face that kept changing.

I reached out to Angela, but my arms went straight through her body. Then she stepped toward me and through me; her memories, her thoughts, her feelings, her sensations became my own as we journeyed through her life.

 

Feeling Angela’s abortion from inside of me was an unpleasant sensation, but muted from true pain; the ability to sense pain was not there yet. But the ripping sensation of her soul leaving the flesh I’d created was unforgettable. Then, almost at once, we settled inside a new womb, one where we could grow healthy and strong. Angela came into the world with the a different face, but she was still my daughter. Birth was a frightening experience; the horrible squeezing sensation, the air’s frigid embrace, the desperate need to inhale. Then we were enveloped in a mother’s arms, and pecked on the forehead by a father beholding his first child. All of the pain had been worthwhile.  We blossomed from the love that surrounded us, crawling, walking, talking, laughing, playing. But our emotions changed awkwardly as our sisters came into the world, and we went from only to oldest. We longed for our parents’ attention as we grew, we made efforts to be noticed, and even stifled our shyness so we could bear the ballet recitals our mother inflicted on us – along with pain-filled toes, the overstretched muscles, and other changes ballet created in our body. We got our first bicycle when we turned nine. And that  first ride seemed as wonderful as flying might be, feeling the flowing air, balancing with the grace learned in ballet, conquering inner fears in order to go out into the world. There were a few scrapes and bruises from bicycle spills, but they were nothing compared with the wonderful sensation of the wind.

 

Time flew as we strove to master each school subject and earn each A that got our parents’ attention. Breasts grew and menses flowed with the agonizing monthly pain. We discovered boys, but kept our thoughts private – we were shy. We longed to be noticed, and flinched at rejection when our male classmates dismissed us as too brainy. Then time slowed with the conflicted emotions and new unexpected sensations from our first kiss, stolen from behind a school building at the late age of seventeen. Overwhelming joy filled us as we raced off on our bicycle, heading home to journal that first kiss. Then the truck slammed into our body as we ran the red light, the wheels crushing the bicycle into our thigh, the broken ribs piercing through lungs and flesh. Then it was all over as our brain bounced and splattered on the roadway and could no longer feel the excruciating pain.

 

As I screamed, I could hear Angela saying: “Feel my death now, so you will appreciate your children.”

 

Randall heard the screams I carried into my own state of awakeness. He held me as my body trembled, and my tears ran down below my ears and onto the pillow. I lay fetal, and stayed that way until morning, reliving the feelings of this child who was my own but not my own, knowing I was finally mourning the death I hadn’t mourned 17 years ago.

 

When the morning did come, I had stopped shaking, although parts of me were still reacting to the realness of the dream, and the feeling of crushing bones and hemorrhaging organs. As Randall went off to work, I called in sick, and then went to the front door in search of a newspaper, out of some morbid sense of curiosity. The obituary was on page three of the Metro section. Seraphina Robinson, age seventeen, had been killed in a truck accident while riding her bicycle. I wondered if I should go to the funeral. What could I say to this mother who did not know me, and would not understand that this was also my daughter who had died? How could I tell her our daughter had known joy in the moments before she died, had savored her first kiss, had felt in love? I realized my words could never comfort her, so I decided not to go.

 

###

 

For the next six months, I used a diaphragm while I sorted out my feelings about motherhood, and the sanctity of life. When I was finally ready to try again, we conceived quickly, as I knew I would, but finally, against the odds, I carried the pregnancy to term. We named our son Michael, my second angel.

Advertisements

Waking Dad

When Harris Thompson refused to eat a Snicker’s bar, his youngest daughter, Lori, knew he was truly dying. Her dad had never in her recollection turned down chocolate, and certainly not the luscious combination of chocolate, caramel and peanuts. But by that time, everything else was gone, so it kind of made sense. He had had so many strokes Lori had lost count. He’d lost his card sense, and Harris Thompson could memorize 52 cards and 13 books as easily as adding two plus two. Harris Thompson could add a stack of 6 digit numbers in his head back before calculators. It was a sad day when he couldn’t add two plus two, and Lori put the cards away. In the final days, he had lost his ability to speak, but not his ability to communicate. Like the time he dropped his drawers and stood in the doorway of the house, just to let Lori know that he was tired of kale and sausage soup. Lori switched to Campbell’s and everything was honkey dory after that. But it was the Snickers bars that told her that it was time to call the family.

The next morning, Harris’ oldest daughter Lenore drove down from DC to North Carolina with her youngest daughter Ashley, who wanted to see her grandfather one last time. His middle daughter, Allison, had flown in from Alabama a few days before; she and Lori stood at their father’s bedside, singing spirituals – at least the few they actually knew – just to be doing something that spoke of their love. Their dad hummed along; he wasn’t gone yet.

But folks say Harris Thompson died on purpose at the point when Lenore hit 90 miles an hour. The lights in the house flickered as his ghost flew up the highway to watch for cop cars and freak motorists who might stray in Lenore’s path. She got there an hour late, to find her two younger sisters waiting for her, with the shell of her father in repose.

Thompson had moved into Lori’s house to die. The fight against cancer had been lost, in fact, the fight had gone out of him, and so she had opened her doors to her father, to make sure his last days were spent surrounded by love. She supplied countless Snickers bars and Taco Bell chalupas, another of his favorite foods. Single dads don’t always eat healthy.

Three daughters gathered together to say a last farewell. Their dad had secreted an ancient bottle of whiskey in the closet, and they opened it up, grabbed some paper cups from the kitchen and filled them to the rim. And then the wake began.

“When I was young, I wondered if Daddy had ever passed for white. Mom said he’d had red hair and green eyes when he was young, so I asked him one day. He said that he tried it once. Back in 1932 when he was ten years old, he snuck into a whites only amusement park in DC. He hated it. What was so great about an amusement park that your friends couldn’t go to? Why would anyone want to go on rides alone? He never did it again. He was a colored man to the end.” Lori told her story, gulped down a mouthful of whiskey and passed the bottle.

“Dad’s great grandfather had been a slave, but Dad never really understood that. He just knew that his great-grandfather was a kind old man who wouldn’t tell on him, if Dad stole his cane. It was a game they played, back when he was 5 years old.” That was Lenore’s piece.

“I remember when Dad took us to Aunt Jillian’s third or fourth wedding. One of my 14 year old cousins was playing with a baby. I asked if it was her brother, but my cousin said that this was her son. I didn’t know that 14 year olds could have children. But when I asked mom later, she said it wasn’t something she could explain just then.” Allison felt the burn of the whiskey on her lips.

“Grandpa used to babysit me and Madison when mom had an emergency at work. He taught us how to play spades, how to count cards, how to make a bridge to shuffle with. We played with chips; he told us that if we played with pennies, that made it an entirely different game, and you had to take it seriously.” Ashley wasn’t but fourteen, but they let her have a sip from Lenore’s cup.

“Do you remember when Star Trek came out? I was only 3 years old, but Dad loved it. He loved everything science fiction. He had heard HG Wells War of the Worlds when it was broadcast on radio, and talked about how it scared everyone – everyone thought that Martians had really landed on Earth. Dad loved Isaac Asimov and started me reading sci-fi books by the time I was 8.” Another swig by Lori.

“Dad had the neatest job. He let us go to work with him, and there were big banks of computers and everyone had stacks and stacks of punch cards, each with one little line of information and tons of patterned holes. Sometimes he would let us feed the cards into the computer and it would print out a calendar with a picture made of dots and dashes. The pictures were always shaped like naked women, but we just thought it was interesting that you could make a picture that way. He had his own desk and one of the drawers had this secret stash of food. Peanut butter and crackers, mostly. And snickers bars.” Pass.

“Dad wasn’t old enough to fight until World War II was nearly over. But he enlisted anyway. Aunt Hannah has pictures of him in his uniform. I loved looking at them. It seems so strange to know someone who was part of World War II, but then, with colored regiments, there’s no knowing if they would have seen any action anyway.” Lenore again.

“Do you remember how Dad used to wake us up at 4 o’clock in the morning and drive us down to his favorite creek to go crabbing? I was always so scared that a crab was going to bite my toes but he was fearless. He would pick them up with one hand, thumb and pinky across a crab body and throw it in his tin pail. Crabs in a barrel is so real. They would literally fight each other. Limbs came off. It was actually kinda gross, but they tasted good.” Allison’s head was starting to spin.

“I remember how much Dad loved to pass books around. I remember when he discovered Watership Down. He loved it so much that he got every one of us to read it. Do you remember that passage about when the rabbit Hazel dies, leaves his body behind and goes running through the spirit-woods without anything to worry him anymore? I think I want to read it at Dad’s funeral.”

Everyone was good and drunk by then. It was time to call the coroner.

“So what should we do?”

“Cremate him.” said Lenore. “I think that’s what he wanted.”

“What he wanted, “said Lori, “was for us to put him in a boat in the middle of the Arctic Ocean and let the elements claim him once he got too feeble to be of any use to anyone.”

“He may have said that 10 years ago, but that was before he started dying. Dad hung on to life at the end.”

“Yes,” said Allison, “He did.”

“Do you think they’ll burn him in his clothes?”

“We can ask.”

There was an old tuxedo in the closet. Lori and Allison lifted the body while Lenore worked each arm and leg on. They had been talking for so long that the corpse had gotten stiff. But it was important that he have pants on.

“If they’re going to burn him with his clothes on, then we should pack them with things that belong with him.” Lori rummaged around in his chest of drawers and found a deck of cards. Those went into one pocket.

“We need a Snickers bar. I’ll run up to the store.” The procured bar was stuffed into the other pocket. A handkerchief with his initials went into the breast pocket and then Harris Thompson was ready to meet his maker.

The coroners came with a gurney. With graceless practice, they flipped his body from the bed to the gurney. And then they wheeled him away. It made his death so final. When the daughters had been drinking, Harris Thompson seemed present, but now, there was nothing but a corpse.

“We should do something more.” thought Allison

“What do you have in mind?”

“Well, he still has some fireworks left.” Lenore remembered putting them away when she had helped her dad move in with Lori.

“It’s May. Tell me you’re kidding.” Lori thought about her neighbors.

“Nope, said Lenore. “Let’s shoot off some fireworks.”

They waited until it was dark out, and then went out and stood on Lori’s back porch. The top of the package had sparklers; everyone lit up, and they swirled and twirled on the porch for a few minutes before getting down to the good stuff.

“Does anyone know how to do this?”

“Not really. I just know that you stand back.”

In the end, the sisters decided to let Ashley light the first firework. She positioned a Roman Candle in the ground, lit it, and jumped back onto the porch. It sputtered for a few seconds then went off in the air, spun around and headed back to the house, hitting a window.

“Hmm. Too much wind.”

She moved the next one further out. It was a starburst, and it lit up the sky above the house. It went on that way for a while. Lighting one, watching it erupt into color, then die down into sparkles. Then on to the next one. As a finale, everyone went out into the yard and lit four at once. Three daughters and a granddaughter saying good-bye. The night sky bloomed with light for a few moments. Signifying the shortness of life within the grand scheme of things.

“Is that all?” asked Ashley.

“That’s all. When it’s over, it’s really over.”

Black History Month: Day 13 – HBCU Women’s Track and Field Champions

I think this is the next to last day that I talk about sports, but I did want to touch on women’s track and field. (Tomorrow is basketball; I just got a book called Black College Sports and I want to share what’s in it before moving on.)

In 1927, Coach Cleve Abbott, Athletic Director for Tuskegee Instiute, (who also coached tennis, golf, track, baseball and football,) started the Tuskegee Relays , which became the third largest track event in the country after the Penn Relays. His inclusion of women’s events was monumental for women’s sports. In 1929, Abbott organized and developed the Women’s Sports Carnival. He hired Amelia Roberts to coach the Tuskegee women’s track team, the Tigerettes and in 1937, they won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Nationals, the highest honor of a track team. During that competition, Mable Smith was the first African American woman track star to win a national individual championship (18-0.0 in the long jump). The Tigerettes won again in 1939. One of Abbott’s greatest success stories was Alice Coachman. Abbott saw Coachman compete when she was in high school and asked her to come to Tuskegee to attend school, and train with the Tigerettes. In addition to the high jump, Coachman also ran as anchor on the 400-meter relay team. In the 1945 AAU nationals, Coachman scored a triple win in the 50- and 100- meter sprints as well as the high jump. In 1948, Tuskegee sent 4 women to the Olympics: Mabel Walker and Nell Jackson ran the 200-meter dash, Theresa Manual ran the 80-meter hurdles and threw the javelin, Coachman won the high jump, beating out France and England for the gold. Coachman was the only American woman to win a Gold medal in the 1948 Olympics. Other athletes coached by Cleve Abbott included Mildred McDaniel and Nell Jackson. McDaniel was the U.S. women’s high jump champion in 1953, 1955 and 1956 and was the U.S. indoor champion in 1955 and 1956 as well. She also was the 1955 Pan-American Games winner with a leap of 5′ 6 1/4″, a meet mark that stood until 1967. Though she twice raised the U.S. high jump record during 1956, she entered the Olympic competition as an underdog. She emerged as gold medalist with a world record leap of 5′ 9 1/4″, a resounding 3 1/2″ higher than her closest competitor. Nell Jackson was a sprinter. In 1946 she won the 200 meters in the first US Junior Nationals for women. At the 1951 Pan-American Games she was on the gold-medal winning 4×100 relay team (with Dolores Dwyer, Janet Moreau, and the non-Olympian Jean Patton) and won a silver medal in the 200 metres. Jackson won the AAU Championship in 1949-50 in the 200. In 1956, a year after Cleve Abbott died, Jackson became the U. S. Olympics women’s head coach and was the first African American to be named head coach of a U. S. Olympics team.
Ironically, Cleve Abbott’s daughter Jessie Abbott, a former Tigerette, headed over to Tennessee State to coach the Tennessee Tigerbelles along with legendary coach Ed Temple. The Tigerbelles became the state’s most internationally accomplished athletic team in the mid-twentieth century. The sprinters won some twenty-three Olympic medals, more than any other sports team in Tennessee history. Mae Faggs was the first student-athlete to receive a track scholarship from Temple in 1952 earning the nickname of “mother of the Tigerbelles”. Mae Faggs and Barbara Jones became the first Olympic-winning Tigerbelles in 1952, and the Tigerbelles won another medal in 1956. In 1956 Wilma Rudolph and five other Tigerbelles qualified for the Olympic team, returning to Nashville with several medals and plaques. In 1959 Rudolph accompanied the team to the Pan American Games, where they also won several medals. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, Rudolph won three gold medals, prompting Coach Temple to proclaim, “I was so happy I was bursting all the buttons off my shirt.” Eventually, Gold Medal winners from Tennessee State included Edith McGuire, Madeline Manning, Barbara Jones, Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Chandra Cheeseborough (two), Wilma Rudolph (three), and Wyomia Tyus (three). Tyus was the first athlete to win Gold Medals in the sprints in two consecutive Olympiads (1964 and 1968).
Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice joined the Tigerbelles in 1977 after bursting onto the scene by winning a pair of gold medals at the 1975 Pan American Games. Under the guidance of Coach Temple, Cheeseborogh-Guice qualified for the Olympics in 1980- the year that the U.S. boycotted the games. Cheeseborogh-Guice’s next chance at the Olympics was 1984 in Los Angeles, Cal. She made the most of her time on the west coast, winning one silver and two gold medals. She made history when she became the first woman to win gold medals in both 400-meter relays, which were held less than an hour apart. At TSU, Cheeseborough-Guice was a member of National Championship teams that set world records of 1:08.9 minutes in the 640-yard relay and 1:47.17 minutes in the 800-yard sprint medley relay. She won the national indoor 200-yard dash in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983. Cheeseborough-Guice returned to her alma mater in 1994 and has led the track and field program to six Ohio Valley Conference Track and Field Championships.

Black History Month Day 12 – HBCU Athletic Conferences

I offer my apologies to all of you who are not into sports. You will NOT find the information here very interesting. BUT! If you are a sports fan, and especially if you love HBCU sports, you will love this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Four conferences dominate HBCU sports. The first is the CIAA, founded as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1912. It consisted of Hampton Institute in Virginia, Howard University in DC, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Shaw University in North Carolina and Virginia Union University. The current membership includes Bowie State University, Chowan University (TWI), Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, Livingstone College, St. Augustine’s University, Shaw University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University and Winston-Salem State University.

As part of Division II of the NCAA, the conference holds championships annually in the following sports: Men’s and Women’s Cross Country; Volleyball; Football; Men’s and Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track; Men’s and Women’s Basketball; Women’s Bowling; Men’s and Women’s Tennis; Golf; Baseball and Softball.

The CIAA’s greatest claim to fame is its basketball tournament. In 1946, the first CIAA basketball tournament was organized in a small gymnasium in Washington, D.C. on a $500 budget. The tournament was played in Turner Arena. Many southern cities didn’t want a predominantly Black collegiate conference in their venues and didn’t rent to the CIAA. And when the conference finally secured Turner Arena, the players had to sleep on the floor because they weren’t allowed in the hotels. Still, students and fans turned out at the gymnasium for that first tournament. Over the years, the CIAA basketball tournament has evolved into a fan festival, an alumni reunion, an academic showcase and a sporting event, all rolled into one. And each year, the event continues to grow, welcoming new visitors. Since the year 2000, the CIAA has generated over $266 million in economic impact for the state of North Carolina and over $16.5 million in overall scholarship dollars for CIAA member institutions.

Former CIAA alumni who found success in professional sports include Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (Winston-Salem State University), Sam Jones (North Carolina Central University), Earl Lloyd (West Virginia State University), and Bobby Dandridge (Norfolk State University). The late John McClendon and C.E. “Big House” Gaines are coaching legends and pioneers.

CIAA alumni list boasts some of the country’s prominent leaders. They include: the late Reginald Lewis (the owner of the first black billion dollar business – Beatrice Foods); the late Maynard Jackson (first black mayor of Atlanta, GA); Douglas Wilder (first elected black governor – Virginia); Art Shell (the first black NFL head coach in the modern era); and Andrew Young (the first black United States Ambassador to the United Nations).

The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) was founded in 1913 when representatives of the following institutions met at Morehouse College to consider the regulations of intercollegiate athletics among black colleges in the southeast: Alabama State University, Atlanta University, Clark College, Fisk University, Jackson College, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Talladega College and Tuskegee Institute.

The present membership is composed of thirteen different institutions in five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee): Albany State University, Benedict College, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Fort Valley State University, Kentucky State University, Lane College, LeMoyne-Owen College, Miles College, Morehouse College, Paine College, Stillman College and Tuskegee University. The SIAC also has a provisional member, Spring Hill College (Mobile, Alabama).

The SIAC is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and participates at the Division II level. On an annual basis, the SIAC sponsors seven men’s championships (baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, outdoor track & field and tennis) and six women’s championships (basketball, cross country, outdoor track & field, softball, tennis and volleyball).

Some retired NFL players who played in the SIAC: Hall of Famers John Stallworth of Alabama A&M, David “Deacon” Jones of South Carolina State and Larry Little of Bethune-Cookman. Other SIAC NFL greats include Rayfield Wright (Fort Valley State), Jack McClarien (Bethune Cookman), Bob Hayes (Florida A&M), Alfred Jenkins (Morris Brown), John Gilliam (South Carolina State) and Oliver Ross (Alabama A&M).

Additionally, SIAC Athletes who went pro more recently include All-Pros Greg Lloyd who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers (Fort Valley State) and Shannon Sharpe of the Denver Broncos (Savannah State) as well as Anthony Abrams of the Washington Redskins (Clark Atlanta), Eddie Anderson of the Los Angeles Raiders (Fort Valley State), Howard Ballard of the Seattle Seahawks (Alabama A&M), Charles Evans of the Minnesota Vikings (Clark Atlanta), Dan Land of the Oakland Raiders (Albany State), Fred Lester of the New York Jets (Alabama A&M), Joe Patton of the Washington Redskins (Alabama A&M), Barry Wagner of the Indianapolis Colts (Alabama A&M), Tyrone Poole of the Carolina Panthers (Fort Valley) and Roosevelt Blackmon of the Green Bay Packers (Morris Brown).

Two of the first four blacks selected to play in the NBA were from the SIAC. Some of the former stars who have enjoyed success in the NBA include the Jones brothers – Caldwell, Charles, Major and Wilbert of Albany State, Clemon Johnson of Florida A&M and Harold Ellis of Morehouse. On the coaching side the late Ed Adams coached at Tuskegee and during his 23-year span, he won 645 games and only lost 153 for an .811 winning percentage. Adams was a member of the 1934 Tuskegee team that won the first SIAC Basketball Tournament Championship and he was the first black basketball coach to win 500 games. Also, current Temple University Head Coach John Chaney is an SIAC alumnus. Chaney was one of the SIAC’s outstanding players in the late 1950s at Bethune-Cookman.

The first black female to win a gold medal in any Olympic Sport, Alice Coachman, came from the SIAC (Tuskegee). Coachman won an Olympic gold medal in the high jump at the 1948 Olympic Games in London with a jump of 5’6-1/8?. She also won the AAU high jump title for 10 consecutive years. Other SIAC Olympic Gold Medalists include Catherine Hardy of Fort Valley State (1st place in the 400 meter relay in 1952); Mildred McDaniel of Tuskegee (1st place in the high jump in 1956); Bob Hayes of Florida A&M (1st place in the 100 meter dash in 1964); Edwin Moses of Morehouse (1st place in the 400 meter hurdles in 1976 and 1984) who went 10 years without a loss in hurdle competition; Dannette Young (1st place in the 400 meter relay in 1988). The SIAC has also had an Olympic track coach at the 1992 games, Tuskegee University graduate Barbara Jacket. Another SIAC track and field standout is Evelyn Lawler. She is also a graduate of Tuskegee University and held an American record time in the 80m hurdles. Shed finished in 6th place at the Pan American Games. Lawler’s other claim to fame lies with her offspring. Lawler is the mother of Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis.

In 1957, Althea Gibson of Florida A&M became the first black to win the singles title at Wimbledon, and she is a member of the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame.

The SIAC also has had its share of success on the baseball diamond, which includes a World Series MVP. Donn Clendenon of Morehouse was the MVP of the 1969 World Series when he played with the New York Mets. Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs and Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals played at Florida A&M. Other A&M Rattlers that made it to the big show include Greg Coleman and Bill Lucas. After concluding his major league baseball career, Lucas became the first black general manager in baseball with the Atlanta Braves in 1978.
The SIAC is also home to both the longest running rivalry in black college football. Morehouse and Tuskegee have been doing battle since 1902 and will hit the field for the 99th time in the 2008 season. Tuskegee will be celebrating its 115th season this fall and they have amassed over 600 victories – first among Historically Black Colleges and Universities

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SWAC

In 1920, athletic officials from six Texas HBCUs —Bishop College, Paul Quinn College, Prairie View A&M, Texas College and Wiley College — met in Houston, Texas, to discuss common interests. At this meeting, they agreed to form a new league, the SWAC.

Paul Quinn became the first of the original members to withdraw from the league when it did so in 1929. When Langston University of Oklahoma was admitted into the conference two years later, it began the migration of state-supported institutions into the SWAC. Southern University entered the ranks in 1934, followed by Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1936 and Texas Southern University in 1954.

Rapid growth in enrollment of the state-supported schools made it difficult for the church-supported schools to finance their athletics programs and one by one they fell victim to the growing prowess of the state-supported colleges. Bishop withdrew from the conference in 1956, Langston in 1957 and Huston-Tillotson (formerly Samuel Huston) in 1959, one year after the admittance of two more state-supported schools: Grambling College and Jackson State College. The enter-exit cycle continued in 1961 when Texas College withdrew, followed by the admittance of Alcorn A&M (now Alcorn State University) in 1962. Wiley left in 1968, the same year Mississippi Valley State College entered. Arkansas AM&N exited in 1970 and Alabama State University entered in 1982. Arkansas–Pine Bluff (formerly Arkansas AM&N) rejoined the SWAC on July 1, 1997, regaining full-member status one year later. Alabama A&M University became the conference’s tenth member when it became a full member in September, 1999 after a one year period as an affiliate SWAC member. Most of the former SWAC members that have left the conference are currently a part of the Red River Athletic Conference of the NAIA.

Current championship competition offered by the SWAC includes competition for men in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, indoor track, outdoor track & field and tennis. Women’s competition is offered in the sports of basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, indoor track, outdoor track & field, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.

Famous SWAC legends include: Lem Barney, Cornerback, Jackson State, Mel Blount, Cornerback, Southern, Willie Brown, Cornerback, Grambling State, Buck Buchanan, Defensive Tackle, Grambling State, Willie Davis, Defensive End, Grambling State, Ken Houston, Strong Safety, Prairie View A&M, Charlie Joiner, Wide Receiver, Grambling State, Deacon Jones, Defensive End, Mississippi Valley State, Walter Payton, Running Back, Jackson State, Jackie Slater, Tackle, Jackson State, John Stallworth, Alabama A&M, National Baseball Hall of Fame. Lou Brock, Southern, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Willis Reed, Grambling State, USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, Willie Davenport, Southern, Rod Milburn, Southern , Donald Driver – Alcorn State, Football, James Harris, Grambling State, Football, Ken Houston – Prairie View A&M, Football, Avery Johnson – Southern, Basketball, Robert Mathis – Alabama A&M, Football, Steve McNair – Alcorn State, Football, ,Willis Reed – Grambling State, Basketball, Jerry Rice – Mississippi Valley State, Football, Eddie Robinson – Alabama State, Football, Michael Strahan – Texas Southern, Football, Everson Walls – Grambling State, Football, Rickie Weeks – Southern, Baseball, Aeneas Williams – Southern, Football.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In 1969, a bold ad hoc group of innovators long associated with intercollegiate athletics met in Durham, N.C., to discuss the feasibility of organizing a new conference. From these discussions, they formed a steering and planning committee to fully investigate the idea, present a detailed report with recommendations to interested collegiate institutions, and construct a workshop to outline proposals.
After selecting a proposal and adopting a program, seven institutions (Delaware State College, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University and South Carolina State College) agreed to become the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Their major objective was to establish, organize and supervise an intercollegiate athletic program among a compact group of educational institutions of high academic standards with a sound philosophy of co-curricular activities. The conference agreed to seek Division I status for its sports. The conference was confirmed in 1970, kicking off its first season of competition in football in 1971.

The conference’s first expansion occurred in October 1979, when Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M University were voted into the MEAC as new members. Original members Morgan State, North Carolina Central and Maryland Eastern Shore withdrew from the conference at the end of the 1979-80 fiscal year. Maryland Eastern Shore was readmitted in 1981 and Morgan State returned in 1984. Florida A&M opted to resign in 1984 but rejoined the conference in 1986. Coppin State College was granted admittance in 1985, becoming the ninth member institution.

The MEAC expanded again in the 1990s with the inclusion of Hampton University (1995) and Norfolk State University (1997). The conference expanded once again in 2007, adding Winston-Salem State University. Winston-Salem State University, a MEAC provisional member, did not meet the qualifications for Division I and withdrew from the conference following the 2009-10 academic and athletic season. On July 1, 2010, the MEAC made its most recent expansion with the admittance of North Carolina Central and Savannah State University.

The MEAC declares champions in seven men’s sports-baseball, basketball, cross country, football, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field and tennis. It declares champions in the following women’s sports-cross country, basketball, bowling, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, softball, tennis and volleyball.

Black History Month Day 11: HBCU Football History

I stole this in entirety from a website called “The Black College Football Museum”, or  http://www.theblackcollegefootballmuseum.org/index.html

Next week I’ll cover track and basketball.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Historically Black colleges have been fielding football teams since 1892 and in over 100 years of play, have produced some of the best athletes and coaches in the history of college football – in addition to some colorful traditions.

 

However, in the course of researching Black college football, we have often been put in the awkward position of having to explain to folks that there really are such entities as historically Black colleges and that, yes, they do have football teams. What’s more discouraging is that a lot of the folks who have needed schooling on the subject are, well, people in the Black community. Surprisingly, a lot of people, especially outside of the South, are not aware of this precious history.

 

So, for the uninitiated – and those who may need re-initiating! – here is a Black college football primer:

 

A is for “Air,” the incomparable passer Steve McNair, who left Alcorn State with more records than Motown, and led the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl.

 

B is for “bands.” A Black college football game without bands is like red beans without rice. Florida A&M band director Dr. William Foster is credited with starting the trend in the 1940’s for what you see in most Black college bands today – quick-stepping, dancing with instruments, and that  general get down-and-boogie showmanship. Foster may have started it, but don’t expect that little fact to be acknowledged by the other Black college bands.

 

C is for “classics,” the Black college football version of the Negro Baseball League’s barnstorming. Most classic games bring the experience of Black college football to big city markets. A more basic concept is delivering a piece of home to displaced Southern Blacks in places like, say, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Indianapolis.

 

D is for “Deacon,” as in Jones. Did somebody say sack? Jones invented the term because he hated all offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Jones explained: “I wanted to put them all in a bag and beat it with a baseball bat. That’s a sack!” No argument here. Jones began his collegiate career in 1957 at South Carolina State, but finished at Mississippi Vocational, after the Orangeburg, S.C. police suggested he leave town, and take his civil rights activities with him, before HE got sacked.

 

E is for “Eddie,” as in Robinson, who retired as the winningest coach in college football history and the beacon for Black college football. Robinson retired after the 1998 season with a superlative 408-165-15 record, in 56 years at Grambling, the only program in which he ever coached.

 

F is for “four,” the number of conferences comprised entirely of Black college teams. They are: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC).

 

G is for “Grambling,” ofcourse. The G-Men put Black college football on the map behind the efforts of Robinson, school president Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones (“Prez”) and innovative sports information director Collie Nicholson, who, among many other accomplishments, learned just enough Japanese to successfully negotiate a contract for Grambling to meet Morgan State in Tokyo in 1976. That was the first regular season NCAA football game played outside of the United States.

 

H is for “Haley,” as in Alex. Before becoming a world-renowned author, Haley’s roots were at Elizabeth City State, where he was a running back in the late 1930s.

 

I is for “integration,” the death knell for Black college football programs. Integration was great for the Black community as a whole, but Black college football programs started seeing a drain on their wealth of talent in the mid-60s as White schools began heavily recruiting Black prep stars. Black college programs have never fully recovered.

 

J is for “Jake,” as in Gaither. From a publicity standpoint, he was overshadowed by Eddie Robinson, but few would argue the greatness of this Florida A&M legend who retired in 1969 with the best winning percentage (.844) for all NCAA coaches with over 200 wins.

 

K is for “Ken,” as in Houston, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Prairie View defensive back. Houston once recalled the toughness and, uh, fairness of SWAC competition like this: “The referees would be cheating. You’d have to score 100 points to beat somebody 7-6.”

 

L is for “Livingstone,” host for the first Black college intercollegiate football game on Dec. 27, 1892. Their guests, Biddle University, came from just down the road in Charlotte. The team occupied half of the “colored” coach on their train ride to immortality in snowy Salisbury where Biddle won the game on a disputed touchdown. Biddle later changed its name to Johnson C. Smith.

 

M is for “Merritt,” as in John. The Tennessee State mentor chomped on opponents as much as he did his trademark stogie. In 21 years at TSU, he never had a losing record and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

 

N is for “Nicks,” as in Billy. So, you think Prairie View has a sorry program? Well, in the 1950s and 1960s under Nicks, the Panthers were so feared, they became known as the “Black Notre Dame,” at times splitting their squad and playing two different games, and winning both, on the same day. Nicks guided the Panthers to five Black college national titles.

 

O is for “Oves,” as in Ralph. In 1942, the Lincoln (Pa.) University center became the first White player ever named to the Pittsburgh Courier’s All-American team. He was described as “a brilliant player.”

 

P is for “Payton,” as in Walter. The NFL’s all-time leading rusher starred with the Chicago Bears after an incredible career at Jackson State where, as a senior, he finished 14th in Heisman Trophy balloting, at the time the highest finish ever for a Black college player.

 

Q is for the “quality” of education at HBCUs, which graduate almost 30 percent of all Black collegiate students. One economist noted that HBCUs are a “higher education bargain,” and that “they appear to be doing the most with limited public dollars.”

 

R is for “run-and-shoot,” Coach Archie Cooley’s innovative offense in which the Mississippi Valley Delta Devils didn’t really run all that much, but quarterback Willie “Satellite” Totten was never shy about shooting passes to Jerry Rice. The 1984 Devils averaged a NCAA-record 640.1 yards per game, 496.8 yards passing on 55.8 attempts per game.

 

S is for “Stevenson,” as in “Big Ben,” the exceptional running back for Tuskegee who is considered the greatest all-around player in Black college football history. Stevenson was a seven-time(!) unanimous Black college All-­American for Cleve Abbott’s powerful teams in the 1920s.

 

T is for “Tank,” as in Younger, Grambling’s big, bruising running back who, in 1949, became the first Black college player to sign an NFL contract, after inking a $6,000 pact as a free agent with the Los Angeles Rams.

 

U is for “unbeatable,” which about describes former Southern University defensive back Mel Blount, who, during a Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so effectively executed the bump-and-run technique that the NFL changed its rules about downfield contact between receivers and defensive backs.

 

V is for “victories,” and no Black college football program has more than Grambling, right? Wrong. Tuskegee is the leader with over 585.

 

W is for “Willie,” as in Jeffries, who was successful at both Howard and South Carolina State. However, in 1979, he became the first African American to guide a Division 1 program when he was named head coach at Wichita State.

 

X is for “Xavier” University which hasn’t had a football program since 1960, but academically, the school is second only to Howard in placing Black students in medical schools. In the past decade or so, 93 percent of Xavier alums that entered medical schools received their MDs.

 

Y is for the “Yam” Bowl, one of several non-NCAA sanctioned and now-defunct Black college bowl games. There was also the Prairie View Bowl, the Pelican Bowl, the Pecan Bowl, the Heritage Bowl, et.al.

 

Z is for “zero,” the number of losses and points given up in the 1942 season by Grambling. That group finished with an 8-0-0 record and became known as the “Un Team” – un-beaten, un-tied, un-scored on. They were the last NCAA team to accomplish that feat.

 

Black History Month Day 10: The HBCUs of Atlanta

Forgive me for the length of this, I couldn’t figure out what to cut.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The progression of the civil rights movement is reflected in the high standards of education established by the (HBCUs) or historically black colleges and universities of Atlanta, Georgia. The past, present, and future of these illustrious institutions is a source of pride for many Atlantans. Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown, Clark Atlanta University, the Morehouse College of Medicine and the Interdenominational Theological Center have provided knowledge to some of the nation’s best and brightest. Renowned activists and academics continue their work to ensure the legacy established by historically black colleges in Atlanta, Georgia continues.

History

The oldest of the institutions, Atlanta University, was the alma mater of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and hundreds of the most distinguished blacks in American history. The school was chartered by the state of Georgia in 1865 and began as a grammar school, progressing eventually to university status. By the late 1870s, Atlanta University had begun granting bachelor’s degrees and supplying black teachers and librarians to the public schools of the South. With the arrival of W.E.B. Du Bois on the Atlanta University faculty in 1896, the school’s scholarly reputation became firmly entrenched; many argue that his Atlanta laboratory was one of the first sociology departments in the United States. In 1929-30, it began offering graduate education exclusively in various liberal arts areas, and in the social and natural sciences. It gradually added professional programs in social work, library science, and business administration. As one of only a handful of predominantly black graduate schools, the university prospered until recent times, when it faced declining enrollments and serious financial troubles in the wake of desegregation. A solution was reached by merging with Clark College in 1988. Thomas W. Cole Jr., then president of Clark College, was elected president of the merged institution, which took the name Clark Atlanta University.

 

 

Two years after the Civil War ended, Morehouse College got its start. Augusta Theological Institute was established in the basement of Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. Founded in 1787, Springfield Baptist is the oldest independent African American church in the United States. The school’s primary purpose was to prepare black men for ministry and teaching.  In 1879, Augusta Institute was invited by The Rev. Frank Quarles to move to the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta and changed its name to Atlanta Baptist Seminary. In 1897, Atlanta Baptist Seminary became Atlanta Baptist College

A new era, characterized by academic innovations and expanded physical facilities, dawned in 1906 with the appointment of John Hope as the college’s first black president. Hope, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University, encouraged an intellectual climate comparable to what he had known at his alma mater. He openly challenged Booker T. Washington’s view that education for African Americans should emphasize vocational and agricultural skills.

Morehouse’s reputation was further enhanced during the administration of Benjamin E. Mays, which began in 1940. Mays recruited an interracial and international faculty and secured an increased endowment. His successor, Hugh M. Gloster, the first alumnus to lead the school, expanded into such professional areas as business, engineering, and medicine. The Morehouse School of Medicine thus became the one of the only two predominantly black medical schools to open in the 20th century. It was led in its infancy by Louis W. Sullivan, who later became U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

 

Clark College was founded in 1869 by the Freedmen’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became the United Methodist Church. Strategically located in the gateway to the South, Clark was founded to “give tone” to all of the other educational institutions of the Methodist Episcopal Church providing education for Negro youth. The University was named for Bishop Davis W. Clark, who was the first President of the Freedmen’s Aid Society and became Bishop in 1864. In 1877, the School was chartered as Clark University. In 1883 the school conferred its first degree. Also in 1883, Clark established a department, named for Dr. Elijah H. Gammon, known as Gammon School of Theology.

 

In 1881 two Bostonians, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles, founded Atlanta’s Spelman College, the nation’s oldest historically black college for women. Although their first students were mostly illiterate, they envisioned their school to be a liberal arts institution – the first circular of the college stated that they planned to offer “algebra, physiology, essays, Latin, rhetoric, geometry, political economy, mental philosophy (psychology), chemistry, botany, Constitution of the United States, astronomy, zoology, geology, moral philosophy, and evidences of Christianity. They were assisted in their efforts by the Reverend Frank Quarles of the Friendship Baptist Church. (John D. Rockefeller was an early supporter of the school, and his generosity was acknowledged when the school was named for his wife, Laura Spelman.) Spelman has maintained a favorable financial situation ever since, thanks to such gifts as the one made by Bill and Camille Cosby—$20 million—during the administration of Johnetta Cole, the first African American woman to lead Spelman. The school achieved a reputation as the “Radcliffe and Sarah Lawrence of the Negro race.” Spelman is ranked among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges by US News and World Report, is ranked among the top 50 four-year colleges and universities for Fulbright Scholars, and was ranked the second largest producer of African-American college graduates who attend medical school.

 

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church established Morris Brown College in 1881. It was named for a free South Carolina preacher who had been forced to leave Charleston following the Denmark Vesey plot to free slaves in 1822. Brown later became a bishop of the AME Church. The first two “principals” of Morris Brown were women. They were followed by men, most of them ministers, who led the institution into the 1990s. In 1942 Morris Brown affiliated with the Atlanta University Center complex of colleges. Through the years, Morris Brown has had difficulty attracting outside financial support, and it has generally enrolled more financially disadvantaged students. Several factors were responsible for its loss of accreditation in 2002. The school filed for bankruptcy with $30 million in debt in 2012.

Gammon Theological Seminary, established in 1883, was named for philanthropist Elijah H. Gammon, who made an initial donation of $20,000, and it soon became the most prestigious black seminary in the South. The idea of a single collaborative institution for the training and development of African American Christian ministers began to form in the early 1940s, after Benjamin Mays became president of Morehouse College and when Gammon Theological Seminary and Morehouse College began a cooperative exchange program. Morehouse College was interesting in phasing out its Bachelor’s of Divinity (B.D.) degree program, while increasing its liberal arts focus. In 1958 the ITC was founded as a joint initiative of four seminaries: the Baptist-affiliated Morehouse School of Religion, the United Methodist-affiliated Gammon Theological Seminary, Turner Theological Seminary (African Methodist Episcopal), and Phillips School of Theology (Christian Methodist Episcopal).  The Presbyterian-affiliated Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary joined ITC in 1969, relocating to Atlanta from Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1970 the Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary was established as a new seminary within ITC, named for Church of God in Christ founder Charles Harrison Mason.

From 1971 through 1979 the ITC also operated the Absalom Jones Theological Institute in cooperation with the Episcopal Church. This institute was named for Absalom Jones, the first African American to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Enrollment was insufficient to support operation of this seminary, leading it to close in 1979. The Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta was established on the ITC campus in 1997. The ITC still produces the majority of seminary-trained ministers for black communities in the United States.

Creation of the Atlanta University System

The nationwide recession of 1928–29 hit Atlanta University especially hard. After a spokesman for the General Education Board flatly declared in December 1928, “We’re tired of giving out little dots of money first to one college, then to another in Atlanta. There ought to be a way of bringing them together,” the school sought an affiliation with others in the area. Amid the formidable challenge of overcoming institutional loyalties, denominational divisions, and athletic rivalries, Morehouse’s John Hope, assisted by Atlanta University president Myron Adams and Spelman president Florence Read, forged a plan of affiliation in 1929 that resulted in the Atlanta University System—a loose consortium of the three schools. Under the terms of agreement, Atlanta University was to offer all graduate and professional work, and Morehouse and Spelman undergraduate work for men and women, respectively. Each institution was to remain autonomous, with its own finances, board of trustees, president and other administrative officers, and student body. Some buildings would be jointly occupied, and there would be student and faculty exchanges. The affiliation provided the foundation for the Atlanta University Center. The affiliation is older than any other college consortium, excepting the Claremont group in California. Clark College and Morris Brown College joined in 1957, followed by the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in 1959 but left later. Morehouse School of Medicine joined the AUC in 1983. Morris Brown ended its affiliation when the school lost its accreditation in 2002 .The consortium structure allows for students to cross-register at the other institutions in order to attain a broader collegiate experience. They also share the Robert W. Woodruff Library, a Dual Degree Engineering Program, a Career Planning and Placement Services, the AUC Orchestra. one of the largest collections of African-American art in the nation, housed in the galleries of Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College.

Two denominational campus ministry centers have been established to serve the students of the Atlanta University Center. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta operates the Lyke House Catholic Student Center, and the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta operates the Absalom Jones Episcopal Student Center and Chapel. Each of these campus ministry facilities are named after notable Black American clerics.

Morehouse   Spelman College, Atlanta   and West Hunter Street Baptist Church were all key in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. Martin Luther King, Jr., graduated from Morehouse College, and Morehouse students Lonnie King and Julian Bond organized sit-ins, boycotts, and marches throughout the city. Spelman student Ruby Doris Smith helped lead freedom rides, sit-ins, jail-ins, and voter registration drives. Civil rights leader Whitney Young, Jr., taught and chaired departments at Atlanta University. Rev. Ralph Abernathy pastored West Hunter when he was head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Student-organized demonstrations in Atlanta began in March 1960 with 80 well-dressed students and eight well-planned, simultaneous protests. Bond’s group staged a sit-in at City Hall’s municipal cafeteria, in front of which hung a sign, “PUBLIC IS WELCOME.” Lonnie King and 35 protestors trooped to Rich’s Department Store. There they were joined by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who shortly was to experience his first night in an Atlanta jail.

Later in the Atlanta movement, student protestors launched a publicity campaign to involve black adults on the periphery–black customers with buying power at Rich’s. “Close out your charge account with segregation,” urged the students. “Open up your account with freedom.” Virtually all the black adults in Atlanta heeded the student slogan, and Rich’s felt the pinch.

In March 1961, black elders worked out a compromise with city merchants. In exchange for an immediate halt to protests, store managers agreed to integrate their lunch counters, though not until court-ordered school desegregation took effect in September.

At the northernmost end of the district is the oldest campus, which is now occupied by Morris Brown College. The National Historic Landmark building Stone (Fountain) Hall is located on this campus. One block east and north of the Morris Brown campus is a residential street. This was a part of the original property of Atlanta University on which faculty homes were located. On the western boundary of Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Center are residential streets containing many typical Victorian frame cottages with occasional examples of Eastlake style detailing. Also in the area between the old campus and the later Atlanta University campus are the buildings of the University Homes housing development. These are two-story, red brick buildings with wrought iron balconies above projecting entranceways designed in a modified International style. The southern section of the district is occupied by the quadrangle of Atlanta University’s present campus surrounded by Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Colleges. Also located within the boundaries of the Atlanta University Center District are two historic churches. West Hunter Street Baptist Church occupied a late Romanesque Revival building in the northern section of the district until 1972. Friendship Church, in the eastern section, is strongly linked by tradition and history with the district.

One other program that the AUC founded was University Community Development Corporation (UCDC), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation that coordinates community development projects with the AUC schools. Established in 1988, UCDC has worked to improve the physical neighborhood and enhance the quality of life for the more than 15,000 residents in the areas adjacent to the Atlanta University Center (AUC). UCDC acquires, rehabilitates, and facilitates decent affordable housing for rent/sale to moderate and low-income families while promoting economic development in the neighborhoods adjacent to AUC in the way of small business development, job creation, and commercial retail development.

Black History Month Day 9: HBCU Engineering Schools

One hundred years ago Howard University became the first HBCU to offer engineering and architecture programs. For the many years, beginning in 1911, Howard was the only HBCU offering engineering.  However, several of the land grant institutions had mechanical arts programs. In 4 of these colleges, engineering departments emerged. North Carolina A&T  offered an electrical engineering degree in 1937, and a school of engineering was formalized in 1952. Tennessee States’ school of engineering was established in 1948. Prairie View started an engineering curriculum in 1945 and established an actual school in 1949. Southern University established its engineering school in 1958. Tuskegee Institute, a private school like Howard, established its engineering school in the 1940’s. These were the 6 engineering schools that existed before 1960.

 

New schools were developed in the next 40 years bringing the total to 12 accredited programs. Hampton created an engineering program in the 1970’s with cooperation from local universities. FAMU and FSU each wanted an engineering school – the state mandated that they share one, in 1982. Morgan State opened the doors to its engineering school in 1984. Washington Technical Institute in DC offered two year programs in engineering in the 1960’s later merging with DC Teachers College to form UDC, the schools programs did not actually receive accreditation until the 21st century. Jackson State developed their program in the 1990’s and Alabama A&M came on board with their program in 2002. By 2012, the number had grown to 14, including Norfolk State, and Virginia State.

 

With the advent of Affirmative Action in the 1960’s and 70’s, industries began to look for minority engineers, and noticed that they were in short supply. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) was founded in 1974 to enact initiatives from grade school through college that would increase the number of minority engineers in the workforce. NACME began tracking statistics on which schools were producing the most engineers and it was clear that HBCUs were producing more engineers than traditionally white institutions (TWIs). For example,  NCA&T, Prairie View and Tuskegee were the top 3 schools with black engineering graduates in 1993, with over 100 in each class. The fourth school on the list was Georgia Tech which has established 3-2 dual degree programs with the HBCUs in Atlanta: Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown and Clark Atlanta. In 2005, NCA&T again topped the list followed by Georgia Tech, but other TWIs were catching up. NC State in Raleigh came in 3rd place with 84 students, ahead of Tennessee State, Prairie View, Florida A&M, Morgan State, Southern and Tuskegee.  Howard and Hampton did not make the top 10.

 

In 1992, another organization was formed, AMIE (Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering), specifically to enable corporations and government agencies to partner with HBCUs with ABET accredited engineering programs, to funnel money and scholarships into the schools and increase the number of graduates. The partner corporations could then visit the schools during career fairs and hire the most talented engineers the schools had to offer. The partner corporations also helped initiate a Council of Engineering Deans, enabling them to take a collective look at industry needs and how to align their programs with those needs.

 

The statistics today suggest that the HBCUs are losing some ground when it comes to graduating engineers, but the numbers are still pretty impressive; around 30% of all black engineers come from 14 HBCUs out of 989 engineering schools in the country.