Let's save Morris Brown before gentrification does it in

by King Williams

Despite the foul weather last Tuesday, I joined maybe three dozen others on the vacant campus of Morris Brown College.

We were all there standing in front of the historic Fountain Hall on the campus waiting for the unveiling of a new piece of public art for the university. The piece would be – a large format photo of the prominent faculty, scholars and contributors to what was then called Atlanta University.

Dr. Karchiek Sims-Alvarado in front the historic Fountain Hall on the campus of Morris Brown for her newest public art piece
photo by Kelly Jordan

This piece is the latest in Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado’s public art campaigns.

She’s widely known for her curatorial outdoor exhibitions on historic Black Atlanta on both the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside trail near Jake’s Ice Cream Shop – a 4-mile exhibit that touches from Monroe Drive to Krog Street Market. The exhibit contains important photos of Civil Rights icons such as Martin Luther King and moments in Atlanta’s Civil Rights history.

The new exhibition, a 17 by 8 foot photo, includes prominent figures in the history of black Atlanta including Adrienne Herndon, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Towns, President Horace Bumstead and E.A. Ware.

The work of Dr. Sims-Alvarado comes at a much-needed time as gentrification and lack of historic preservation have reached critical levels across the city over the last ten years. 

While the piece itself is historically significant, its location provides a culturally relevant backdrop. Morris Brown, the location for this particular piece was even more interesting as it sits relatively vacant since 2002, when it lost its accreditation.

The vacant campus of Morris Brown College and the rest of the Atlanta University Center (AUC) sits on the westside and is just a half-mile walk to  a slew of new developments taking place. From new properties in Castleberry Hill, the Gulch now named Centennial Yards, the new Hard Rock Cafe, the new Norfolk Southern headquarters revamp and the billion dollar Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Historic Gaines Hall on the campus of Morris Brown. Another site that could be threatened by encroaching development.
photo by Kelly Jordan

The historic site of Morris Brown sits in the crosshairs of many wondering the school will remain as encroaching development and gentrification has surrounded the campus on all corners.

Morris Brown College has already lost the historic Jordan Hall to the YMCA of Atlanta,Vine City offices which destroyed over 80 percent of the building to make way for the building and it’s surface parking lot, despite being about 1,000 steps away from the Vine City MARTA Station.

You can read more on Jordan Hall here on the Saporta Report from two 2017 articles here and here

This type of development is dangerous for historic places. It’s my fear that continued gentrification, combined with  bad suburban planning and Atlanta’s penchant for kowtowing to developers will doom this campus, despite its incredible potential.

The college is one of the few multi-modal districts in Atlanta, as its interconnected by bike, bus, train, car, the highway and is Atlanta Beltline adjacent. Morris Brown and the entire AUC are nestled directly between the neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue, Ashview Heights, Washington Park and the 2019 poster child of gentrification in Atlanta, the West End.

The site of the controversial YMCA Vine City location which destroyed the former Jordan Hall and E.A. Ware school. The sight only kept the front face of the building photo by Kelly Jordan

We could do great things at Morris Brown, but its potential won’t be realized without strong economic and political leadership.

 If the city and state political leaders are serious about leading the charge to promote affordable housing, historic preservation, inclusive economic development and revitalizing communities, it should start at Morris Brown. Their plans needs to should include the entire Atlanta University Center and the adjacent parcels of land and homes.

Mass scale-community redevelopment in Atlanta is hard to reach because of the challenges of scaling, proximity to multi-modal transit, basic density requirements and affordable housing. Morris Brown College and the entire land surround the AUC meets all of these requirements.  

Because of its location and proximity to these elements, Morris Brown and the surrounding campus can be developed thoughtfully – it’s just a matter of political will. With careful planning, the city could turn the campus into a true community asset.

Nathaniel Smith, the subject of my last interview, said it best when it comes to Atlanta’s ethos for planning.

“People say that Atlanta is a “city too busy to hate” but it’s not too busy to plan. All we do is plan in this city. We have community benefits agreement plans, we have equitable development plans, we have affordable housing plans, so we do a lot of plans in the city but not a lot of policy in the city.”

“We need to begin the process of creating more policy that will enable the plans that we come up with because time is ticking away to truly build an inclusive city.”

And I couldn’t agree more. Let’s put action behind these words and let’s start at Morris Brown.

 

 

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this Summer. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King can be reached at [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His number is: 470-310-1795.

9 replies
  1. Avatar
    Chris Johnston says:

    King, all of the AUC units are private institutions, not public. The taxpayers already spend a lot supporting the University System; see another post that the University System will borrow almost $1 billion, to be paid by the taxpayers.
    Let the owners, alumni, and students of the AUC support AUC. Georgia Tech alumni give the Roll Call $30-$40 million every year, and AUC should follow that lead.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Not playin says:

    The time for this article was when MKR took MBC to the wood shed for Arthur Blank….may be to late to save MBC, the rest of the AUC should be on notice….with decisions made that go in direct contrast to the students that have matriculated there, this can end only one wayReport

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Karcheik Sims-Alvarado says:

    King Williams. Thank you. You nailed it. This is the type of conversation I want Atlantans to have in response to the art installations. The images cause residents to understand more fully the value of the historical treasures in their neighborhoods, and rhe campus of Morris Brown is a gem.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Horace Henry says:

    Naysayers we don't need. Folks are quick to ask, "Well, what are the alumni doing"? It's ok to ask questions like that, but the bigger question is, "What are "you" doing to help Morris Brown College? I love Morris Brown College. I am not an alumni, but I give. The college could be up and running right now if, after the catastrophe in 2003, everybody did not turn their backs on the struggling institution. Morris Brown College belongs to ALL of us and right now, she needs our help.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Chris Johnston says:

    Horace, MBC does not belong to all of us; it is a private university that is affiliated with the AME Church.

    You and other supporters should focus your energies on getting the UNCF to support MBC again, regaining accreditation, resolving legal issues, and increasing enrolment rather than making MBC dependent on taxpayer support.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Mike says:

    It's obvious that King Williams is here to garner interest to Saporta by writing the most ridiculous articles, blaming everyone else, other than the actual people that caused the issues. The idea that anyone thinks that public money should be spent to save a private school is absurd. Nevertheless, here we are. Anyone with an ounce of integrity or intelligence would know that the public isn't what caused MBC to be in its current condition; MBC did that to themselves- yet the expectation is for public dollars to save a private school. This isn't the same as the federal government bailing out the car industry, this is about tax payers dollars bailing out a poorly ran institution, led by poor administrations. The closure of MBC does not bring mass unemployment and higher unemployment rates.

    Maria, you should require that the writer of these contributing pieces be obligated to respond to the people that actually take the time to support your work. It's getting to the point where I'm about to delete Saporta Report from my list of favorite sites because of rouge journalism posts such as this.Report

    Reply
  7. Maria Saporta
    Maria Saporta says:

    Mike,
    SaportaReport does encourage various voices to weigh in on what's going on in our town, region and state. The idea is to encourage civil discourse.
    I do know King is quite active on twitter, and he engages in robust conversations through his twitter account.
    I may be more old school because I really like reading comments people leave on our site.
    Either way, I hope you will continue to read us and engage.
    MariaReport

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Chris Johnston says:

    Maria, I don't participate in Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for privacy reasons. So King Williams being active on Twitter means nothing to me. He should be active on your website, responding to reader questions and comments on his posts. If he cannot do this courtesy to your readers and to you, I suggest that you replace him.Report

    Reply
  9. Avatar
    Julian Jr says:

    Solutions…

    Resurrecting the Atlanta Student Movement, honoring SNCC, mobilize AUC SGA Presidents to organize their student body…

    Funding the School2College PipeLine on MLK drive through Musicianship & Scholarship; (STEAM) Marching Bands are flagship institutions that generate Scholarship…

    The capital campaign to achieve this begins with movement toward the rehabilitation of our historic Fountain Hall on the campus of Morris Brown College…

    Using Historic District designation is also a platform to engage Government & Corporation to help accumulate funding for facilities toward cultivating the Beloved Community…

    #RebuildDiamondHill #BlackSchoolsMatter #SNCCreunion #BlackStudentsMatterReport

    Reply

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