Since 1865: Putting the "AU" in Clark Atlanta University

Atlanta University (AU) was founded on this day in 1865 by the American Missionary Association with assistance from the Freedman’s Bureau. Guided by its motto, “I’ll Find a Way or Make One,” the school began granting bachelor’s degrees and produced tens of the South’s earliest black teachers and librarians in the decade that followed. The university was nation’s oldest black graduate-degree granting institution until its 1988 merger with Clark College.

In 1929, Dr. John Hope, who was the first African-American president of neighboring Morehouse College for men, became Atlanta University’s first black president. Hope oversaw the joining of forces between the city’s black colleges to create the Atlanta University Center, a ground-breaking partnership that serves to this day. Also under his leadership, AU became the first college in the nation to focus exclusively on graduate education for African American students, mostly in various liberal arts areas, and in the social and natural sciences. Gradually, the school added professional programs in social work, library science, and business administration.

The university’s influence grew with the addition of distinguished research faculty including most notably, Fisk University alumnus Dr. W.E.B. DuBois who provided leadership to Phylon and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People while serving on the school’s faculty.

Famous alumni include 1894 graduate, poet, diplomat, lawyer and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, who authored “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem.