Clark Atlanta University is a comprehensive, private, urban, coeducational institution of higher education with a predominantly African-American heritage. It offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees as well as certificate programs to students of diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It was formed by the consolidation of Atlanta University, which offered only graduate degrees, and Clark College, a four-year undergraduate institution oriented to the liberal arts.
The first President of Clark Atlanta University was Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr., who served concurrently as the President of both Atlanta University and Clark College prior to consolidation. In November 1987, after more than a year of discussion, the Boards of Trustees of Atlanta University and Clark College authorized an exploration of the potential advantages of closer working arrangements between the two institutions, including their consolidation into one university. In April 1988, the joint committee delivered its report entitled Charting A Bold New Future: Proposed Combination of Clark College and Atlanta University to the Boards for ratification. The report recommended that the two schools be consolidated into a single institution. On June 24, 1988, the Boards of both Clark College and Atlanta University made the historic decision to consolidate the two institutions, creating Clark Atlanta University. The new and historic University inherits the rich traditions of two independent institutions, connected over the years by a common heritage and commitment; by personal, corporate and consortia relationships; and by location.
Atlanta University, founded in 1865, by the American Missionary Association, with later assistance from the Freedman's Bureau, was, before consolidation, the nation's oldest graduate institution serving a predominantly African-American student body. 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. 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. At this same time, Atlanta University affiliated with Morehouse and Spelman Colleges in a university plan known as the Atlanta University System. The campus was moved to its present site, and the modern organization of the Atlanta University Center emerged, with Clark College, Morris Brown College, and the Interdenominational Theological Center joining the affiliation later. The story of the Atlanta University over the next twenty years from 1930 includes many significant developments. The Schools of Library Science, Education, and Business Administration were established in 1941, 1944, and 1946 respectively. The Atlanta School of Social Work, long associated with the University, gave up its charter in 1947 to become an integral part of the University. In 1957, the controlling Boards of the six institutions (Atlanta University; Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown and Spelman Colleges; and Gammon Theological Seminary) ratified new Articles of Affiliation. Unlike the old Articles of 1929, the new contract created the Atlanta University Center. The influence of Atlanta University has been extended through professional journals and organizations, including Phylon and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for both of which Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, a member of the faculty, provided leadership.
Clark College was founded in 1869 as Clark University by the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became the United Methodist Church. 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. A sparsely furnished room in Clark Chapel, a Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta's Summerhill section, housed the first Clark College Class. In 1871, the school relocated to a new site on the newly purchased Whitehall and McDaniel Street property. In 1877, the School was chartered as Clark University.
An early benefactor, Bishop Gilbert Haven, visualized Clark as the "university" of all the Methodist schools founded for the education of freedmen. 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. After the school had changed locations several times, Bishop Haven, who succeeded Bishop Clark, was instrumental in acquiring 450 acres in South Atlanta, where in 1880 (the institution relocated 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, which in 1888 became an independent theological seminary and is now part of the Interdenominational Theological Center.
For purposes of economy and efficiency, during the 1930's, it was decided that Clark would join the Atlanta University Complex. While students on the South Atlanta campus fretted over final examinations in the winter of 1939, work was begun across town on an entirely new physical plant adjoining Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College.
During the 1980s some of the advantages of proximity, which had seemed promising earlier, again became evident. Clark College and Atlanta University through consolidation preserved the best of the past and present and "Charted a Bold New Future." Clark Atlanta University was created on July 1, 1988.
Dr. Carlton E. Brown became the third President for Clark Atlanta University on August 1, 2008.