The college’s first president, Dr. Edward M. Brawley, declared that the college stood for three things, “loyalty to Christ at all times . . . sound scholarship, and devotion to the Negro race.” Morris initially offered a curriculum for grammar school, a normal college for training teachers, a theology course, music, dressmaking, truck farming, and domestic science.
Morris College is a private, historically black college located in Sumter and founded in 1908 by the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina. The college was named in honor of the Reverend Frank Morris, a pioneer of the Rocky River Association of Anderson County, a regional group affiliated with the Baptist E & M Convention. The convention had supported Benedict College in Columbia but by 1905 decided to build a college that would be owned and operated by African American Baptists and so withdrew from Benedict. In 1907 the convention accepted twelve acres on North Main Street in Sumter and entered a construction agreement. By 1911 Morris College was operating in two buildings.
The college’s first president, Dr. Edward M. Brawley, declared that the college stood for three things, “loyalty to Christ at all times . . . sound scholarship, and devotion to the Negro race.” Morris initially offered a curriculum for grammar school, a normal college for training teachers, a theology course, music, dressmaking, truck farming, and domestic science. Morris graduated its first students in 1911. The college organized a college curriculum the next year and awarded its first bachelor’s degree in 1915.
During the presidency of Dr. John Jacob Starks (1912–1930), Morris College strengthened both its grammar and college curricula and expanded its campus to include forty acres and six brick buildings. Enrollment reached 1,230 students by 1920. In 1930 Morris entered an arrangement with Benedict College whereby Benedict transferred its high school courses and students to Morris, with Morris dropping its last two college years and changing to junior college status. The unpopular agreement was ended in 1933 and the junior and senior college years restored.
Morris expanded its liberal arts curriculum in the 1930s and commenced intercollegiate athletic competition in 1932. The high school program was discontinued in 1942. Despite frequent financial problems, the school nevertheless continued to expand. The presidency of Dr. Odell Reubens (1948–1970) oversaw the implementation of education initiatives, including the establishment of a remedial program for incoming freshmen to offset the deficiencies in public school education available to most African Americans. In 1961 enrollment was 898 and the college charter removed the word “Negro,” opening the college to all ethnic groups. Eight years later Morris was rated a “Corresponding College” by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
After Reubens’s death in 1970, Morris College had several difficult years before entering an age of growth and accomplishment under the administration of Dr. Luns Richardson (1974–1998). Richardson erased the college’s deficit, and its endowment reached $2.8 million by the time of his retirement. In 1978 Morris achieved accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the SACS. Two years later it completed the $1.3 million Richardson-Johnson Learning Resource Center, a capital expense twice as large as any previous project. Enrollment reached 971 students in 1997, and the number of programs climbed from nine to some twenty majors in six academic divisions. Trustees dissolved the School of Religion in 1996 and replaced it with a program in Christian education. The Morris College motto is “Enter to Learn; Depart to Serve.”
Vereen-Gordon, Mary, and Janet S. Clayton. Morris College: A Noble Journey. Virginia Beach, Va.: Hallmark, 1999.