Forrest Harris, president of American Baptist College (The Tennessean)
NASHVILLE (The Tennessean) -- Nashville's American Baptist College, which produced such civil rights leaders as Bernard Lafayette, Jim Bevel and John Lewis, has officially joined the list of the nation's historically black colleges and universities and is now eligible for the funding and grants that can accompany that designation.
College President Forrest Harris announced the school's new status Thursday at a news conference on campus. He marked the event by accepting a $100,000 check from Belmont University.
The money is an "unprecedented gift" from one university to another, Harris said. It will be used to fund the Belmont University Endowed Scholarship for American Baptist College students.
Harris hopes the unusual move will set an example for other schools to help one another in similar educational partnerships.
The Belmont gift was the result of many conversations between Harris and Belmont President Robert Fisher about racial inequities, Harris said. The two have talked for some time about the economic gap in endowments between historically black colleges and other schools and about the longstanding disparity in opportunities for black students.
Harris said he and Fisher "share in the vision that no one falls through the cracks."
Belmont Vice President of Spiritual Development Todd Lake spoke to the audience of mainly American Baptist staff, faculty and alumni on Fisher's behalf. He said American Baptist was an integral part of racial justice in Nashville and nationwide.
During the civil rights movement, the school was a hotbed of young leadership.
Lafayette, a civil rights activist and nonviolence lecturer on Thursday told the group that at one time Martin Luther King Jr. had more ABC graduates on his staff than graduates of any other schools.
"It's a college that not only talks the talk, but a college that walks the walk," Lake said. "We can think of no better way to invest in the community."
American Baptist College is the 106th HBCU in the country and the fourth in Nashville. The others are Fisk University, Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College.
The first school of higher education for black students began in Philadelphia in 1837, nearly 30 years before the end of slavery, Harris said. Most other historically black schools opened after the Civil War and remained the primary option for educating black students until 1954, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandated desegregation.
"Over 150 years later, the historically black colleges and universities still stand," Harris said.
The HBCU designation, created by Congress in 1965 as part of a federal funding program, guarantees colleges on the list an appropriation from the federal government each year and allows them to apply for more state and federal grants, Harris said.
American Baptist College began a concentrated effort to be named to the list in June 2012.
The school was founded in 1924 by black and white Baptists to provide education to students who have limited resources and academic experience, but the potential for leadership. It offers undergraduate degrees in theology and social and natural sciences.
The master's program concentrates on pastoral counseling and psychological and clinical methodology, but it also gives special attention to social justice. The campus, near the Cumberland River in North Nashville, has about 100 students.