Historic HBCU Chapels

by Kevin Lamár Peterman

For more than 150 years, chapels at historically black colleges and universities have been vibrant spaces for students to learn, connect and grow. It is here that students develop spiritually and practice their respective faith traditions. HBCU chapels render unique experiences for students who seek to connect their scholarship with their faith. Chapels have also served as the hub for activism and civic learning on HBCU campuses. Many chapels regularly host nationally recognized speakers, clergy members and elected officials. This week’s MSI Line Up highlights a few historic HBCU Chapels.

1) Tougaloo College Woodworth Chapel (HBCU)Tougaloo, Mississippi

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The Woodworth Chapel at Tougaloo College sits at the center of the physical campus and is central to the student experience. It was named in honor of Dr. Frank G. Woodworth who served as Tougaloo College president from 1887 to 1912.The Queen Anne style building was constructed in 1901. The Chapel served as a meeting place during the Civil Rights Movement for those who sought to gather as they advanced causes for freedom, justice and equality in Mississippi. The mission of the chapel is supported by the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. The Rev. Larry Johnson is responsible for the affairs of the chapel as the current College Chaplain.

2. Howard University Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel (HBCU)Washington, D.C.

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The Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University was constructed in 1896. The chapel is named after the brother of Jeremiah Rankin, the university’s sixth president. At total of 5,000 was donated to the university to build the edifice by the Rankin family in his honor. For more than a century, it has served as an incubator for activism and spiritual life and revered as the “heart of the Mecca”. Howard University became the university in the Unites States to designate a Dean of the Chapel when Dr. Howard Thurman was appointed to lead the university’s spiritual and religious affairs. Today, the chapel is led by the Dr. Bernard L. Richardson. The Office of the Dean of the Chapel host weekly worship services that expose students to some of the world’s most outstanding clergy, scholars and civic leaders.

3) Spelman College Sisters Chapel (HCBU)Atlanta, GA

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Sisters Chapel in conjunction with the WISDOM Center is the home of spiritual life at Spelman College. The edifice was officially dedicated in 1927 and has become a transformative space for thinking women of faith who seek to integrate the mind and the spirit as they engage the world and become global leaders. Worship services are held each week under the leadership of the Chapel Staff, Chapel Assistants and Art Ministry Leaders. In 1968, the Chapel welcomed thousands of visitors as it held the remains of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  who laid in state for 48 hours. In 2013, the Lilly Foundation funded the Chapel’s first published anthology entitled, If I Do What Spirit Says Do: Black Women, Vocation, and Community Survival. Dr. Neichelle Guidry was recently appointed Dean of the Chapel and Director of the WISDOM Center.

4) Tuskegee University Chapel (HBCU)Tuskegee, AL

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The Tuskegee University Chapel serves as the center of campus for religious, cultural and intellectual gatherings. The original edifice was designed and constructed by Robert R. Taylor, the first African American graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 1896 and 1898. This structure destroyed in a fire in 1957 and the present building was opened to the public in 1969. The present chapel is a work of art and is studied by students of architecture throughout the United States because of its unique and distinguish design, having no right angles. The chapel is known for its vibrant worship services held each Sunday. Dr. Gregory S. Gray presently serves as the Dean of the Chapel.

5) The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel (HBCU)Atlanta, GA

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The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel was dedicated in 1978. The Chapel is a living memorial to the ministry and prophetic legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who graduated from the college in 1948. Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter has served as the Dean of the Chapel since 1979. He is credited for creating the Morehouse Chapel Assistants Program, a student organization that develops leaders while teaching practical skills needed to develop effective ministries. This program has produced many of the nation’s most effective preachers and clergymen. The Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel aims to teach excellence, ethics, equality and engagement. Each year the chapel honors religious leaders from across the United States at the annual Ministers & Laity Crown Forum and inducts these individuals into the Morehouse College Board of Preachers.

Know of other chapels at HBCUs? Share them in the comments below!

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