Located in Selma, Dallas County, Concordia College Alabama (formerly Concordia College Selma) is a historically black, open-admission, four-year institution based in the teachings of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which founded the school in November 1922. A focus on the church's principles of Christian salvation and racial uplift remain the major tenets of the institution's mission.
The concept for the college was initiated by Rosa J. Young, an African American educator who is often referred to as the "mother of Black Lutheranism" in Alabama. Because students at that time had few fiscal resources to pay tuition due to the demise of the cotton industry, Young appealed to Booker T. Washington, president of Tuskegee Institute (present-day Tuskegee University) for operating expenses. Washington and his colleagues were unable to provide financial support. They instead directed Young to seek assistance from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which had a history of developing other black institutions in the South, including the Rosebud Literary and Industrial School in neighboring Wilcox County. The Church sent Rev. Nils Jules Bakke, a Norwegian American missionary affiliated with the Lutheran Church, to assess the situation and he determined that the ministry should support the institution. He was designated as the first leader and taught primarily Christian morals and biblical studies.
At the time of the college's founding, it had fewer than ten students, only two professors, and one staff member. Throughout its maturation, the institution went through several names changes to reflect its evolution: Bakke Memorial Institute, Alabama Luther College, Lutheran Academy and Junior College, Concordia College Selma, and Concordia College Alabama. These name changes reflected how the institution evolved from an institution focused primarily on educating Christian teachers and ministers, to a junior college that offered only two-year degree programs, and to its present incarnation as a Christian-centered baccalaureate degree-granting institution that also offers associate degree programs.
Eight men and one woman led the institution after Bakke's tenure, each playing a role in the advancement of the college: Rev. Robert O. L. Lynn Sr. (1922-1932), Rev. Edward A. Wescott, Sr. (1934-1945), Walter H. Ellwanger (1945-1963), Paul Elbrecht (1965-1970), Willis Wright (1970-1980), Julius Jenkins (1980-2007), McNair Ramsey (interim president from 2007-2008), Portia Shields (2008-2009), and Tilahun Mendedo (2010-present).
The presidencies of Lynn, Wescott, and Ellwanger were crucial in establishing the foundation of the school. Wescott and his leadership team provided direction during the rough times of the institution when it returned to high school status. During the presidency of Ellwanger, the institution was converted into a two-year degree-granting college. Rev. Robert O. L. Lynn Sr. was the first African American president of Concordia College Alabama and the college's revival was accelerated during his tenure.
A highly influential administrator, Julius Jenkins, served for 27 years as the senior administrator of the institution and led a significant transformation. From securing accreditation, overhauling academics from a junior college platform to a baccalaureate degree granting institution, obtaining property and the physical plant, and major fundraising successes, Jenkins' role was paramount. His leadership also resulted in the establishment of the college's first endowment.
The college is a member of the Concordia University system, a consortium of 10 colleges administered by the Lutheran Church in 10 states, including Alabama. These institutions share resources, and students may elect to be "visiting students" for up to two semesters at any of the sister colleges. Concordia College Alabama is the only historically black college in the system. Like its sister institutions, Concordia College mandates chapel worship services three times a week for its students and offers dormitory devotions, spiritual counseling, and Bible study groups.
Total enrollment is approximately 600 students served by five academic divisions with more than 45 majors. The college's most sought-after academic programs are in the fields of early childhood and elementary education. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Male and female students, who each make up half of the student population, participate in intramural and intercollegiate athletics in basketball, soccer, football, baseball, track and field, golf, volleyball, and cheerleading. The athletic teams are known as the Hornets and Lady Hornets. School colors are green and gold, and the intercollegiate teams compete in the Southeastern Athletic Conference.
Concordia College Alabama's most popular traditions and activities are centered in the arts. Music ensembles in choir and
band have long been at the center of student life. The Concordia Choir performs classical pieces as well as African American
gospel hymns and its members are considered student leaders on campus. In addition, students can participate in the Magnificent
Marching Hornet Band, which is known for its skilled movement, unique uniforms, and high-step marching style. As in bands
at other historically black colleges, percussion instruments are carried on straps rather than on front-centered carriers,
a looser arrangement that allows the musicians to dance as they play. The band members play a wide array of instruments from
sousaphones, baritones, trumpets, mellophones, trombones, and percussion equipment.
Ashley, Dwayne, Juan Williams, and Adrienne Ingrum. I'll Find a Way or Make One: A Tribute to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2004.
Dickinson, Richard. C. Concordia College, Selma: The Miracle on Green Street.
———. Roses and Thorns: The Centennial Edition of Black Lutheran Mission and Ministry in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. St. Louis: The Concordia Publishing House, 1977.
Drewy, Henry. N., and Humphrey Doermann. Stand and Prosper: Private Black Colleges and Their Students. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.
Injay, ed. Black Colleges and Universities: Charcoals and Diamonds. Triana, Ala.: Sssh Enterprises, 1999.
Young, R. J. Light in the Dark Belt. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950.
Tryan L. McMickens
University of Pennsylvania
Published November 12, 2009
Last updated March 27, 2013