Samuel Howard Archer: Early Architect of Morehouse College

Samuel Howard Archer, Sr. (December 23, 1870 — January 15, 1941)

Maroon and White

While Archer was teaching and studying at Wayland Academy in Virginia, he encountered two African-American alumni of Colgate, Rev. Joseph Edom Jones and David Nathaniel Vassar, who encouraged him to attend the Hamilton, New York, university; Archer was 27 years old when he enrolled at Colgate in 1898 and 32 when he graduated with the Class of 1902. He was president of his junior class, and proved to be an exceptional guard on the varsity football team; likely he was the first African American to play football at Colgate. His handwritten notes indicate he took a broad undergraduate course of study that included subjects such as: ethics, logic, mathematics, latin and greek, church history, the life of Paul, the New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus. Archer was also a talented public speaker who won several oratorical awards — he won $50 for a speech titled “The Ethical Ideal in American Life” — and was one of six students selected to speak during his commencement exercises. In a prize winning speech titled “The Disenfranchisement of the Negro,” Archer proclaimed, “Grant to him an equal opportunity with others to weave about his soul a character noble, exalted, divine.” He firmly believed education exalted humanity, a position that put him at odds with the vocational vision of Booker T. Washington and aligned him with the intellectualism of W.E.B. DuBois. While teaching at Roger Williams University in 1904, Archer wrote a letter to his Colgate classmates that promoted “an education which will take an undeveloped soul and make, not a carpenter or a blacksmith, but a MAN.” His philosophy that education was integral for developing principled manhood lay the cornerstone of his longstanding and influential Morehouse career.

Samuel Archer was likely the first African-American football player at Colgate University. The “Colgate Football” magazine lists him as a letter man in 1899.

Archer’s Athletics

Samuel H. Archer and George L. Hayes (who became superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools) were two of the first known African Americans to earn varsity letters on Colgate’s 1899 football team. Archer’s passion for football was further demonstrated as Head Coach of a winning team at Morehouse where football was introduced as an intercollegiate sport in 1900. Two students, Benjamin Griffith Brawley and Charles H. Willis, organized Morehouse’s first team, which lost its first game to Clark Atlanta University 35 to 0.

A Man of Scholarship and Uplift

As an instructor, Archer educated not just the minds of Morehouse students but their total personhood as well. The article “Samuel Howard Archer: Portrait of a Teacher” by Marc Moreland [C/O 1929] illuminates how Archer’s pedagogical style, intelligence, strong character, charisma, integrity, and bold personality deeply impacted Morehouse’s collegiate body. Allow me to use the following passages from Moreland’s article to illustrate.

Psi Chapter gifted an oil painting of Samuel Archer to Morehouse College on December 11, 1946, in Sale Hall Chapel.

Acting President (1918–1919) and Dean (1920–1931)

On August 24, 1918, when President Hope was called upon to travel overseas during World War I to assist Black soldiers’ opposition and adjustment to the discriminatory practices of the United States Army, Professor Archer reluctantly became acting president (he preferred teaching and coaching the football team), and was eager for President Hope to return. During the war effort, Acting President Archer had to confront the problem of smoking among the S.A.T.C. men who were sent to train Morehouse students. In a letter to President George Rice Harvey of Virginia Union University, Archer writes:

5th President (1931–1937)

President Archer led Morehouse during one the most troublesome times in the College’s history. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression ushered in an era of global austerity that drastically impacted Archer’s administration. Because African-Americans were the most vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of the U.S. economy, many parents could no longer afford to send their sons to college since many were forced to wait in bread lines to secure mere sustenance. Banks collapsed, economic progress was brought to a standstill, and the financial reforms of the New Deal led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945) took time to restore the American citizens’ faith in the nation’s economy. Amidst such turmoil Morehouse could hardly keep its doors open.

Samuel Archer married Anna Courtney Johnson on September 7, 1904, and had four children: Rosalind, Nelson Thomas, Leonard Courtney, and Samuel Howard Archer, Jr. All three of his sons attended Morehouse.

Omega

President Archer longed for the peace and quiet of retirement away from the ongoing demands and frustrations of college administration. The Board of Trustees approved his retirement in 1937 after he fell ill towards the end of his presidency and conferred him as President Emeritus in 1938. His appointed successor as Acting President was Charles Dubois Hubert [C/O 1909 • ΗΩ], a longstanding teacher in the School of Religion who also served as its Director.

All three of Archer’s sons attended Morehouse and pledged Psi Chapter. (Above: The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Membership Certificate for Samuel Archer, Jr).

Archer Hall

The ground-breaking for the Health and Physical Education Building took place on February 18, 1957, at 3:30pm. Dr. John Davis [C/O 1911] delivered the dedication speech titled “Morehouse College, Full Speed Ahead.” The building included a pool and in 1958 swimming was added to the Morehouse curriculum as requisite. At its April 1962 meeting, The Board of Trustees approved official names for campus buildings not previously named. The Health and Physical Education Building became the Samuel H. Archer Health and Physical Education Building (or Archer Hall) to honor the man who had served the College for thirty-three years.

Samuel H. Archer Hall, probably either the night before or the night of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.

Atlanta Public Schools

Samuel Howard Archer High School was a high school in the northwestern part of Atlanta, was in operation from 1950 through 1995, and then merged with Harper High School to form Harper-Archer High School, which subsequently closed in 2002.

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