History and origin of Florida’s HBCUs
Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida-Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida and Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Florida comprise Florida’s HBCUs.
Submitted by Charles Moseley
On October 3, 1904, a very determined young Black woman, Mary McLeod Bethune, opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with $1.50, faith in God and five little girls: Lena, Lucille, Ruth Warren, Anna Geiger and Celest Jackson. Through Dr. Bethune’s lifetime the school underwent several stages of growth and development and on May 24, 1919, the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute was changed to Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1923 the school merged with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida (founded in 1872) and became co-ed while it also gained the prestigious United Methodist Church affiliation. Although the merger of Bethune’s school and Cookman Institute began in 1923, it was not finalized until 1925 when both schools collaborated to become the Daytona-Cookman Collegiate Institute. In 1931, the College became accredited by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States, as a Junior College with class B status, and on April 27, 1931, the school’s name was officially changed to Bethune-Cookman College to reflect the leadership of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
In 1936, Dr. Bethune was appointed administrative assistant for Negro Affairs (her title changed in 1939 to Director of the Division of Negro Affairs) of the National Youth Administration (NYA) making her the first African American women to head a federal agency. As of result of this position, much needed government funds were funneled into the school. While traveling with the NYA, Dr. Bethune appointed Mr. Abram L. Simpson as acting president from 1937-39. In 1941, the Florida State Department of Education approved a four-year baccalaureate program offering liberal arts and teacher education. Dr. Bethune retired in 1942 at which time James E. Colston became president until 1946 when Dr. Bethune resumed the presidency for a year.
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students, and on October 3, 1887, it began classes with fifteen students and two instructors. Today, FAMU, as it has become affectionately known, is the premiere school among historically Black colleges and universities. Prominently located on the highest hill in Florida’s capital city of Tallahassee, Florida A&M University remains the only historically Black university in the eleven member State University System of Florida. In 1884, Thomas Van Renssaler Gibbs, a Duval County educator, was elected to the Florida legislature. Although his political career ended abruptly because of the resurgence of segregation, Representative Gibbs was successful in orchestrating the passage of House Bill 133, in 1884, which established a white normal school in Gainesville, Fla, and a colored school in Jacksonville. The bill passed, creating both institutions; however, the stated decided to relocate the colored school to Tallahassee.
Thomas DeSaille Tucker [1887-1901], an attorney from Pensacola, was chosen to be the first president. Former State Representative Gibbs joined Mr. Tucker as the second faculty member. In 1891, the College received $7,500 under the Second Morrill Act for agricultural and mechanical arts education, and the State Normal College for Colored Students became Florida’s land grant institution for colored people. The original College was housed in a single white-framed building and had three departments of study and recreation. At about this time, the College was relocated from its original site on Copeland Street to its present location, and its name was changed to the State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students.
In 1905, management of the College was transferred from the Board of Education to the Board of Control. This event was significant because it officially designated the College as an institution of higher education. The name was changed in 1909 to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (FAMC).
Under the administration of John Robert Edward Lee, Sr., [1924-1944], the College acquired much of the physical and academic image it has today. Buildings were erected; more land was purchased; more faculty were hired; courses were upgraded, and accreditation was received from several state agencies. By 1944, FAMC had constructed 48 buildings, accumulated 396 acres of land, and had 812 students and 122 staff members. In 1949, under the guidance of William H. Gray, Jr. [1944-1949], expansion, along with reorganization, continued; the College obtained an Army ROTC unit, and student enrollment grew to more than 2,000.
Edward Waters College (EWC) is, distinctively, Florida’s oldest independent institution of higher learning as well as the state’s first institution established for the education of African Americans.
Edward Waters College began as an institution founded by blacks, for blacks. In 1865, following the Civil War, the Reverend Charles H. Pearce, a presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was sent to Florida by Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne. Observing the fast-paced social and political changes of the Reconstruction era, Rev. Pearce immediately recognized the need for an education ministry, as no provision had yet been made for the public education of Florida’s newly emancipated blacks. Assisted by the Reverend William G. Steward, the first AME pastor in the state, Pearce began to raise funds to build a school.
This school, established in 1866, was to eventually evolve into Edward Waters College. From the beginning, EWC was faced with both abject poverty and widespread illiteracy among its constituents resulting from pre-war conditions of servitude and historical, legally enforced non-schooling of African Americans. However, the school met the needs of its community by offering courses at the elementary, high school, college, and seminary levels. Construction of the first building began in October 1872 on ten acres of land in Live Oak. Further support for this new educational institution came from numerous friends, including railroad magnate General M.S. Littlefield, state Treasurer Simon Conaber, and Lieutenant General William Gleason.
In 1892 the school’s name was changed to Edward Waters College in honor of the third Bishop of the AME Church.
In 1901 the City of Jacksonville was destroyed by fire and Edward Waters College was reduced to ashes. In 1904 the Board of Trustees purchased the present site of the school on Kings Road with the imperative from Bishop M.B. Salter that Edward Waters College must be rebuilt.
Under the continued visionary leadership and direction of great Bishops of the AME Church and twenty-eight focused presidents, Edward Waters College was indeed “rebuilt.” In February 2011 the Edward Waters College Board of Trustees appointed Jacksonville native and alumnus Mr. Nathaniel Glover as President. As the 29thpresident, Glover continues the work of his predecessors by focusing on training students to be successful in the 21st century global economy and ensuring that they matriculate in a safe environment.
With a history beginning in the dark yet hopeful days of Reconstruction, today’s Edward Waters College is living, thriving proof of the power of education and the resilience of deeply rooted educational institutions. The College continues to experience the triumphs and challenges characteristic of its rich history and the bold dynamic future to which it aims.
Florida Memorial University is a private, coeducational, and Baptist-affiliated institution that has the distinction of being one of the oldest academic centers in the state, and the only Historically Black University in South Florida.
In 1879, members of the Bethlehem Baptist Association founded the school, then called Florida Baptist Institute, in Live Oak to create “a College of instruction for our ministers and children.” The Reverend J. L. A. Fish was its first president. Despite a promising start, racial tensions soon cast a shadow over the Institute. In April 1892, after unknown persons fired shots into one of the school’s buildings, then-President Rev. Matthew Gilbert and other staff members fled Live Oak for Jacksonville, where he founded the Florida Baptist Academy in the basement of Bethel Baptist Church. They began holding classes in May 1892, with Sarah Ann Blocker as the main instructor. The school in Live Oak, however, continued to operate even after this splintering.
In 1896, Nathan White Collier was appointed president of the Academy, a post he held for 45 years. President Collier recruited renowned composer and Jacksonville native, J. Rosamond Johnson, to teach music at the school. While in the employ of the Florida Baptist Academy, Rosamond composed music for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a poem written by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, creating the song that has since been enshrined as the “Negro National Anthem.” It was first performed by a choir that included students from Florida Baptist Academy at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900.
The institution numerous graduates who would go on to acclaim within the state and nation, such as Earth M. M. White, the legendary business woman and community servant in Jacksonville; the Rev. Howard Thurman, a renowned figure in American theology, who was recognized in 1952 by Life Magazine as one of the twelve most influential religious leaders in the country; and Harry T. Moore, civil rights advocate and head of the Florida conference of the NAACP.
Because of the dual pressures of a growing student body and not enough space to expand, the Academy took advantage of an offer from the City of St. Augustine to relocate the institution to the 400-acre “Old Hansen Plantation.” The school began its third incarnation at its new home in St. Augustine on September 24, 1918, as the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute. Influenced by the educational model popularized by Booker T. Washington at his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, students were encouraged to be industrious and self-sufficient, constructing many of the campus buildings themselves, as well as growing and preparing their own food. The students received hands-on training in the practical fields which would allow them to support themselves and their families.
In 1942, the Baptist General State Convention voted to merge its two schools, closing down the Florida Institute at Live Oak and combining it with what would become Florida Normal Industrial and Memorial College in St. Augustine. Florida native and writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston, served as an instructor for the school during this time.
The advent of civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s brought about a whirlwind of challenges and change to St. Augustine. When local African Americans decided to protest and resist segregation in the city, students from Florida Memorial joined the effort, participating in sit-ins, wade-ins, and swim-ins, orchestrated by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The events in St. Augustine significantly influenced federal legislation resulting in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.
Activism by FMC students, however, threatened to upset the delicate relationship between the City of St. Augustine and Florida Memorial, as well as provoking the resentment and animosity of whites in the area. Given this vulnerable financial and social situation, Dr. Royal W. Puryear oversaw the relocation of the school when, in 1965, the trustees purchased a 48-acre former air strip near Opa-locka in Dade County.
On November 11, 1968, the new campus opened as Florida Memorial College. In December 2004, the institution’s charter was amended, and the name Florida Memorial University was adopted.
The FMU legacy is firmly rooted in steadfast dedication and commitment to pursue its mission “to instill in our students the values of leadership, character, and service to enhance their lives and the lives of others.”