To say that people are standing on the shoulders of history is more than a metaphor. In fact, the saying has a great degree of accuracy on the highest of seven hills.
Less than two centuries ago, territorial Gov. W.P. Duval owned “Highwood,” a slave plantation that existed where FAMU presently stands. Most students are oblivious to this reality, but some accept it as a part of the past. Others refuse to deny the irony of walking on the grounds where slaves once walked.
“People have died where we stand,” said Jianna Hopkins, a junior psychology student. “We have a connection to that because so many have died for us to have an education.”
The 22-year-old Cincinnati native, who was not previously aware that FAMU was built on plantation grounds, said she is torn about this fact.
“It’s unsettling because of the fact that our people were degraded and dehumanized right here,” Hopkins said. “But it’s positive because although we’re on a plantation, we have a university.”
Jonathan Johnson, 19, a criminal justice student said he did not know about the ironic aspect of FAMU’s past either. He said the campus’s history is absent from the University’s curriculum.
“Teachers should discuss the history with students, especially first-year students,” said the freshman from Jacksonville.
James Eaton, retired history professor emeritus, has done extensive research regarding the University’s history.
“The plantation was called Highwood, Fla.,” said the founder and former director of the Black Archives. “Gov. Duval and his brother owned it.”
During the term of former President William H. Gray Jr., Eaton said the administration had a slave tree on campus chopped down.
‘The tree located on the southwest side of the library was cut down because they needed space,” Eaton said. “There was a chain wrapped around it that was removed by President (John Robert E.) Lee’s daughter and was never found again.”
Some students around campus believe FAMU’s location on an old plantation puts the state of blacks in America in perspective.
Hopkins said she thinks slavery still exists today but on a psychological level.
“The visible chains are gone, but now we have to break out of the invisible chains,” Hopkins said. “I think we are still, in essence, slaves.”
Eaton agreed that remnants of the past are still afflicting black people today.
“Things haven’t gotten that much better,” Eaton said. “Klan robes have been exchanged for business suits.”
Although collective progress is evident, Eaton said black people still have quite a journey ahead.
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