Students should strive to know the history of ‘the Hill’ they call home

As students go about their day on campus they may not recognize the history that lives in the walls around them and seeps from the ground beneath their feet. They may not know that the campus has been recognized as a National Historic District by the U.S. government. When they pass the dining hall they probably don’t think of the original structure that burned to the ground during student protests in the 1920s. As they walk around campus they may not realize that these same grounds were once the site of a slave plantation.

The school that eventually became FAMU first stood where Bill’s Bookstore is now on Copeland Street. The State Normal College for Colored Students was opened in 1887 and started with 15 students and two instructors.

In 1891 the school was moved to its current site, where Florida’s territorial governor W.P. Duval had once owned a slave plantation.

Classes were held in the old manor house until it burned down on New Year’s Eve 1905. Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $10,000 to the school and the Carnegie Center was built on the ground where the old manor house had stood.

Nathan B. Young was president from 1905 to 1923. During his tenure the institution became Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes. The Florida Board of Control dismissed Young in 1923, and students staged a yearlong protest. This was the first major student protest in America to occur on a black land grant college campus. Set ablaze that year were both Gibbs halls, the mechanical arts building, the dining hall and the second Duval Hall.

The period that followed was known as FAMU’s Golden Age. The school was presided over by John Robert Edward Lee Sr. from 1926 until his death in 1944. During his tenure new buildings were erected, new programs added and the student population swelled.

While the country was going through a depression, this small black college was experiencing a building boom. During the 1930s Lee, Sampson and Mcguinn halls were all opened. In 1936 Sunshine Manor was constructed and remains the only student built building on campus.

By the time of Lee’s death in 1944, the school consisted of 48 buildings spread out over 396 acres.

In 1953 the school achieved state university status and the FAMU name. By 1968 the Schools of Pharmacy, Law, Graduate Studies and Nursing were created.

President George W. Gore Jr. coined the motto “strike, strike, and strike again” during the civil rights movement.

The 1970s saw continued growth in enrollment, construction and academic departments. In 1971 the school became a full member of the state’s university system.

The 1980s were characterized by the presidency of Dr. Frederick S. Humphries and his popularity among faculty and students.

In 1987 the University held its centennial celebrations to commemorate its first 100 years. The set, which had once been the entrance to Duval’s slave plantation, was redesigned to feature the brick pathways and added in 1997 was the eternal flame.

Contact Mackenzie Turberville at