The Rattler mascot is commonly seen on t-shirts, school supplies, welcome mats, gym floors and athletic paraphernalia. Although it’s worn with great enthusiasm, little is known about the university’s mascot.
As a display of prestige, pride and persistence, the rattlesnake has an interesting yet peculiar history behind it.
Florida A&M University was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students on Oct. 3, 1887. The “Venom” was chosen in 1891 to serve as the institution’s mascot after its relocation to Highwood Plantation from its original one-building settlement on Copeland Street.
The mascot is a diamondback rattlesnake with a yellow-orange skin tone with a dark green hue covering its mouth area. Its left eye is outlined with a tribal, somewhat devilish pattern, giving it a threatening appearance.
“The image depicts a powerful creature that’s best left alone,” said Samuel Brown, coordinator of the FAMU Honors Program. “Should you hear it, you should be afraid. You should guard the children.
“The thing you were supposed to do next week, we need it done in 15 minutes,” Brown continued. “What’s a Rattler going to do? A real Rattler will look at you and take 14 minutes to prepare, and then go out on that 15th minute and blow you away. I think that is really who we are as people. I feel like it is a very appropriate mascot.”
Given the reason for choosingg a rattlesnake as FAMU’s representative image, the mascot might not be the friendliest ally to students and alumni.
“It was placed here because there were a lot of rattlesnakes in the area when the school was built,” said Jeniece Smith, a FAMU alumna and interim assistant director of Coleman Library. “That goes with the history of the school.”
Snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, were the main inhabitants of Highwood Plantation, the property that is known as “The Seven Hills.” This prompted the decision to make the Rattlers the mascot for the then State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students.
To help place emphasis on the ominous nature of the green serpent, the “Rattler charge” was created with the intention to demonstrate the acquired significance and perseverance of a FAMU student. Its final words are accompanied with a hand gesture that consists of the positioning of the index and middle fingers to impersonate a snake’s fangs. The participant’s arm is then spun clockwise with the words “Strike, strike and strike again!”
“The Rattler [charge] became so famous and entertaining to Rattlers because everyone has a different way of doing the strike,” said Myra Perry, office manager at the Black Archives Research Center. “I like that; I think it brings a personal pride. You know, everyone has a different level of pride as to being a Rattler.”
The FAMU Venom and the Rattler strike are considered by some to be the two deeming factors in the identity and individuality of the school’s students, faculty and staff.
Supported by a powerful concept, the mascot remains a critically acclaimed and respected symbol for the university.