Triumphant Humphries


The booming voice was deep and full of a conviction. It was visible in the speaker’s expression. His face was animated, his gestures were fervent and he seemed to brim with an excitement brought on by nothing more than the fact that he was at Florida A&M University among the Rattlers who were chanting, leading the charge.

 “When the dark clouds gather on the horizon,” said the voice leading the Rattler Strike at a football game, “you must always remember that the Rattlers will strike, and strike, and strike again.”

The speaker was former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries

Humphries delivered his commitment to the ideas expressed in the FAMU Charge. 

“I think there has been a new burst of energy that Dr. Humphries brings to everything he does,” said Dr. Larry Earvin, president of Huston-Tillotson University, in an interview with Black Issues in Higher Education. 

Despite the difficulties the university faced during his tenure, Humphries contributed to and upheld the values in the motto “excellence with caring.”

Randy Hanley, a senior psychology student from Ft. Lauderdale, said that although freshmen may not know Humphries, he remembers how legendary he is.

“There’s something about Dr. Humphries where around him there are two things: you feel like you have to produce greatness, and you have to be great because he’s great,” Hanley said. “He makes you feel like you can be great even if you don’t know how. You get this from just being in his presence without even knowing him really.”

It has been 11 years since Humphries resigned from his post, and since, the university experienced its share of forward bounds and setbacks. With the Champion tragedy and the resignation of President James H. Ammons, the clouds he mentioned in the FAMU Charge seem to be encroaching at an alarming rate.

However, Humphries is not afraid of clouds or thunder. He influences the public, bringing confidence and optimism visible in leadership. He served as the first Black officer commissioned into the Army Security Agency for two years. He holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964, where he was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in the field. 

As a man who took part in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott as a college student, he is acquainted with surpassing adversity, even when it seems easier to quit. 

Donald Palm, assistant vice president for academic affairs, said the first time he met Humphries he was recruited to work for FAMU.

“I was doing a seminar in the pharmacy building and I see a big, tall guy walk up to me and say, ‘I heard you did a wonderful job and we want you here,'” Palm said. “We would talk in public and he would go into every detail of my resume, and I didn’t even know he read it.”

Palm admires Humphries’ greatness and ability to stay grounded when dealing with student, faculty and administrative issues. He described Humphries as genuine, politically tactful, thought provoking and a person of integrity. 

Humphries created the Life Gets Better scholarship and the Graduate School Feeder Program during his 17 years as president, doubling university enrollment and garnering FAMU’s reputation as a top producer of degree-holding African-Americans in the country. 

It was also under Humphries when Florida A&M University received a nod as the Time Magazine/Princeton Review 1997 College of the Year. 

Humphries left a strong legacy of recruiting at FAMU. He’s known for sitting down with minority students and their families to build relationships and discuss scholarship opportunities. 

His national and global presence leaves a lasting impression because “he has that personality where when he walks into the room, he’s able to touch everybody,” Palm said.

Humphries is making his return to FAMU to give the keynote address at the Founder’s Day Convocation Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Alfred L. Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium.

“Dr. Humphries is to FAMU more than you could ever imagine,” Henley said. “He is what we needed at that time and what we need now, and I hope that they [freshmen] will come out to at least see what FAMU has been and what FAMU can be again.”

That resonant voice will once again sound on the highest of seven hills to inspire a new generation of Rattlers and remind them of what Rattlers do when faced with cloudy horizons and stormy skies.