History of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU)
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, FL, 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). The following year, with an enrollment of 317 students, the college awarded its first degrees. In spite of a setback caused by a tragic fire that destroyed Duval Hall, the main building which housed the library, administrative offices, cafeteria and other college agencies, progress was made when a gift of $10,000 was presented to the College by Andrew Carnegie for the erection of a new library facility. This facility held the distinction of being the only Carnegie Library located on a black land-grant college campus. President Nathan B. Young [1901-1923] directed the growth of the College to a four-year degree-granting institution, despite limited resources, offering the Bachelor of Science degree in education, science, home economics, agriculture and mechanical arts.
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.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements came under the presidency of Dr. George W. Gore [1950-1968]. The Florida legislature elevated the College to university status, and in 1953, Florida A&M College became Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Obtaining university status meant restructuring existing programs and designing new academic offerings to meet the demands of producing quality students at the professional and graduate levels. Between 1953 and 1968, the Schools of Pharmacy, Law, Graduate Studies, and Nursing were created.
During the years 1950-1968, the University experienced its most rapid growth. Twenty-three buildings were constructed and renovated with costs totaling more than $14 million. These facilities included the Dairy Barn, Faculty Duplexes, Law Wing of Coleman Library, Gibbs Hall, Tucker Hall, Truth Hall, Agriculture and Home Economics Building [Perry Paige], Student Union Building, Demonstration School Building, Cafeteria, Health and Physical Education Building, Music and Fine Arts Complex, High School Gymnasium, Stadium, and Health and Physical Education Building. The FAMU Hospital was completed and became fully operational in 1956, serving as the only medical facility for Negroes within 150 miles of Tallahassee. FAMU achieved a significant first by becoming the first Negro institution to become a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Enrollment grew to more than 3,500, and the number of faculty increased by more than 500.
The 50’s and 60’s were times of social unrest and change in the nation. The students of Florida A&M University were integral in sparking a boycott of the buses in Tallahassee that successfully staged integrated the city’s public transportation. As a result of their courage and determination, the students of Florida A&M University established a legacy of social involvement and responsibility as a part of the collegiate experience for future generations of Rattlers.
The period following the turbulent 60’s brought unprecedented growth to the University. At a time when federal laws were demanding desegregation, Dr. Benjamin L. Perry, Jr. [1968-1977] was credited with preserving the autonomy of Florida A&M. In 1971, FAMU was recognized as a full partner in the nine-university, public higher education system of Florida. The program and academic areas within the institution were extended to include the Black Archives Research Center and Museum, established as a state repository for Black History and Culture; the Division of Sponsored Research; the Program in Medical Sciences (PIMS), in conjunction with Florida State University and the University of Florida; the development of the School of Architecture; a Naval ROTC unit; establishment of the cooperative programs in agriculture; and a degree-granting program in Afro-American Studies. Enrollment increased from 3,944 (1960) to 5,024 (1970).
The University was re-organized into academic areas instead of departments. The University’s physical plants increased with the addition of the Women’s Complex (apartment-type dormitory), Clifton Dyson Pharmacy Building, new poultry building and dairy cattle resting shed, and renovation of University Commons, Coleman Library and Tucker Hall. The University Hospital, which was closed in 1971, was renovated and became the Foote-Hilyer Administration Center.
During the administration of Dr. Walter L. Smith [1977-1985], the University grew to eleven schools and colleges and a Division of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education. In 1984, the University was granted the authority to offer its first Doctor of Philosophy degree, the Ph.D. in Pharmacology. The 80’s also saw the expansion of the Gaither Athletic Center, which included the construction of a new Women’s Athletic Complex equipped with a track, an Olympic pool, men’s and women’s weight training rooms, and softball and baseball fields. Bragg Memorial Stadium was renovated and expanded to provide seating for 25,000 spectators, and a modern field house was erected. The old laundry was converted into the Industrial Education Classroom Laboratory. New facilities were constructed to house the Schools of Allied Health Sciences, Architecture, Business and Industry and Nursing. Construction and renovation projects amounted to more than $34 million. As the University prepared to observe one hundred years of its existence, the Smith administration launched the Centennial Celebration Fund to establish a University Endowment.
In 1985, Dr. Frederick S. Humphries [1985-2001] became the eighth president of Florida A&M University. The Humphries Years were heralded as a time of unprecedented expansion and achievement. President Humphries presided over the University’s Centennial Celebration that began with his inauguration and ended with the burying of a time capsule. During Humphries’ tenure, enrollment soared from 5,100  to 9,551 . And by the 1998-1999 school year, enrollment had reached 12,000 students. Aggressive and competitive recruitment campaigns attracted more talented students, and FAMU consistently ranked nationally among the top five colleges and universities for enrolling National Achievement finalists. In 1992, 1995 and 1997, FAMU enrolled more National Achievement finalists than Harvard, Yale and Stanford. In 1999, Black Issues in Higher Education cited FAMU for awarding more baccalaureate degrees to African-Americans than any other institution in this nation.
During the 110th Anniversary Celebration, Florida A&M University was selected by the TIME Magazine-Princeton Review as The 1997-1998 College of the Year. FAMU was selected from among some of the most prestigious schools in the country to be the first recipient of this honor.
In 2002, as the State of Florida’s education system underwent massive reorganization, Dr. Henry L. Lewis, III, Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences was appointed interim president. Later the same year, on May 17, 2002, the Board of Trustees of Florida A&M University appointed Dr. Fred Gainous [2002-2004], an alumnus, as the ninth president. Dr. Gainous returned to Tallahassee with a vision of creating One FAMU.
On December 14, 2004, the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees made history by appointing Dr. Castell Vaughn Bryant as interim president. Dr. Bryant, an alumna, was the first woman to lead the University in its 117 years of existence. President Bryant came with the mission of revitalizing and restructuring the University for the twenty-first century.
Originally designed to meet the needs of the underrepresented and the underprivileged, Florida A&M University continues to serve the citizens of Florida and the world through its provision of pre-eminent educational programs. These programs are the building blocks of a legacy for the hallmark of Florida A&M University: “Excellence with Caring.” FAMU, Florida’s Opportunity University, is committed to meeting the challenges and need of future generations.
On July 2, 2007, Dr. James H. Ammons, became the tenth president of Florida A&M University. Prior to his appointment, he served as Chancellor of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) from 2001 through 2006 and as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at FAMU.
While provost at Florida A&M University, he developed more than 22 bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs, and he worked to reestablish the FAMU College of Law. At NCCU, enrollment reached an all-time high during his tenure, climbing from 5,476 in 2000-2001 to 8,675 in 2006-2007 – a 58.4 percent increase. NCCU became the fastest growing institution in the University of North Carolina System.
When Dr. Ammons arrived at the university, he built a top-notch, strong leadership team. In addition, he secured accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education in which the board voted to reaffirm the College’s accreditation status through June 30, 2010. Under his leadership, FAMU also received its first unqualified audit in three years from the Auditor General’s Office and the university enrolled students for the first time in a new doctorate program in physical therapy.
In July 2012, Dr. Larry Robinson was appointed interim president by the FAMU Board of Trustees. During his nearly two-year tenure he spearheaded the development of the university's enhanced anti-hazing procedures and helped the university improve its administrative guidelines and procedures, which led to FAMU's clean financial audit for the 2012--2013 fiscal year.
On April 1, 2014, Dr. Elmira Mangum became the 11th president of Florida A&M University and the first permanent female president in the institution's 126-year history. In this capacity, she is responsible for the operations of the university, which includes approximately 11,000 students and 700 faculty.
Previously, Dr. Mangum served as Vice President for Planning and Budget at Cornell University where she was the senior administrator responsible for the management of Cornell’s resources and the annual budgeting process. She arrived at Cornell in January 2010 when the operating budget had a growing annual structural deficit and over 26 percent of the endowment had been lost in the economic downturn. The recovery from this condition defines much of her service and leadership at Cornell as a change leader. She spearheaded implementation of the changes to the university budget model, documented current conditions while creating an environment of transparency, and established administrative controls and operating parameters for the future. These challenges allowed Mangum to work with the senior leaders, the provost and deans, and faculty to leverage university resources to meet Cornell’s institutional priorities and academic programming needs while redistributing existing resources and reducing funding to administrative services. Her duties also included serving as the division liaison with the Cornell Board of Trustees and advising the board on the full range of policy, strategy and budgetary matters. Her areas of responsibility also included institutional research and planning, operating and capital budget development, administrative streamlining for efficiency, institutional intelligence and space use planning.
A seasoned administrator with more than 28 years of experience in executive higher education financial and resource management, Dr. Mangum’s administrative leadership began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Geological and Natural History Survey as an operations specialist. She also held positions at the University at Buffalo (UB) a State University of New York System university. From 1984 to 2001 she served as assistant dean, associate and assistant provost for resource management and as vice provost. For approximately nine years she served at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, leaving as Senior Associate Provost in 2010 to become a Vice President at Cornell University.
Dr. Mangum held a faculty appointment in the Johnson School of Management at Cornell and similar positions at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government and UB Graduate School of Education, where she taught higher education administration, and leadership theory and practice. For several years she taught leadership and financial management in the UNC Bridges leadership program and served on the Bridges Board. Among many service activities, Dr. Mangum is a member of the HERS Board of Directors, the NCCU Creating the Vision Board of Directors, the Board of Directors of the Network for Change and Continuous Improvement (NCCI) and was a state representative and university chair of the American Association of University Women. She continues to present on current topics at the annual meetings of the National Association of College and University Business Officers and other organizations in higher education.
Dr. Mangum received a bachelor’s degree in geography and education from North Carolina Central University and graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with two master's degrees, one in public policy and public administration and another in urban and regional planning. She received her Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy from the University at Buffalo, where she received distinction for her work on leadership in higher education. Additionally, she was in the inaugural class of the Millennium Leadership Institute, attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education Management Development Program, and Cornell's Administrative Management Institute. More recently, she completed the leadership program at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. Dr. Mangum is a life member of the National Council of Negro Women and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
FAMU can credit much of its present academic stature to the leadership of its 11 distinguished presidents:
For more than 127 years, Florida A&M University has served the citizens of the State of Florida and the nation through its preeminent educational programs that are the building blocks for a legacy of academic excellence with caring. FAMU, "Florida's Opportunity University," is committed to meeting the challenges and needs of future generations.