| 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.