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.
The 80’s also birthed a unique partnership of Florida A&M University with neighboring Florida State University. Florida A&M University had a growing Engineering Technology Program in the late 70’s and Florida State University wanted to re-establish its School of Engineering Science. Under the strong leadership from both universities, the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering was formed via an act of the Florida Legislature in 1982.
This success of the partnership of pairing the top HBCU in the nation with a top-tiered research activity university has resulted in impacting engineering diversity in a way that no other top research university could equal. Currently, the college has more than 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students and offers bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in the major engineering disciplines. In 2018, twenty percent of these students were African-American, 20 percent were Hispanic and 26 percent were female. This is a unique combination not found elsewhere at ranked engineering schools in the U.S.
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 was responsible for the operations of the University, which includes approximately 10,000 students and 700 faculty.
Under President Mangum’s direction, the University achieved many milestones including launching the Sustainability Institute; creating a free student passport program; establishing a debt reduction grant for graduating students; launching the High Achievers Scholarship Program; bolstering five living-learning communities; obtaining the largest individual gift in University history ($5 million from Microsoft Chair John W. Thompson and his wife, Sandi); becoming the first HBCU ensemble to play at the prestigious Carnegie Hall; and completing the transfer of 3,800 acres of land in Brooksville, one of the largest land transfers in the history of the USDA to a land-grant HBCU.
In September 2016, the FAMU Board of Trustees called upon Larry Robinson, Ph.D., to return as interim president of the University. Under Dr. Robinson's leadership, FAMU continues to thrive and has implemented new recruitment and retention strategies, strengthened the University's academic programs, introduced a new Division of Strategic Planning, Analysis and Institutional Effectiveness and ushered in several new multimillion-dollar grants and partnerships with organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the National Science Foundation. With a focus on student success, Dr. Robinson has also presented the University's new strategic plan, titled "FAMU Rising," which focuses on FAMU raising the bar toward preeminent performance in academics, research, engagement and fundraising.
For 130 years, Florida A&M University has served the citizens of the State of Florida and the world 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.
The University can credit much of its present academic stature to the leadership of its 11 distinguished presidents and seven interim presidents: