When the State Normal College for Colored Youth in Tallahassee, Florida was founded in 1887 by Thomas V.R. Gibbs, he and the other educators probably didn’t expect that the student body would quickly outgrow the campus at an exponential rate. Some students had to live off campus in host private homes for several years, not to mention that the college’s enrollment numbers had survived the 1888 yellow fever epidemic. Despite the cynicism behind Gibbs’ request for more housing, the enrollment continued to grow and a new dorm was added in 1890.
Thomas DeSaille Tucker was the school’s first president, serving in his role from 1887-1901. In 1891, the college received $7,500 from the state, making it a land grant institution. Then in 1909, with management of the school switching to the Board of Control, the school was renamed Florida A&M College. An impressive $10,000 was donated by Andrew Carnegie for a new campus library, a first for any black land grant institution. Over the next 30 years, the campus grew tremendously, adding an ROTC unit which increased the student body to over 2,000.
In 1953, under the direction of President Dr. George W. Gore, Florida A&M College gained its university status. Even more important, the school achieved a significant first by becoming the first Negro institution to become a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
With the intention of serving the underserved and underprivileged black community in Florida, Thomas Gibb’s first class of 15 students and two teachers flourished into what is now Florida A&M University, with nearly 11,000 students representing 70 different countries. Impressive individuals like directors Will Packer and Rob Hardy, actress Anika Noni Rose, Keith Clinkscales of Vibe Magazine, Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., sports reporter Pam Oliver, Olympic gold medalist Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes, actress T’Keyah “Crystal” Keymah and Oscar Joyner of Reach Media, Inc. are all Rattlers of Florida A&M University.