Historic City News has learned that a special ceremony is scheduled to be held Saturday, November 14th which promises to be “the first step” in an effort to create a renaissance of local interest in area history including Florida Memorial College; now known as Florida Memorial University.
In 1882 the Florida Baptist Academy was established in Jacksonville, Florida. The name was later changed to Florida Normal and Industrial Institute.
In 1918 the school moved to St. Augustine on part of a 110-acre tract of land known as “Old Homes Plantation”; formerly one of the largest slave plantations in Florida.
The school, which became known as Florida Memorial College, remained in St. Augustine from 1918 until 1968; at which time it moved to Miami.
It was during this period that historians say the famous bell was purchased that now sits above the Susie C. Holley Chapel. The bell was originally used to gather slaves to issue daily orders. It was also believed to have been cast at the same foundry as the Liberty Bell; now in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The November 14th event will be held in St. Augustine’s Collier-Blocker-Puryear Park; named for former Florida Memorial College founders and presidents. The park is located at the intersection of Holmes Boulevard and West King Street in West St. Augustine.
The ceremony will take place at the newly re-located Abraham Lincoln Lewis Archway. The arch is the most lasting physical reminder of Florida Memorial College’s time in St. Augustine. The archway is named for the first African-American millionaire in the region and the man who provided the funding for the arch’s construction.
The Florida Memorial University choir is scheduled to perform. The original choir attained lasting fame in 1900 when it presented the first public performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”; written by brother’s James Weldon Johnson and faculty member J. Rosamond Johnson and selected in 1919 as the Negro National Anthem by the NAACP.
The 1:00 p.m. ceremony will feature the unveiling of a historical marker devoted to the contribution of Florida Memorial students to the local civil rights struggles that took place in the 1960s.
The marker is part of a series erected by the Civil Rights Committee of St. Augustine (also known as the Civil Rights Memorial Projects Committee) to identify and commemorate pivotal sites related to the civil rights movement.
This latest marker also honors Reverend John Lee Tilley, a president of Florida Memorial College (1944-49) and the first executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under the direction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.