MIAMI GARDENS — Florida Memorial University is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week, marking a milestone for South Florida’s only historically black institution.
A series of celebratory events kicked off Sept. 7, and will continue throughout this weekend at the school's Miami Gardens campus, where about 1,800 students attend classes.
“This is a big birthday party for us,’’ said Barbara Edwards, executive assistant to FMU President Karl S. Wright.
The celebration signifies the time when FMU moved from St. Augustine to its current home at 15800 N.W. 42nd Avenue, in what is now Miami Gardens, during the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1968.
Edwards said then-president Royal W. Puryear made the decision to move the university to South Florida because the region offered more opportunities for black students than the northern part of the state.
“It was a courageous thing to do at that time to move the school to another location,’’ Edwards said. “[Puryear] played an important role in the history of the university.’’
First founded in 1879 as the Florida Baptist Institute in Live Oak, Fla., FMU is one of the oldest academic institutions in the state. Throughout its history, the university has strived to support its mission of providing academic opportunities for black students.
“Over the years, the campus has really transformed,’’ Edwards said. “The campus has not only grown physically, but also in the academic programs that it offers.’’
In 2004, the institution, formerly known as Florida Memorial College, earned the distinction of being called a university when it began offering four graduate degree programs in business and education. The school also offers 41 undergraduate degrees through its six academic schools.
Florida Memorial University is recognized as the birthplace of the Negro National Anthem Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson, and as the former school of Barrington Irving Jr., the first and youngest pilot of African descent to fly solo around the world.
To celebrate FMU’s anniversary, the university has hosted a series of events throughout the week, including a pep rally, parade and a fall convocation ceremony.
Saturday’s festivities, called a “Friends & Family Festival,’’ include a story-telling station, a “hoop and shoot’’ with FMU’s men’s basketball team, hayrides, games, food and a variety of musical performances including gospel, steel band, jazz and spoken word.
Capping off the day will be a step show and fireworks display. On Sunday, the school will host a closing chapel service at Susie C. Holley Religious Center, which is across from the main campus.
Photo: Dr. Karl S. Wright
IF YOU GO
What: 40th anniversary of Florida Memorial University.
Where: Florida Memorial University, 15800 N.W. 42nd Avenue, Miami Gardens.
When: Friends & Family Festival, Sept. 13 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Chapel Service, Sept. 14, noon.
Contact: For more information, call 305-626-3624 or visit www.fmuuniv.edu.