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Former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries dies at 85

Posted at 10:47 PM, Jun 24, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Former Florida A&M University President Dr. Frederick S. Humphries died at his home in Orlando Thursday. He was 85.

Dr. Humphries was president of FAMU from 1985 to 2001 and before that, he was also president of Tennessee State University from 1974 to 1985.

FAMU said the following in a statement about Dr. Humphries:

Dr. Humphries, whose 6-foot-7 frame, booming voice and easy smile, commanded attention whenever he entered a room, was a trained scientist. He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from FAMU in 1957 before going on to complete a master’s and a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. He was the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in his discipline from the University of Pittsburgh.

Alumnus Eddie Jackson, who served under Humphries as vice president for University Relations said Dr. Humphries aimed to show FAMU could be the greatest in the country.

“When he came to FAMU, Dr. Humphries had a chip on his shoulder because he was here when the University’s law school was closed,” Jackson said. “He did not like the way it was done. He was highly motivated to prove that, with the right leadership and programs, FAMU could be the best in the country, and he meant to prove it.”

Dr. Humphries was credited with turning FAMU into one of the nation’s premier HBCUs and the restoration of its law school, now located in Orlando.

During his tenure, FAMU was selected as the first TIME Magazine/Princeton Review “College of the Year” in 1997.

Frederick Humphries, president of Florida A&M University for 16 years, announces his resignation from the steps of Lee Hall Monday, Feb. 12, 2001, in Tallahassee, Fla. FAMU was selected by Time Magazine as the "College of the Year" under Humpries' administration in 1997. His resignation will be effective June 30, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Foley)

FAMU also remembers Dr. Humphries for his inspiring, unmatched delivery of “The Rattler Charge” at FAMU or wherever Rattlers gathered.

Although “The Rattler Charge” began with FAMU President George W. Gore decades earlier, while Humphries was a student, Humphries’ embellished rendition will be remembered by Rattlers everywhere.

After resigning as president, Dr. Humphries served as president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and in 2003, he was named a Regent Professor at the FAMU College of Law in Orlando.

He also served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and a member of President Bill Clinton’s White House Advisory Committee on HBCUs.

“He was brilliant,” Jackson said. “He was committed to African-American students to a degree that I had never seen before. He wanted to prove to the Board [of Regents] that FAMU could compete on the same level with the recruitment of top students anywhere. He was one of the most intelligent presidents.”

Current FAMU president Larry Robinson released the following statement mourning the loss of Dr. Humphries:

“We have been informed of the unfortunate passing of Dr. Frederick S. Humphries, the eighth president of Florida A&M University. The dark clouds have indeed gathered on the horizon. Dr. Humphries is one of FAMU's favorite sons. He committed his life to the advancement of higher education, in particular within the HBCU community, and changed the trajectory of FAMU. We join the Humphries family, friends and Rattlers around the world in celebrating a life dedicated to service and one well-lived.”
Larry Robinson

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey also shared his condolences via Twitter Thursday night.

Awards and commendations include:

  • 1991 Thurgood Marshall Award for Higher Education (Sponsored by Johnson Publishing Company),
  • 1993 Drum Major for Justice Award for Higher Education (Sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – SCLC),
  • 1997 Floridian of the Year (Sponsored by the Orlando Sentinel),
  • 2001 The Trumpet Award for Education (Sponsored by Time Warner-Turner Broadcasting Systems);
  • 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to African Americans in Engineering (National Association of Black Engineers)
  • and numerous honorary doctorate degrees.

Dr. Humphries is survived by three children, Frederick Jr., Robin Tanya Watson, and Laurence Humphries, and eight grandchildren. Antoinette McTurner Humphries, his wife of 46 years, died in 2006.

Funeral arrangements will be announced when they are finalized.