By Florence Beth Snyder
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) was founded in 1887, when campus rattlesnakes were just something you put up with if you were matriculating in rural north Florida.
Students and faculty were not the least bit intimidated. They took the snakes as their mascot, and built FAMU into the most storied of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs.)
“You must always remember that the RATTLERS WILL STRIKE, AND STRIKE AND STRIKE AGAIN!” say those who proudly wear the FAMU green and orange.
As if anyone could forget.
In 1998, Time Magazine selected FAMU, in Tallahassee, as its College of the Year. The Eternal Flame, located at The Set in the center of FAMU’s campus, commemorates the honor with an obelisk topped by a flame that burns all day, every day. It’s a symbol of the fire and spirit that lies within every Rattler.
FAMU’S Marching 100 is the most celebrated college band in the musical galaxy. The 100 has strutted its stuff on the Champs Elysee in Paris and stolen the show from Kanye West and Jamie Foxx at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
But the best place on earth to see these masters of the music universe is on game days at the Rattlers’ home field. Bragg Memorial Stadium seats 25,000, but nobody’s sitting down when the band shows off its moves and musicianship. With its slow and stunning “death cadence” and the triple-time march that leaves audiences gasping, the Marching 100 knows how to win hearts and raise pulses.
Slow things down with a leisurely campus stroll and discover the adventure in architecture and design that FAMUans enjoy every day. The Rattlers make their home on the highest of Tallahassee’s Seven Hills, looking out over 420 acres that include more than a dozen buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Of special note is the old Carnegie Library, one of many financed at the turn of the 20th century by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Today, it’s the home of the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum. The Center is one of 10 black archives in the United States and among the largest repositories of African-American history and culture in the Southeast.
Lee Hall, built in 1928, is the centerpiece of FAMU’s historic district and cultural life. It holds a spot on the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious AIA’s “Florida Architecture: 100 Years, 100 Places” list and houses the 1,200-seat Lee Hall Auditorium, a venue well known to north Florida lovers of the performing arts.
Season after season, the Essential Theatre Series lives up to its name with classical and contemporary productions that appeal to the most demanding audiences. FAMU’s thespians cultivate the next generation of artists and audiences with a Morning Matinee Series aimed at schoolchildren, and available to seniors at discounted rates.
The University Concert Choir continues to grow its reputation and its repertoire of jazz, classical and contemporary music. The Gospel Choir, formed in 1957, continues to set spirits soaring. The annual Wind Symphony, Jazz Ensemble and African-Caribbean concerts round out the FAMU musical calendar.
Savor the flavor of the Florida’s sweet muscadine grapes at the FAMU Center for Viticulture’s Annual Grape Harvest Festival. August is the most wonderful time of the year for oenophiles, as the Rattlers roll out the red carpet for visitors to the school's vineyards, located off campus near Interstate 10. Pick a few grape clusters to take home, and enjoy wine-making workshops, a vineyard walk/run, and grape stomping contests, just like in the movies.
The visual arts are well-represented in galleries located on the second, third and fourth floors of the Samuel H. Coleman Memorial Library. While you’re there, visit the Heritage Room, which showcases “limited editions and historical resources that are significant to FAMU’s history as well as to African American life and culture.”
The Scholar, a 20-foot-tall welded steel sculpture, is located in the rear courtyard of the library. Designed by the late Frank Toby Martin, The Scholar inspires students to pursue a life of the mind.
Soak up the smarts at FAMU’s Artists in Bloom Festival, a week long spring fling of panels and performances produced by the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities.
FAMU is known for it Campus Ambassadors who provide customized tours for prospective students and their families as well as the general public. A Rattler Concierge is a walking Wikipedia of FAMU’s history, current events and traditions. Call ahead and let them help you make the most of your visit.
When you go…
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University
1601 S. Martin L. King Jr. Blvd.
Tallahassee, Fla. 32307
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