Iconic HBCU President Frederick Humphries Dies

Frederick S. Humphries, a man of science who became an architect for the modern HBCU presidency, died this evening in Orlando. He was 85.

A Florida native with a penchant for flair in delivery and a vision for institutional capacity building, Humphries lead two of the nation’s historically Black land grant institutions to national prominence over his 27 years as a campus CEO at Tennessee State University and Florida A&M University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1957.

In Nashville, Humphries presided over an institution defined by a landmark federal desegregation ruling which merged the University of Tennessee - Nashville into the historically Black college in 1980. Under his leadership between 1974 and 1985, the institution saw historic gains in enrollment, programmatic development.

From the Tennessee State archives:

Dr. Frederick S. Humphries demonstrated highly effective administration skills which resulted in the improvement and expansion of academic programs, upgraded faculty, increased enrollment and quality of students, and expanded scholarships and support activities. However, he will likely be remembered most for his bold and tenacious fight for the rights of a historically black university which was located in the same area with a historically white university when he insisted on the predominance of Tennessee State University over the University of Tennessee at Nashville (UTN). This ultimately led to the merger of TSU and UTN, with TSU becoming the surviving institution, heralded as one of the fairest and most important desegregation decisions of the 20th century. Humphries achieved a national reputation as a dedicated fighter for the cause of the continued existence of HBCUs and opportunities for minorities.

In 1985, he was named president of Florida A&M University. Regarded as the institution’s greatest president and a fiercely beloved figure in the FAMU campus community until his death, Humphries is credited with building the university’s national brand, culminating in the school being named ‘College of the Year’ by TIME Magazine and the Princeton Review in 1998.

From the FAMU archives:

The Humphries Years were heralded as a time of unprecedented expansion and achievement.  President Humphries presided over the University’s Centennial Celebration that began with his inauguration and ended with the burying of a time capsule.  During Humphries’ tenure, enrollment soared from 5,100 [1985] to 9,551 [1992].  And by the 1998-1999 school year, enrollment had reached 12,000 students.  Aggressive and competitive recruitment campaigns attracted more talented students, and FAMU consistently ranked nationally among the top five colleges and universities for enrolling National Achievement finalists.  In 1992, 1995 and 1997, FAMU enrolled more National Achievement finalists than Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  In 1999, Black Issues in Higher Education cited FAMU for awarding more baccalaureate degrees to African-Americans than any other institution in this nation.

Humphries also served as president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education from 2001 to 2004 and served as an ambassador and fundraiser for FAMU and HBCUs in the years following his formal retirement from leadership.