Summation of Life & Leadership of FAMU’s PAST Presidents, Series Part 2: Nathan B. Young [1901-1922]

About the Series

Photo Nathan B. Young Courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Photo Nathan B. Young
Courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Nathan B. Young was born to Susan Smith, an African American who escaped slavery when Young was just three years old. She settled in a home of her own in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and married Frank Young. Nathan assumed Frank’s surname. Susan was determined that Nathan receive a good education. Nathan Young received a teacher’s diploma from Talladega College before attending Oberlin College earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1888 and a Master of Arts degree in 1891. Late in his career, Talladega College and Selma University would award Young honorary degrees of Doctors of Letters. In 1892, Booker T. Washington employed Young to teach at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Young stayed at Tuskegee for five years and served as the head of the academic department until conflict developed between Young and Washington over Washington’s emphasis on vocational training. In 1897, Young accepted the position of Director of Teacher Training at Georgia State Industrial College (now Savannah State University). While Young worked at the Georgia State Industrial College he became frustrated with the school’s board of directors’ efforts to limit black education to vocational training. Like FAMU’s first president, Thomas De Saille Tucker, Nathan Young believed in literacy. At every stop he sought to balance the vocational education programs with liberal arts programs. This continuously placed him at odds with those who sought to limit the education of blacks to vocational training. Even after his days at FAMC, Young faced a similar situation as President of Lincoln University in Missouri. There, his emphasis on literacy led to him being fired, rehired, and not long thereafter resigning in 1931.

On December 1, 1981, Young married Emma Mae Garette. They had two children. Emma Young died in 1904. In 1908 Young married Margaret Bickley. They had two sons and one daughter. Young died under the care of his daughter in Tampa, Florida in 1933.


  • The Superintendent of Colleges for the State of Florida, William Sheats, recruited Young away from Georgia with the idea that he would reorganize the curriculum to place more emphasis on vocational training and less on literacy. When Young was recruited he was told to submit a plan for reorganization. When he met with the Board he didn’t have a written plan, however, with Sheats’ support the Board approved him as the next president anyway.
  • Being true to himself, Young sought to balance the agricultural and vocational education program with a liberal arts program.
  • The Morrill Act required that those receiving funds establish military training. One of Young’s first acts was to create a military training program. His purpose in doing so was not to make soldiers of the students, but to create respect for authority and maintain order among the male students. Mathematician and painting instructor William H. A. Howard was appointed the first military program instructor.
  • In 1904 the Agriculture building was destroyed in a fire. This increased an already desperate need for an increase to the physical plant. Similar to Tucker’s presidency, Young would repeatedly ask for funds to repair facilities and build new ones and over and over again the Florida legislature would all but ignore the requests.
  • Through the Buckman Act in 1905, the Florida legislature reorganized the college system by eliminating some colleges, consolidating some colleges, and creating others.
    Schools Abolished or Consolidated

    • Florida Agriculture College located at Lake City
    • West Florida Seminary located at Tallahassee
    • Normal School for Whites located at DeFuniak Springs
    • Florida Agricultural Institute located in Osceola
    • South Florida College located at Bartow
    • St. Petersburg Normal and Industrial School in St. Petersburg
    • East Florida Seminary located in Gainesville

    Schools Established

    • University of the State of Florida at Gainesville (a consolidation of Florida Agriculture College in Lake City, South Florida College in Bartow, St. Petersburg Normal and Industrial School in St. Petersburg, and East Florida Seminary in Gainesville; now the University of Florida)
    • Female Seminary, to be known as the Florida Female College, located in Tallahassee (now Florida State University)
    • Florida Normal and Industrial School for Negroes in Tallahassee (already in existence under Young’s leadership; now Florida A&M University)
  • The Buckman Act also created a Board of Control to give direct oversight to the Normal College with given authority to hire and fire, audit and approve all accounts and expenditures, and make purchases. Though this assured that Young would not have the same autonomy that Tucker once had, Young saw this move as an opportunity for the Normal College to receive greater attention and support from the state.
  • In 1905 the main building was destroyed in a fire. It housed the library, administrative officers, and cafeteria. This created a greater strain on the need to update and expand the physical plant.
  • Through a (Andrew) Carnegie grant amounting to $10,000 and private donations, Young established a new, well stocked library.
  • In 1909 the legislature renamed the college the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (FAMC) to better align the name with the college’s purpose as an agricultural college.
  • Among Young’s successes was the construction of the Florida A&M Hospital in 1911 and the expansion of the Hospital and Nursing Training Program under the direction of Jeanie Virginia Hilyer, a registered nurse. In a rare situation, with the help of local doctors the program treated white and black patients throughout Leon County. Young acquired private donations, such as the John F. Slater Fund, which helped with the expansion.
  • Young established a very active and successful Farmers’ Institute providing assistance to local farmers.
  • At the point that the Normal College became FAMC, the curriculum had not met the requirements for a state and nationally recognized bachelor of arts degree. By the end of Young’s tenure FAMC had become a four-year degree-granting institution offering Bachelor of Science degrees in education, science, home economics, agriculture, and mechanical arts.
  • Although by the end of Young’s tenure he was desperately seeking funds to repair and expand the physical plant, he received the same kind of treatment as Tucker from the Board and legislature. Only small sums were appropriated annually by the State legislature with additional funds from the Morill Act land grant program and the John F. Slater Fund, which helped to sustain the growth under less than ideal conditions.
  • In spite of all of Young’s success and stellar reputation, the Board grew to dislike his leadership because of his insistence on literacy, increased salary pay for his teachers, and additional construction. At odds with the Board of Control, Young in 1923 resigned and accepted the presidential post at Lincoln College in Missouri.

NEXT: William H. A. Howard, Acting [1922-1924]


  1. **Photos from Jackson Davis Collection of African American Photographs courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.
  2. Holland, A. F. (June 2008). Nathan B. Young, The Encyclopedia of Alabama. Alabama Humanities Foundation and Auburn University, 2008-. Gratis Last visited February 2013. Retrieved from on April 27, 2016.
  3. Holland, A. F. (2006). Nathan B. Young and the struggle over black higher education. University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London.
  4. Neyland, L. W. & Riley, J. W (1963). the history of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, University of Florida Press, Gainesville.

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