Florida Memorial University is a private, co-ed, and Baptist-affiliated institution. It was founded by members of the Bethlehem Baptist Association in 1879, then called the Florida Baptist Institute. The purpose was to create “a College of instruction for our ministers and children.” Then-President Rev. Matthew Gilbert and other staff members fled Live Oak for Jacksonville after an unknown person fired shots into one of the school’s buildings. In Jacksonville, he founded the Florida Baptist Academy in the basement of Bethel Baptist Church. The next president, Nathan White Collier, tapped the help of renowned composer J. Rosamond Johnson to teach music at the school. While employed by the institution, Rosamond composed music for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a poem written by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, creating the “Negro National Anthem.”
Students from Florida Memorial joined the efforts during the Civil Rights Movement, participating in sit-ins, wade-ins, and swim-ins, orchestrated by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Notable Alumni Include: gospel singer Freddie Lee Peterkin and the first and youngest Black pilot to fly solo around the world, Barrington Irving, Jr.