Edward Waters College

May 17, 2010 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Anchoring Mid-Westside, Edward Waters College was founded in 1866 to educate freed former slaves and is the oldest black college in Florida.

About Edward Waters College

Edward Waters College is a private, historically black college whose future is lined with pride, growth, and success. Edward Waters College, the oldest private institution of higher education in the state of Florida, was founded in 1866 specifically to educate newly freed slaves.

Celebrating 140 years of service, Edward Waters College was initially named "Brown Theological Institute" by Rev. William G. Steward, the first AME pastor in the state. The school experienced some financial difficulties and was forced to close for nearly a decade. In 1883, the school reopened under the name of "East Florida Conference High School” and later, “East Florida Scientific and Divinity High School”. Within a decade, the educational program was extended and the school’s name was changed to Edward Waters College in honor of the third bishop of the AME church. Through the years, the College has withstood the test. After being destroyed by fire in 1901, the College acquired the current site in 1904 and began to rebuild. The school was first accredited as a junior college in 1955 under President William B. Stewart, and by 1960 the College had restored its four-year curriculum. In 1979, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredited the College as a four-year institution and the College remains accredited by SACS.

Edward Waters College continues under the leadership of President Dr. Claudette H. Williams, the 28th president who took the helm June 2007. She brings leadership experience and continues the legacy of academic excellence and institutional pride through the "Double E Principle: Excellence and Ethics". The Principle encourages the student’s desire and thirst for knowledge, unyielding commitment to service, and strong adherence to high ethical values. We believe these principles are the characteristics of a good citizen.

Located on the Kings Road corridor, in close proximity to downtown Jacksonville, FL, Edward Waters College continues to build upon its solid foundation of teaching, research, and community outreach. The College’s current enrollment is 839 students, with approximately 51% of the student body is male, 49% female, and over 90% of the students rely on financial aid. The College has also expanded its land and is still growing, and because of this growth, the College was highlighted in The Florida Leader Magazine "The Best of Florida Schools 2004" for the "Biggest Growth for Private Colleges". The Music and Fine Arts Department was also featured as the "Best Music for Private Colleges" which highlighted the world renowned EWC Choir and the Triple Threat Marching Band.

Football returned in 2001 after a 34-year absence with the program becoming a championship team. The Tigers were named 2004 SEAC Champions. Along with football, the marching band returned. The Triple Threat Marching Band has continued to make waves and has performed during halftime for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Purple Thunder Dance Squad, the group of plus-sized ladies who perform with the band, was highlighted in "The Best of Florida Schools 2005" as the "Best Non-Traditional Dance Squad". The Lady Tigers Basketball Team claimed its second EIAC Championship in 2005 as well as the Tigers Volleyball Team. The Baseball and Softball teams also clinched the 2005 EIAC Region 14 Championship.

Today the College stands as a beacon of hope for many young people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to enter higher education. Edward Waters College prepares students for careers in teaching, technology, research, religion, politics, and other leading fields of today and in the future. Edward Waters College is moving forward!

Lee-Cousins Building (B.F. Lee Theological Seminary Building) is a three-story Tudor Revival-style structure built in 1925-1927 to house the college's Theological Department. Today the building has the Milne Auditorium and administrative and business offices for the campus.

The George N. Collins Student Union Building

Centennial Hall is the oldest building on campus. Built in 1916, it was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places on May 4, 1976. Now the college library, this structure was designed by Richard Lewis Brown (1854-1948), Jacksonville's first-known black architect. Centennial Hall is also the home of the Obi-Scott-Umunna Collection of African Art. This collection consists of masks, musical instruments, bronze statuettes, carved ivory and many other artifacts represent artistic traditions that have thrived in Central and West Africa.

The Susie Tolbert House, is named for Susie Ella Middelton Tolbert. Ms. Tolbert was active in the civic, educational, and religious affairs of the community. Future plans involve renovating the structure to live on as an important landmark of the campus and serve as a Community Preservation learning laboratory.

The laboratory will be utilized as an internship center where EWC students will gain experience in historic developments in inner city neighborhoods, knowledge in research methodology, public speech, and use of development software.

The 50,000 square-foot John Hurst Adams – Jimmy R. Jenkins Community Sports and Music Center seats 1,800 persons and contains classrooms, music and fine arts suites, concession stands, locker rooms and offices. The facility was constructed at a cost of $9,000,00 and was the first major construction project on the campus in more than 40 years.

EWC Timeline

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne sent Reverend Charles H. Pearce, Presiding Elder of the AME Church, to Florida to establish the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Reverend Pearce observed the need for an educated ministry for newly emancipated blacks in the State and raised funds to establish a school. He was aided by the Reverend William G. Steward, the first AME pastor in the State.
Bishop Charles H. Pearce started a school for the education of newly-freed slaves, especially those wanting to enter the AME ministry.
Reverend W.D. Johnson named the school Brown Theological Institute.

Live Oak, Florida is chosen as the site for the new school.
The Brown Theological Institute was chartered by the state legislature. It then purchased ten acres of land in Live Oak where construction of the first building was undertaken. Further support for the effort came from numerous friends, including railroad magnate General M.S. Littlefield, State Treasurer Simon Conaber, and Lieutenant-General William Gleason. The name was changed to Brown University. Financial difficulties arose from an embezzlement scheme, awarding school properties to creditors. Consequently, the school ceased to function for a decade. There followed a series of name changes, adjustments in program offerings, and eventually changed locations.

A cornerstone laying ceremony with governor and dignitaries was held.


Erected for Educational Purposes
July 4th, A.D. 1872
By the A.M.E. Church
Rev. Chas. H. Pearce, P. E., Founder

Governor Ossian B. Hart authorized change of name to Brown’s University of the State of Florida.
The name was changed to Brown University.
After financial difficulties, Mt. Zion AME Church houses classes and the name was changed to Florida Normal Scientific and Divinity High School.
School holds commencement for its first five graduates.
The name was changed to Edward Waters College.
The Great Fire of Jacksonville destroyed the school, which was then located on Beaver Street.
1904 – 1908
School moves to current Kings Road location and begins rebuilding.
1908 – 1912
Bishop M. B. Salter erects Salter Hall.
1912 – 1916
Bishop John Hurst raises $15,000 to clear the school’s $13,000 debt.

Elder Pearce’s property is bought and remodeled into the Episcopal Residence.
Rev. G.E. Curry builds the Lee Building.
 The Putman Labor Company sues the school; the college is sold to satisfy the judgment. Rev. G.E. Curry bought the school and gave it back to the AME Church.
Early 1930s
The building program resumed with the construction of a cafeteria and women's dormitory. The H.Y. Tookes Building was completed in 1945 and served as the central library until 1979, when the Centennial Building was renovated for that purpose.
The College’s dining hall and girls dormitory were destroyed by fire.
Rev. G.E. Curry rebuilds the Dining Hall.
President Stewart sees the school accredited as a junior college by SACS.
The school expanded to offer senior college work.
The college gains four-year college status and begins to offer BA degrees.
1960s – 1970s
 Support dwindled and the school faced closing.
 The college renews its purpose and fervor under President Tucker.
The College grew to an average full-time enrollment of 650 students and became the 43rd member of the United Negro College Fund.
Football returns after 34 years. The Centennial Building was refurbished with funding from the Jessie Ball Dupont Foundation.
Construction for the John Hurst Adams/Jimmy R. Jenkins Sports and Music Center scheduled for completion in spring 2006.
The College celebrated 140 years of commitment to the community. The college continues to grow with enrollment of 842 students and over 150 faculty and staff.
Dr. Claudette H. Williams began her tenure as the 28th President of Edward Waters College and the first female President in the College’s History.

Morris Cone A & B was built in 1982 and has 22,580 square feet. The two buildings provide larger living spaces and better storage and closet space. The common area bathrooms and laundry rooms are centrally located on each floor. Morris Cone A is the men's dormitory; Morris Cone B is the women's dormitory. The facility has a total of 86 residential rooms.

Honor Village facility was leased in 2002 and is comprised of three mobile units designed for academic honor students. Students must have a 3.0 or above GPA. The units have a total of 22 rooms, which can house 44 students.

Future plans indicate continued growth along Kings Road, forming a viable pedestrian friendly connection between the school and the proposed north commuter rail corridor.

Notable Alumni

A. Philip Randolph - founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Nat Glover - former sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida  

Betty Holzendorf - former Florida State Senator (D-Jacksonville)  

Fredrick Douglass Harper - author and scholar  

Rahman Johnson - TV personality, actor and former Commissioner  

Reggie Brown - Jacksonville City Council Representative (D-District 10)  

Buck O'Neil - Negro League Baseball player  

Corrine Brown - honorary degrees to U.S. Representative who also served as a faculty member of the school  

Willye Dennis - Florida State Representative  

John Delaney - former mayor of Jacksonville, Florida and current president of the University of North Florida


Edward Waters College is located at 1658 Kings Road, just west of downtown Jacksonville.

Article by Ennis Davis