The Florida Normal and Industrial Institute came to St. Augustine in 1918 through the merger of two earlier institutions dedicated to serving former slaves and their descendants.

In 1941 the private historically Black school grew to become a four-year liberal arts institution, with its first class graduating in 1945. Students were active in the Civil Rights demonstrations in the city and organized a chapter of the NAACP on campus in 1961. The school’s name changed to Florida Memorial College in 1963. In 1965, with racial violence related to the city’s Civil Rights movement increasing, the college bought a tract of land in Dade County, moved to Miami in 1968, and was renamed Florida Memorial University in 2006.

The final remnant of the institution is the Abraham Lincoln Lewis Archway, named after the first Black millionaire in Florida. Lewis was a businessman and founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company of Jacksonville, Florida in 1901. He also founded American Beach, a community listed on the National Register that became a prestigious vacation spot for Black visitors during the segregation period.

Lewis paid for the construction of the arch, now located on the corner of Holmes Boulevard and West King Street. Initially on the opposite side of the street, the arch was moved in 2009, then restoration efforts soon followed. The restored archway was dedicated in 2011 when Florida Memorial students and alumni gathered to remember the history of the school and honor A.L. Lewis’s legacy.

Photo & Content: St. Johns Cultural Council