The History of Edward Waters College
Edward Waters College (EWC) is, distinctively, Florida’s oldest independent institution of higher learning as well as the state’s first institution established for the education of African Americans.
Edward Waters College began as an institution founded by blacks, for blacks. In 1865, following the Civil War, the Reverend Charles H. Pearce, a presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was sent to Florida by Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne. Observing the fast-paced social and political changes of the Reconstruction era, Rev. Pearce immediately recognized the need for an education ministry, as no provision had yet been made for the public education of Florida’s newly emancipated blacks. Assisted by the Reverend William G. Steward, the first AME pastor in the state, Pearce began to raise funds to build a school.
This school, established in 1866, was to eventually evolve into Edward Waters College. From the beginning, EWC was faced with both abject poverty and widespread illiteracy among its constituents resulting from pre-war conditions of servitude and historical, legally enforced non-schooling of African Americans. However, the school met the needs of its community by offering courses at the elementary, high school, college, and seminary levels. Construction of the first building began in October 1872 on ten acres of land in Live Oak. Further support for this new educational institution
came from numerous friends, including railroad magnate General M.S. Littlefield, state Treasurer Simon Conaber, and Lieutenant General William Gleason. In 1892 the school’s name was changed to Edward Waters College in honor of the third Bishop of the AME Church.
In February 2011 the Edward Waters College Board of Trustees appointed Jacksonville
native and alumnus Mr. Nathaniel Glover as President. As the 29th president, Glover continues the work of his predecessors by focusing on training students to be successful in the 21st century global economy and ensuring that they matriculate in a safe environment.
With a history beginning in the dark yet hopeful days of Reconstruction, today’s Edward Waters College is living, thriving proof of the power of education and the resilience of deeply rooted educational institutions. The College continues to experience the triumphs and challenges characteristic of its rich history and the bold dynamic future to which it aims.
The Great Fire of 1901
In 1901 the City of Jacksonville was destroyed by fire and Edward Waters College was reduced to ashes. In 1904 the Board of Trustees purchased the present site of the school on Kings Road with the imperative from Bishop M.B. Salter that Edward Waters College must be rebuilt. Under the continued visionary leadership and direction of great Bishops of the AME Church and twenty-eight focused presidents, Edward Waters College was indeed “rebuilt.”