Many turned out for a memorial service in honor of Dr. Frederick Stephen Humphries, a stalwart of higher education and President Emeritus of Tennessee State University and Florida A&M University, who inspired the “ordinary to become extraordinary.”
Dr. Humphries, who was TSU’s fourth president, passed away on June 24 at the age of 85. The memorial service on July 18 was held at TSU’s Avon Williams Campus near downtown.
A number of those who attended recalled his leadership and staunch support of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). But they also talked about his role in helping to win the landmark court case that merged Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee at Nashville, with TSU becoming the surviving institution. The campus where the memorial was held was once a part of UTN.
Historians have said the posture and eloquence of Humphries in court is largely held as being responsible for the court decision, along with the presentation of attorney Avon Williams, and the efforts of Tennesseans for Justice in Higher Education. Between 1980 and 1985, Humphries and his staff gave leadership to the merged TSU and began serving an increasingly larger portion of the Nashville community.
Georgette Dixon attended Sunday’s memorial. Dixon, who became TSU’s first female student government association president (‘82-’83) during Humphries’ 11 years (1974-1975) at TSU, was among the grand marshals when Humphries received a Special Presidential Award at TSU’s 2017 Homecoming.
“Dr. Humphries reached the goal of preserving the legacy of Tennessee state university and other HBCUs across the nation that have faced similar challenges of potential merger and hostile takeover when he led the fight and won the landmark court decision resulting in the merger of the University of Tennessee Nashville with Tennessee State University, and we maintained our TSU legacy,” said Dixon, who is currently an executive vice president and head of external engagement for diverse segments representation and inclusion at Wells Fargo.
While at TSU, Humphries’ excellent administration skills resulted in recruitment of top faculty, better academic programs, increased enrollment and quality of students, and expanded scholarships and support activities.
In 1985, Humphries became president of Florida A&M University, where he excelled for six years, gaining increased recognition on the state, national, and international levels. Florida A&M later conferred upon him the President Emeritus title.
Regardless of where he was, Dixon said Humphries made a difference.
“Every living soul that Dr. Humphries has touched over his lifetime is better today for having been in his midst and benefitted from his legacy,” she said. “Dr. Humphries paved the way for all of us, his family, his friends, and all whom he influenced and inspired, to rise above the ordinary, to become extraordinary, in life and in the pursuit of excellence.”
Bryan Williams, who was also an SGA president (‘77-’78) during Humphries’ tenure, agreed. The New York attorney could not attend the memorial service, but he sent a letter to be read, as did others.
“He was absolutely inspirational,” said Williams. “I think he inspired a lot of folks to know just how much they could stand up, and be aggressive, in a way that got things done. I know he inspired me, as a young man looking to the kinds of people that you can be later on in life. He was one of my heroes.”
Humphries was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the American Association of Higher Education, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Minority Research Universities, just to name a few.
His honors and awards include the Drum Major for Justice Award in Education by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; President’s Award for Excellence in Higher Education by 100 Black Men of America, Inc.; Leadership Grant by the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America Foundation; and many others. Among Humphries’ most memorable awards are the Distinguished Alumnus Award presented by the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh; the United Bicentennial Medal of Distinction by the University of Pittsburgh on its 200th anniversary; the Thurgood Marshall Educational Achievement Award by Johnson Publishing Company for the most outstanding contributions to education; and ‘Floridian of the Year’ by the Orlando Sentinel, the first African American to be honored with the award.