Our History

A History of Edward Waters College
And it’s Ascension to the Edward Waters University

Founded in 1866 by members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Edward Waters University (formerly Edward Waters College) is the state of Florida’s first independent institution of higher learning, and Florida’s first institution established to educate African Americans.

Edward Waters College (EWC) is an institution founded by African Americans for African Americans. In 1865, following the Civil War, the Reverend Charles H. Pearce, a presiding elder of the 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. No provision had yet been made for the public education of Florida’s newly emancipated African Americans. Assisted by the Reverend William G. Steward, the first AME pastor in Florida, Pearce began raising funds to build a school.

In 1866, EWC, initially named Brown Theological Institute by Rev. William G. Steward. In 1874, the institution’s name changed to Brown University. The school experienced financial difficulties and was forced to close for nearly a decade. In 1883, the school reopened under the name East Florida Conference High School, and later, East Florida Scientific and Divinity High School under the direction of Rev. William Preston Ross. Within a decade, the educational program was extended and in 1892, the school’s name was changed to Edward Waters College in honor of the third bishop of the AME Church. Through the years, the school has withstood the test of time. In 1901, when the City of Jacksonville was destroyed by fire, EWC was reduced to ashes. However 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 the college should be rebuilt.

Edward Waters College was first accredited as a junior college in 1955 under President William B. Stewart, and by 1960 the school restored its four-year curriculum. In 1979, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accredited the College as a four-year institution, and it today remains accredited by SACSCOC.

With a history rooted in the dark yet hopeful days of Reconstruction, today’s Edward Waters University is living, thriving proof of the power of education, and the resilience of focused, missionally established institutions. Under the persistent visionary leadership and direction of great Bishops of the AME Church and twenty-nine dedicated presidents, Edward Waters University was indeed “rebuilt.”

On July 16, 2018, the Edward Waters College Board of Trustees, unanimously elected Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr. as the 30th president of EWC in Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Faison is a visionary higher education leader having set an audacious vision for EWC as an institution destined for Emerging Eminence. President Faison has led development and implementation of an exceptional strategic plan and agenda for the institution, titled Eminence 2025. Under the leadership of President Faison, the college has undergone a historic transformation, having been authorized in June 2021 by its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), to progress from a baccalaureate to master’s level degree-granting institution. This designation enabled Edward Waters College to finally become Edward Waters University (EWU). This is a critical, milestone achievement by Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., who is now the University’s first President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The inauguration of Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., as the First President and CEO of Edward Waters University, is a historic milestone achievement in the history of this institution. With a distinguished higher education lineage spanning over 155 years, EWU is primed to continue its Emerging Eminence as a premier urban, private, Christian, Historically Black, liberal arts university offering high-quality academic programs. 

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