Cookman Institute, the right place and time
*The creation of Cookman Institute in 1872 is celebrated on this date. This was one of the first schools for Blacks that preceded America’s many Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Located in Jacksonville, Florida the Rev. S. B. Darnell founded this school, which was named after the Rev. Alfred Cookman, a Methodist minister, who gave money for the assembly of the first building. Associated with Georgia’s Clark University, Cookman was the first institution for the higher education of Negroes in the State of Florida, and for a long time it was the only school of the kind in the State. For nearly half a century it maintained a high moral, spiritual, and intellectual standard for the thousands of young Black men and women who came under its influence.
Many blacks in Florida loved and honored "Old Cookman"; and the names of Dr. Darnell and "Miss Lillie," Miss Lillie M. Whitney, a former and greatly loved teacher, were warm with memories. Many of the early pupils were ex-slaves eager to learn. Old men and old women sat side by side with boys and girls in the classes. School at night and day school were conducted. The great Jacksonville fire of 1901 destroyed all of the buildings. It was (then) decided to secure a new location before rebuilding, in order to get the school a little farther from the center of town. After rebuilding, the enrollment was about two hundred and fifty. Cookman had classes in all the elementary grades and in the four high school grades. In addition there were special courses in normal training, music, domestic science, sewing, and public speaking and they added sewing, shoemaking, printing, business, and agriculture.
The educational opportunities for Blacks at the time were inadequate, and Cookman's future, particularly as a training school for teachers was intense and useful. Nearly half the population of Jacksonville was Black at the turn of the twentieth century and the demand for teachers was huge. From Cookman a stream of selected young people went on to further study at Clark, Meharry, Gammon, and other colleges and professional schools. Cookman President selected Professor Isaac H. Miller of Clark to serve as principal. Under his capable leadership the school was transformed both physically and spiritually.
Cookman Institute was merged in 1923 with the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute of Daytona Beach, founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Together they became Bethune-Cookman College.
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York