In the midst of creating North Florida Community College in 1958, the Florida Division of Community Colleges developed a statewide system of 12 all-black junior colleges that provided very important stepping stone for black Floridians. Because many African Americans were denied higher education due to segregation and economic hurdles, the development of these junior colleges provided a solution. One of those colleges was located right here in Madison County. Established in 1959, the Suwannee River Junior College (SRJC) gave black residents of north Florida and south Georgia the opportunity to pursue post-secondary level education and enrich their lives. SRJC served five surrounding counties including Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor. The founding president of SRJC was James J. Gardener. Gardener was a principal for Williston Vocational High in Williston, Fl. at the time but reported to work at SRJC in June, just two months before the first classes were set to begin. Gardener resigned in 1961, and Jenyethel Merritt took over as president. Meritt became the first female president in Florida's community college system.
Merritt remained president until 1966, when SRJC merged with North Florida Junior College (now called North Florida Community College) in 1967. Merritt became vice president of guided studies after the merge. The college curriculum was structured for transfer students that intended to attend Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. The curriculum showed little change as the years went by, except for the development of a secretarial science program. During the first year, a total of 90 students were enrolled. As time went by, this number increased. From 1960 to 1961, a total of 170 students were enrolled, and that next year, from 1961 to 1962, 234 students were enrolled. The college had its all-time high enrollment from 1964 to 1965 with a total of 402 students. According to NFCC's website, the college featured many extra-curricular activities including basketball, the May Day festival, Miss SRJC, benefit recitals, homecoming, art exhibits, musical performances, the Alligator yearbook and even a college newspaper. In 1964, after the Civil Rights Act passed through Congress, the Florida Department of Education pushed for the consolidation of SRJC and NFJC. Like many other African American community colleges, SRJC had a short lifespan, lasting only seven years. Classes were held for the last time in 1966.
The historical marker for SRJC is located at CR-350A between SW Atwater Drive and SW Christmas Tree Drive in Madison, sponsored by the Madison County Commissioners and the Florida Department of State.
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1. Photo Submitted. The historical marker for Suwannee River Junior College is located at CR-350A between SW Atwater Drive and SW Christmas Tree Drive in Madison.
2. Photo Submitted. Jenyethel Merritt was the first female president for a community college and served at Suwannee Junior River College for five years.