A Regal Tradition
The 111th Miss FAMU carries on the university’s legacy of student service
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The stage curtains were lowered as students filed into Lee Auditorium at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University one warm Sunday night in October 2017. Behind them, with the lights down, Royal Court attendants and the evening’s performers hurried past a raised platform where two white, high-backed armchairs glowed in the dim light — the thrones where the new Miss and Mister FAMU would soon sit.
Amberly Williams and Randall Griffin served as last year’s reigning Miss and Mister FAMU and participated in this year’s passing of the ceremonial titles.
In the auditorium vestibule, the directors of the evening’s Coronation Ceremony, in suits and headsets, lined up the Royal Ambassadors to the Court — dozens of students from FAMU’s various colleges, schools and student organizations who must be seated in order to salute the new Miss and Mister later in the program.
The 110th Miss FAMU, Amberly Williams, also stood outside, elegant in a bright red dress with a floor-length hem, making small talk with the 17th Mister FAMU, Randall Griffin. For the past year, the pair had almost always been on display. They appeared to wear the responsibility of always being looked at lightly, to smile easily, to seem genuinely thrilled to meet anyone who approached. Although the new Miss and Mister FAMU had already begun to fulfill their job duties, tonight would serve as the official handoff of the positions.
Outside the tiny green room, where, behind the door, the royal escorts were helping the 18th Mister FAMU to dress, Ariston Ackerman waited with his father. Ariston had been cast as one of four attendants who would soon carry the official crowns and scepters, called the Royal Adornments. Although he was a small child, made to stand still, and he had been dressed in a miniature white, three-piece suit and tiny white dress shoes, Ariston didn’t complain. By all appearances, his clothes barely concerned him.
Ariston wore the same expression as the two little girls in white who helped the attendants who dressed the 111th Miss FAMU in another green room. Children develop this look — a wide-eyed curiosity and barely suppressed grin — when they know something big is about to happen.
Attendants representing each undergraduate class at FAMU, the King and Queen of Orange and Green, and a graduate attendant and escort serve on the Royal Court.
A face to represent the university
Roger Walker, now a faculty advisor to the Royal Court, was a member of the court as an undergraduate student at FAMU in the ’90s.
“I’ve been involved with advising Royal Courts ever since I started teaching,” he said, and noted that FAMU’s Developmental Research School, where he also works, has a royal court.
“When we look at what Miss FAMU is, in terms of the institution, it’s a tradition that evolved out of pageantry and the need to have a face that represents the university,” Walker said.
The Royal Court tradition is old — generations of women have now been called Miss FAMU.
Richie Belle Stewart, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 100, was crowned the first “Miss FAMCEE” in 1929. The college president at the time, J.R.E. Lee, presided over a great period of physical expansion and reorganization at FAMU (1924–44) with the goal of making the institution “second to none” in the South. Lee had been born a slave.
One of several child Rattlers to carry adornments on stage, Ariston Ackerman was excited to participate in the evening’s coronation.
In the early days, the Royal Court was comprised of two female attendants from the junior and senior classes. FAMU’s student government created the positions for the rest of the court later on: attendants from the freshman and sophomore classes as well as a graduate attendant, and then the King and Queen of Orange and Green to rally student spirit by leading chants and dances at football games and other events. The student body president escorted Miss FAMU until a position was created for Mister FAMU 18 years ago. Most positions on the Royal Court are elected, except the men who escort the attendants from each class, chosen by Mister FAMU through an application process.
Most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a court that represents the university at official events, to assist with recruitment and engage with alumni, said Andre Green, who serves as associate director of new student orientation and advises the Royal Court.
A position on the court also offers student leaders the chance to connect with their counterparts on other HBCU campuses. Miss and Mister FAMU and the King and Queen of Orange and Green attend the annual HBCU Leadership Conference prior to the start of their academic year term. The magazine EBONY holds an HBCU Campus Queens Contest each year, which pits Miss FAMU against queens from some 60 other HBCUs, including Howard University, North Carolina A&T, Spelman College and Xavier University of Louisiana.
“It’s a job. Like the student body president who works for the students, Miss and Mister FAMU work for the students,” Green said. “We pay for their clothing, their hotels, their meals. We provide housing and a meal plan.”
Professional businesspeople with close ties to FAMU come to the school to train Royal Court members at the start of the new school year.
“FAMU, this crown is your crown and this reign is your reign,” Johnson told the crowd.
“When the president of the university asks the Royal Court to meet with alumni or a corporation to fundraise, they need to know how to carry themselves,” Green said. “We do an etiquette seminar, teach them how you sit down when you get to the dinner table, how to make dinner conversation, what fork and knife to use.
“A lot of times, they’ll be out at football games where they’ll be sweaty, so we talk about how curls work in heat. We learn that true ladies never swear, never gossip. … The men learn how to tie bow ties, Windsor knots, the length of hair and how it should be cut, different dress styles.”
Miss and Mister FAMU lead recruitment efforts locally and on campus, and the entire Royal Court travels with FAMU’s sports teams to talk to prospective students at away games, recruiting from the hubs of Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta.
“They tell their stories, they share their experiences and they really encourage students to consider FAMU — to make it their choice — through the way they present themselves,” Walker said.