The Edward Waters University Tigers football team. (Will Brown)

Saturday’s inaugural Big City Classic game between the Edward Waters University Tigers and Florida Memorial University Lions, suggests that Historically Black College and University (HBCU) football is alive and well in Jacksonville’s Urban Core. A major reason is due to a new football stadium recently constructed on the campus of Edward Waters University in Northwest Jacksonville. Primarily funded by the City of Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry was quoted in a recent WJCT article stating that “this is about more than a football field, about more than a stadium. This is about investing in this prestigious institution, this historic community, and the betterment of our entire community. To put it simply, whenever Waters succeeds, when the New Town neighborhood succeeds, Jacksonville succeeds. This stadium and the events that will happen here will bring more visitors, economic opportunities, it will be a vital resource for neighbors and improving their quality of life.”

Named Nathaniel Glover Community Field and Stadium, after the popular former Jacksonville Sheriff and Edward Waters president, the stadium’s opening event was the first football game ever held between two historic universities with ties to Jacksonville’s urban core. Founded in 1866, Edwards Waters University is the oldest Historic Black University in Florida. Situated on East Beaver Street in the Black Bottom, the original Jacksonville campus was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1901. This disaster led to Edward Waters acquiring the current campus site in 1904.

Edward Waters University along Kings Road in 1928. (City of Jacksonville)

Florida Memorial began as the Florida Baptist Institute in Live Oak in 1879. In 1892, then-President Rev. Matthew Gilbert and other staff members fled to Jacksonville, establishing the Florida Baptist Academy following racial tensions in Live Oak. Then located in the Eastside, John Rosamond Johnson was a faculty member when he composed the music to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing in 1900. Then named Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, the school moved in St. Augustine in 1918, expanding into a four-year liberal arts college in 1941. The school’s former Jacksonville campus was redeveloped into Matthew Gilbert High School in 1928. Due to racial unrest during the 1960s, Florida Memorial relocated to its current campus in Miami in 1968.

Saturday’s game was the first of what should grow to become an intense rivalry between the two Florida universities. The Black college football scene, featuring marching bands with a distinctive style of play that originated in the American South during the 1940s, is a cultural tradition that Jacksonville should embrace to capitalize on economic opportunities for Kings Road and the neighborhoods surrounding Edward Waters.

Florida A&M University Marching 100 performance in 1972 in Tampa.

The combination of a first class facility and an important element of Black southern culture was clearly on display at the packed stadium, despite frequent rain and a short lightening delay. While the first HBCU band was established at Tuskegee in 1890, Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University marching band is recognized as perfecting the earliest incarnation of modern HBCU playing style. This distinctive style is characterized by the fusing of high energy, high stepping precision in marching and dance routines with popular songs of the day.

Locally, the Edward Waters University Triple Threat marching band is a renowned program that has been persistently in high demand itself. The battle between the Triple Threat and Florida Memorial University’s Roar marching band was a continuation of a long standing cultural tradition that should be highlighted and promoted more throughout the Jacksonville region.

Edward Waters University takes the field for the first time at the Nathaniel Glover Community Field and Stadium. (Will Brown)

Here are a few sights and scenes from this past weekend’s festive Black college football atmosphere at the new Nathaniel Glover Community Field and Stadium. In case you’re wondering, the Edward Waters University Tigers won the game 24-20.

Next Page: Big Cat Classic photographs by Will Brown

Follow Will Brown on Instagram and Twitter at @wwbrown19