Before 1958, Florida state law banned Black attendance at public universities. Between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied for admission to all levels of UF, and all were rejected. In 1949 Virgil Hawkins applied to the University of Florida’s Law School. Five other Black students applied with Hawkins to UF graduate and law programs, but all were refused admission. Under the leadership of the NAACP, they sued in the Florida Supreme Court for an order requiring UF to admit them. After appearing before the Florida Supreme Court three times and the U.S. Supreme Court twice, Hawkins entered into a consent decree (agreed judgment) and agreed to withdraw his lawsuit in exchange for the integration of UF’s graduate and professional schools. Virgil Hawkins eventually received his J.D. 27 years after first applying to the University of Florida.
The University of Florida’s first African American student, George H. Starke, registered for classes at the College of Law on September 15, 1958. Starke attended for three trimesters. Daphne Duval Williams was the first Black student to enroll in UF’s College of Education. At the same time, Williams served as the Vice Principal for all-Black Lincoln High School in Gainesville. Cousin to Virgil Hawkins, Williams also wanted to follow his legacy of excellence, barrier breaking, and perseverance. Hawkins, Starke, and Williams were three of many “firsts” -- brave individuals who were the forerunners for others by their dedication to overcome racial injustice, and their sacrifice.
The desegregation of the University of Florida occurred with little backlash, incrementally across colleges and units. The work of creating a diverse, inclusive, welcoming university continues.