The University of Florida commemorated 60 years of desegregation with a ceremony honoring George Starke Jr., UF’s first African-American student.
Starke, pictured above, enrolled as a law student in 1958 and returned to UF Nov. 7 to reflect on his experience and his legacy.
“George Starke blazed a trail that our students still follow today,” said UF Levin College of Law Dean Laura Rosenbury. “He broke barriers not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of those he would never meet.”
The event, organized by the college’s Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, also honored Virgil Hawkins, who was denied admission to UF in 1949 because of his race and fought the decision for nine years. The United States Supreme Court ruled that Hawkins should be admitted without delay, but the Florida Supreme Court still refused. Hawkins, who died in 1988, eventually withdrew his application in exchange for the desegregation of UF’s graduate and professional schools.
Dean Rosenbury thanked the Hawkins and Starke families and recognized Judge Stephan Mickle, who in 1965 became the first African-American student to earn an undergraduate degree from UF. Mickle, a 1970 UF Law grad, attended the event.
“Your families and so many other families in the state of Florida endured a terrible injustice when the state refused to admit so many promising students solely because of their race,” Rosenbury said. “We will never be able to erase that injustice. It lives with us.”
“We owe Mr. Starke and Mr. Hawkins and their families a deep debt that we can never repay,” she said, pledging to “recruit the best and most diverse law students from all walks of life.”
George Starke Jr. receives a registration packet on his first day of classes at UF, Sept. 15, 1958. Photo from the Gainesville Sun via the UF Libraries.
Katheryn Russell-Brown, the Chesterfield Smith professor of law at UF and …