UF black alumni to mark 50th year of milestones


Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.

It's a 50th anniversary celebration of firsts this weekend as the University of Florida Association of Black Alumni host its annual Black Alumni Weekend.

Facts

UF BLACK ALUMNI WEEKEND

What: The 2012 University of Florida Black Alumni Weekend 50th anniversary celebration of integration milestones.
When: Opening ceremony, 3-4:30 p.m. Friday; Bid Whist and Spades Party, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday; reunion and football tailgate, 12:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Opening ceremony, UF College of Law; Bid Whist and Spades Party, UF Hilton; tailgate, Reitz Union.
Information: Call 352-392-1905 or visit ufalumni.ufl.edu/blackalumniweekend2012.

In 1962, W. George Allen became the first black to graduate from the UF law school and also the first black students were admitted to the undergraduate degree program.

Events to celebrate the milestones will be held Friday through Sunday and organizers are strongly encouraging Gainesville residents to attend the opening ceremony, which will be held from 3-4:30 p.m. Friday at the UF Levin College of Law Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Room.

Other highlights of the weekend will include an Old School Bid Whist and Spades Party from 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday at the UF Hilton Conference Center at 1714 SW 34th St. and a reunion and football tailgate event from 12:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Reitz Union Amphitheater and the Orange and Brew. There also is a champagne brunch and a dinner and soiree, but reservations are needed for these events.

The reunion and football tailgate will feature a special tribute to former UF athletes. They are:

—Ron Coleman, the first black track star to receive an athletic scholarship.

—Don Gaffney, the first black quarterback.

—Willie Jackson Sr., one of the first two black football players to receive a scholarship.

—John Williams, the first black kicker. Williams kicked a field goal 40 years ago that led to a home game against LSU ending in a 3-3 tie. At that time, there was no overtime play. LSU came into the game highly ranked and the Gators were heavy underdogs.

Terry Nealy of Tampa, president of the ABA, said former quarterback Chris Leak, who won't be able to attend the events, will record a short tribute to Gaffney.

Also, Nealy said the 90-minute opening ceremony will honor Allen and will be a great opportunity for people to learn about the history of integration at UF. The ceremony also will feature remarks by U.S. District Court Judge Stephan P. Mickle, the first black to graduate with an undergraduate degree. Mickle of Gainesville also will serve as the ceremonial ABA president this weekend.

Harley Herman, an Orlando attorney, will speak about the role the late Virgil Hawkins had in integrating UF. Hawkins battled UF in a lawsuit from 1949-1958 after being refused admission. The case ended with UF agreeing to allow black students to attend the law school, but not Hawkins. That opened the door for George Starke to become the first black ever to enroll at UF; however, he only attended law school for three semesters.

Hawkins did end up graduating from the New England College of Law, which was not accredited. He then had to fight to become a member of the Florida Bar. Hawkins died in 1988.

"Despite all of the baggage he carried with him, and all that was done to him, he was never bitter," Herman said. "He was like no other man I have ever met, and he never bragged about being the one to open the door for others who came behind him."

Allen, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, said his experience at UF "didn't start well, but ended very well." He said he encountered prejudice, but although some people didn't accept him, others did.

"Academically, it was very challenging," Allen said. "Some instructors were not professional, and some were."

Mickle said the weekend has a lot of significance.

It was Allen who encouraged Mickle to apply to UF.

"This anniversary is extremely significant in the history of the university and the history of blacks at the University of Florida."

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