UF's first black law grad recounts his reception, honors Hawkins


Honored guest W. George Allen speaks during a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his graduation from the University of Florida and UF Law as the first African American graduate, on Friday at the Fredric G. Levin College of Law at UF in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.

W. George Allen was not just the only black student at the University of Florida in fall 1960. There were no black faculty or administrators at the time.

He said Friday that the only black employees at UF were janitors and laborers. But the janitor at the law school, where Allen attended, was white and objected to Allen using the same restroom he used.

"With less than a high school education, he convinced himself that he was better than me -- a black law student with a college degree," Allen said Friday.

Allen spoke at a UF law school event celebrating the 50th anniversary of him being the university's first black graduate. The event included speakers recounting the history leading to UF's integration and the unveiling of a plaque in Allen's honor in the law school courtyard.

Allen graduated from Florida A&M University and served two years in the Army before being accepted in 1960 into UF law school. He said the state of Florida offered to pay for him to attend law school elsewhere.

He was accepted into schools ranked higher than UF, including Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. But Allen decided to attend UF, where Virgil Hawkins had fought a nine-year legal battle to attend.

Hawkins agreed to withdraw his application in exchange for UF allowing other black students to attend its graduate and professional schools. Allen dedicated Friday's 50th anniversary celebration to Hawkins, who died in 1988.

"You started a revolution, and Florida is better because of you and your good work," Allen said of Hawkins.

After graduating from UF, Allen moved to Fort Lauderdale. He established his own law practice there and helped lead the fight to integrate Broward County's public school system.

Allen said his experience at UF was bittersweet because Hawkins was unable to attend. Orlando lawyer Harley Herman, who has campaigned to honor Hawkins, said Hawkins was a "sacrificial lamb" who created a path for Allen and other black graduates.

"Once there was a path to someone else succeeding, Mr. Hawkins surrendered his right," Herman said. "He becomes the only class-action that I've ever found where the whole class but not the main plaintiff was found to be entitled to relief."

Speakers at the event included U.S. District Court Judge Stephan Mickle, the first black undergraduate to earn a degree at UF and the law school's second black graduate. The event kicked off Black Alumni Weekend.

Terry Nealy, president of the UF Association of Black Alumni, said the desegregation of UF paved the way for the rest of the state.

"The integration story of Florida began here," he said.

Contact staff reporter Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.

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