Virgil Hawkins Historical Society Inc
Black History Month is the annual celebration of achievements by African Americans. It’s a time to recognize and honor the very central role that African Americans have in the shaping of the United States throughout its history.
Tell UF: Time for the University of Florida to End its Racist Policy of Refusing Approval of the Monument to the African-Americans Who Desegregated Florida’s Universities
The two most significant events in the history of the University of Florida were its founding in 1906 and its admission of Black students under Court Order in Hawkins v Board of Control after UF defied U.S. Supreme Court orders for a decade while Hawkins fought for admission. (The admission of black students only occurred after Hawkins agreed that others could be admitted, but he would withdraw his application). Since 2013, students of the University of Florida have requested a monument that honors UF’s first African-American students and Virgil D. Hawkins, but UF’s President Fuchs refuses to approve the monument. (“While we have a few statues on campus of football players, alligators and one former president, Dr. Fuchs is not supportive of erecting new statues of anyone on the University of Florida campus.” (Stephanie Claytor, Baynews 9 April 25, 2016) Most recently, following the death of W. George Allen, UF’s first black graduate, Hawkins Society President Harley Herman sent a plea to UF’s President Fuchs to approve the monument while UF’s first African-American students are still alive. That letter has been ignored and not responded to.
FSU (the second Florida University to desegregate) and even Old Miss (where James Meredith was admitted amidst violence and Federal Troops have visible monuments to the students who desegregated their campuses. By contrast, the University of Florida has statues and the student union named for its former president J. Wayne Reitz who defied the U.S. Supreme Court order to admit Virgil Hawkins and later aided the campaign to remove students and faculty accused of being homosexual and named its athletic center after former President Stephen O’Connell who expelled and sent to jail the majority of UF’s African-American students in the 1970’s when thery protested conditions on campus. It’s time for UF to end its policy of honoring white racists while refusing to honor its African-American pioneers who endured the taunts and insults of white students and professors (most likely including mocking in black-face at fraternity events) to prove “Negro students” (as they were referred to at the time, would continue to enroll in the public universities that their tax dollars paid for.
The proposed monument will feature Virgil Hawkins handing the diploma he never received to the University of Florida’s first African American graduates Each graduate passes their diploma on to the next, with the last offering his diploma to the next generation of black UF students. It will honor Virgil Hawkins, the history of black students at UF, and the ongoing fight that UF’s minority students continue to endure (see “At UF, Black Students feel a reckoning on race is long overdue” Tampa Bay Times, 8/31/2018).
It’s long overdue for UF to end its racist policy of refusing to honor the legendary black Floridians who made the admission of black students to all of Florida’s universities a right that Florida can never again deny. This racist policy infects UF, sending the wrong message to UF students and faculty. A message that continues to interfere with the education of minority students and the efforts and longevity of minority faculty. Join us in telling UF President Fuchs (pronounced: Fox) to approve the monument while most of UF’s first black students are living. Please email UF President Fuchs: firstname.lastname@example.org and the UF Board of Trustees email@example.com and tell them to end your racism and honor the African Americans who risked their lives to end UF’s policy of only admitting white students: You can also send our message by wearing our “It’s time for UF’s Integration Monument” T-shirt (see our donation page).
Virgil Hawkins Historical Society Inc
Who Was Virgil Darnell Hawkins?
Virgil Darnell Hawkins’ journey to his fight for desegregating Florida’s universities began in the rural racist town of Leesburg, Florida. The grandson of slaves from a South Carolina plantation, whose grandfather received a deed from President Grant for 80 acres in Florida after the Civil War, Hawkins was born in 1906. At age 6, Virgil entered a courtroom with his father and saw many local black men sentenced for minor charges, to six-month sentences, so local growers could obtain a supply of slave labor. Hawkins left the courthouse with his life’s mission to become an attorney to save similar men from imprisonment. Hawkins faced a long route to that goal because Florida’s separate but unequal education did not afford Negroes a high school degree and Florida law schools only admitted white students.
His shot at a degree from UF’s law school became possible after World War II when the NAACP recruited 6 black volunteers to apply to UF in 1949, when Hawkins worked at Bethune Cookman College. When rejected by UF due to race, Hawkins and 4 other applicants became the plaintiffs in lawsuits where the Florida Supreme Court ruled Hawkins and the others were qualified for admission, but could not be admitted due to his race. Hawkins became the sole plaintiff when all the others withdrew after NAACP leader, Harry T. Moore was assassinated on Christmas 1951, when a bomb blew up under the bed where Moore and his wife slept.
Expecting Hawkins to flee when Klan and law enforcement sought to kill Hawkins and his family, Hawkins fought on until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1954 companion case to Brown that Hawkins was entitled to immediate admission, Florida illegally defied the US Supreme Court for 4 more years until it entered into a consent decree in 1958, where Hawkins withdrew his application in exchange for an Order admitting other “qualified Negroes” to UF. Following his efforts, Ebony Magazine dubbed Hawkins “The South’s Most Patient Man”. Undeterred, Hawkins earned a law degree outside Florida in 1964, but Florida refused to admit Hawkins until 1977, when at age 70, they entered a special Order allowing him to practice as a Florida lawyer. Although serving hundreds of clients for six years, scrutiny of his law practice by those who resented his civil right triumph, forced his resignation from the Florida Bar in 1985, following a desperate 1983 plea to save his career by telling the same Florida Supreme Court who illegally denied his admission to UF: “When I get to heaven, I want to be a member of the Florida Bar.” That plea remained unheard until eight months after his February 1988 death, when the Court granted the petition filed by our founder, Harley Herman, to posthumously reinstate Hawkins to membership in good standing to the Florida Bar. .(In re Virgil Darnell Hawkins, 532 So.2d 669, 1988) Today, the Florida Association of Black Lawyers is named after Mr. Hawkins.
Since 1979, a law has mandated that the UF law clinic where law students represent poor clients that Virgil Hawkins sought to represent since age six, is named for Mr. Hawkins and pleadings filed on behalf of those clients bear his name. UF, however, still refuses to erect a statute honoring Hawkins and the students admitted due to his lawsuits, despite requests by black students attending UF.
Virgil Hawkins Historical Society Seeks to Preserve Florida Civil Rights History and the Continuing Efforts for Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity in Florida and Across the United States
In a 1976 interview, Virgil Hawkins told the Leesburg Daily Commercial: “We still have a long way to go.” His words have proven prophetic. In numerous recent articles, Black students attending the University of Florida, where minority enrollment continues to decline, that their acceptance and educational opportunities remain an unfulfilled promise. The Black Lives Matter Movement has demonstrated that the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of largely forgotten Civil Rights pioneers are still dreams.
Until the day of his death, “The South’s Most Patient Man” understood that his fight to end racism, prejudice and discrimination could not end. The Hawkins Historical Society will always be committed to enabling those to whom the torch of Hawkins and similar Civil Rights Pioneers have passed, will not be extinguished and that the lessons of America’s Civil Rights history can be learned from and will not be lost and forgotten. From his birth home of Okahumpka Florida, where his monument proudly stands and his final hometown of Leesburg, FL, where his law office and pre-law work flourished during his life, the goals and torch of Virgil Darnell Hawkins will burn brightly