Black students, faculty and community members on Wednesday celebrated the impact of the University of Florida’s first Black students.
UF installed a historical marker about its history with racism and integration.
The marker, located in Emerson Courtyard, tells the story of four people, including Virgil Hawkins, a Black man who was denied entry into UF’s law school.
After being rejected from UF because of his race, Hawkins was part of a NAACP lawsuit against the school.
The suit reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956, which was ruled that UF could not legally deny Black students admission.
Hawkins’ great-nephew, Michael Doctor, said Hawkins paved the way for Black students like himself.
“I got here in 1973 on his shoulders,” he remembered. “I was a freshman in Tolbert Hall.”
UF President Kent Fuchs said he hopes this is a reminder to non-Black students about the university’s history with marginalized people.
“For the rest of us, it really is important to know that history,” he said, “that this university did not always have students that were Black, students of color, did not always have women, and it was not long ago.”
According to Fuchs, this is among the first, but not the last, of the university’s steps toward making the campus as diverse as the state of Florida.
“They have to develop direct policies to address these issues,” said David Canton, the UF Director of African American studies. “I think that’s what we have to constantly remind ourselves and not just be satisfied with where we are now as a university.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this story stated that the marker was located near Emerson Hall. It is not; it is in the Emerson Courtyard.