Even with a long day ahead of him, Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr. made time to make French toast or whatever else his children wanted for breakfast. His daughter Stephanie Mickle, though, recalls that her family understood that it had to share him with the community.
“He belonged to everybody,” she said, just before 325 people on Friday attended a ceremony outside the main entrance of the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse in Gainesville – to see the building be formally renamed in her father’s honor.
The first African American to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, and the second Black student to graduate from its law school, in 1972 he became the first Black man to practice law in the county since Reconstruction, in 1979 the county’s first Black judge, and in 1984 the first Black judge appointed to the Eighth Judicial Circuit. In 1998, he became the first Black federal judge in the U.S. District Court at the Northern District of Florida.
The Alachua County Commission unanimously approved renaming the courthouse after Mickle last March, two months after he died from cancer at age 76.
“The state of Florida has lost a legend,” Rod Smith, his former law partner who proposed the idea to the commission, said during the ceremony.
Judge Bradley Harper of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County said Mickle was a man who represented dignity.
“When people cross the threshold of this courthouse,” Harper said, “they know that no matter what the circumstance is that has brought you here today, you can hold your head high and have some respect for yourself.”
Mickle was born in New York in 1944, and grew up in Daytona Beach; Camden, South Carolina; and Gainesville. He graduated with honors from Lincoln High School in 1961. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Lincoln remained an all-Black secondary school until 1970.
The renaming ceremony was billed as a highlight of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida’s 2022 events celebrating the slain civil rights leader’s legacy.
Mickle was like an uncle to Christopher Morgan, 17, a Gainesville High School senior who lived across the street from him. Cherishing memories of once as a 9 year old getting to wear Mickle’s judicial robe, Morgan said he was a role model – someone from the city who had shown that it was possible to beat the odds and overcome anything.
“He showed me how to keep fighting through hard times as he fought hard against his battle with cancer,” Morgan said during the ceremony.
Tarcha Rentz, 49, of Hague, served as a co-chair for an essay and poetry contest that led to area high and middle school students learning about Mickle.
“It’s great for them to hear the struggle and the triumph of someone who had to be the first,” Rentz told WUFT News. “How he had to overcome so much racism and prejudice that was on the campus at that time, and yet, he continued to persevere.”
Mickle was a member of Mount Carmel Baptist Church and the local chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the NAACP, among other organizations.
After the ceremony, Aaron Daye, 39, an Alpha Phi Alpha member and a multimedia specialist with the UF Advancement, praised renaming the courthouse after Mickle.
“It’s a living legacy of his impact and what we should all strive to become – just like him,” Daye said.
Midori Lowry, 52, who worked with Mickle for 16 years as his law clerk, said she witnessed firsthand his dedication to his work and desire to do the right thing.
“Judge Mickle had a tremendous faith in God,” Lowry told WUFT News, “and I think that’s what drove him into always trying to do the right thing.”
Stephanie Mickle, who served as general counsel to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said her family found out about the county’s renaming plans about a month after her father’s funeral.
“We were obviously very pleased,” she said. “It just, you know, kind of brought a smile to all of our faces that he would live on in a meaningful way. … “He made so many sacrifices, and he didn’t complain. He knew he was focused on a greater task and a greater mission.”
Evelyn Mickle, UF’s first Black nursing school graduate, said during the ceremony that her husband of 52 years was forever giving back, building bridges and looking forward.
“Today, it is our honor and our hope,” she said, “that this renaming of the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse with Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr. will spark hope, hope and more hope, as it is passed from generation to generation.”