Virgil Darnell Hawkins (1906-1988) was a black man from the small town of Okahumpka near Leesburg in Lake County, Florida.  In 1949 while teaching at Bethune-Cookman College he applied for admission to the University of Florida College of Law, at the time the only public law school in Florida.  Though he met all other admission criteria, he was rejected because he was black--at the time segregation was legal and Florida law limited admission to white students only.  What followed was a 9-year court battle that earned him comparisons to Rosa Parks and the title the south's most patient man. 


Hawkins filed suit in 1949 to challenge this denial, and the state agreed blacks had a right to attend a state law school.  However, instead of admitting him to UF, a separate law school for blacks was created at predominantly black Florida A&M.  Hawkins refused to attend this school and insisted on his right to go to UF. 

He fought a 9-year court battle (see Court Cases tab for details) to attend UF, but ultimately was unsuccessful in obtaining admission to UF.  Hawkins eventually compromised and in 1958 agreed to withdraw his application to UF in exchange for UF's promise to admit black students in the future.  UF admitted its first black law student in September 1960, and three years later W. George Allen (J.D. 1962) became its first black graduate.

Hawkins eventually went to school in Boston, earning a law degree from New England Law School in 1964.  However, since that school was not recognized by the Florida Bar, the Bar would not let Hawkins practice law in Florida.  In 1976, the Florida Supreme Court made an exception and admitted Hawkins to the bar under a "diploma privilege" formerly granted only to whites. 

Once he got his license, Hawkins practiced law in Lake County handling all kinds of civil and criminal cases until 1985 when he resigned from the Bar while facing Bar discipline.  Prior to his death in 1988, Hawkins said he was not bitter about his experiences.  At the request of fellow Lake County lawyer Harley Herman, the Florida Supreme Court posthumously reinstated Hawkins to the bar in 1988.  Herman now heads the Virgil Hawkins Historical Society, Inc.  Many other legal and non-legal organizations have named their chapters after Virgil Hawkins in tribute to his historic struggle for racial equality, and the law school at UF in Gainesville has established the Virgil D. Hawkins Civil Clinics to assist indigent clients.

Click here to watch a PBS video on YouTube that documents the whole Hawkins story, and click here to read a letter from Harley Herman to current FSU law school dean Erin O'Connor listing reasons supporting the name change and additional historical facts about Hawkins and Roberts.