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Virgil Hawkins

The Virgil Hawkins Story

Portrait of Virgil HawkinsIn 1949, Virgil Hawkins applied to law school at the University of Florida. His application was rejected on the basis of his race, and he began a nine-year effort to integrate Florida's graduate schools.

By bringing suit against the Florida Board of Control, Hawkins highlighted an important fact - that no public law school in Florida would accept African-American students. In an effort to presumably make Hawkins go away, in 1951 the Legislature created a law school at FAMU, Florida's only university for African-Americans. Hawkins refused this compromise. His lawsuit continued until 1956, when the US Supreme Court ordered him to be admitted to UF based on their recent decision in Brown v. Board of Education. 

Florida's Supreme Court refused to follow the US Supreme Court's decision. In the end, Virgil Hawkins in 1958 agreed to withdraw his application if UF would admit another African-American student. He then moved to Boston and attended the New England School of Law, graduating in 1964.

After graduation, Florida refused to allow him to take the Florida bar exam, citing the fact that his school had not received accreditation until after Hawkins had graduated. Although the "diploma privilege" was still in effect for white students, it had been revoked for black students. Only upon another lawsuit was Hawkins able to gain membership in the Florida Bar Association in 1976. Unfortunately, he resigned his bar membership after being placed on probation in 1983, and died in 1988. His membership was reinstated posthumously later that year.

The Virgil Hawkins Story - Audio

The Virgil Hawkins Story

Length:6:17 Recorded:2/1/2006

350 U.S. 413

The STATE of FLORIDA ex rel. Virgil D. HAWKINS, Petitioner, v. The BOARD OF CONTROL et al.

350 U.S. 413 (76 S.Ct. 464, 100 L.Ed. 486)     No. 624     Decided: March 12, 1956.