Hawkins v. Board of Control of Florida Case

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In 1949 Virgil D. Hawkins, a thirty-nine-year-old black male, applied for admission to the University of Florida College of Law. His application, as well as five other Black applicants, was rejected due to his racial origin, and Hawkins applied to the Supreme Court of Florida to appeal the decision (Paulson & Hawkes, 1984). However, the court ruled that Hawkins has the right to attend public schools, but since the state has done enough to grant this right by creating a Florida A&M University for non-white students, he cannot enroll at the University of Florida. Appeals to the Florida Supreme Court in 1951 and 1952 did not change the decision (Paulson & Hawkes, 1984). For this reason, Hawkins appealed to the US Supreme Court, but his case was put on hold as the court was considering the Brown v. Board of Education case, which rejected the doctrine of “separate but equal” as unconstitutional (Paulson & Hawkes, 1984; Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954). For this reason, in 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida, noting that segregated universities did not provide equal opportunity and knowledge to students.

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However, the Florida Supreme Court, in 1955, did not comply with the US Supreme Court’s order to enroll Hawkins at the University of Florida. The court created a series of delays to determine what public mischief and possible embarrassment to the functioning of government would bring Hawkins admission to University, citing segregation as a natural and just policy (Paulson & Hawkes, 1984). The US Supreme Court again ruled in 1956 that there was no reason for the delay, and Hawkins should be admitted to the University of Florida. However, the Florida Supreme Court again rejected this decision, highlighting the social harms of enrolling black students at white universities. The final decision in 1958 was a ban on the use of any practice for admitting only whites to the University of Florida; however, Hawkins was not accepted because the court did not have sufficient evidence of his competence (Paulson & Hawkes, 1984). Virgil Hawkins graduated from Boston University and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1976 following a court decision to recognize his out-of-state degree.

Outline

Hawkins v. Board of Control of Florida, 162 F. Supp. 851 (N.D. Fla. 1958)

  1. Facts of the case
    • The case was started in 1949 due to the refusal to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida College of Law for racial reasons.
    • The case was considered by the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.
    • The case was expanded in 1958 from individual to collective claim.
    • The US Supreme Court ruled to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida following the repeal of the “separate but equal” doctrine.
    • The Florida District Court has banned segregation practices at the University of Florida.
    • The Florida District Court refused to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida for lack of evidence of its competence.
  2. The case’s history.
    • An appeal by the plaintiff, Hawkins, was rejected in 1949, 1951, and 1952 according to F.S.A.Const. art. 12, § 12; FS A. § 228.09, prohibiting the admission of any but white students to the University.
    • The US Supreme Court ruled in 1954 and 1956 to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida following the repeal of the “separate but equal” doctrine.
    • The Florida Supreme Court deferred rulings in 1955 and 1957 to deal with the case according to “equitable principles”.
    • Florida District Court upheld a collective lawsuit banning segregation practices at the University based on Brown v. Board of Education 1954 and the US Constitution.
    • Florida District Court rejected Hawkins’ admission to the University of Florida due to lack of competence.
  3. Legal issues.
    • Admission of a student to the University based on racial origin and skin color.
    • Hawkins Acceptance at the University of Florida Per Competence
  4. The Court’s decision.
    • The reasons for the decision in favor of the plaintiff – the prohibition of the segregation practice of admission to the University.
      • Cancellation of the “separate but equal” doctrine.
      • The superior decision of the US Supreme Court.
    • The reason for the decision in favor of the defendant is – the refusal to admit Hawkins to the University of Florida.
      • Insufficient evidence of Hawkins’ competence.
      • Hawkins consented to withdraw the application.
  5. Verdict and opinion.
    • Judge DeVane made the final decision in the case in 1958; other judges were not mentioned.
    • The decisions of two judges, Justice Terrell and Justice Roberts, in 1955 and 1957 were dissenting from the United States Supreme Court decision.
    • Five judges were concurring with the decision about racial segregation but partially or fully dissented with the decision to enroll Hawkins in the 1955 and 1957 cases.

Conclusion

Therefore, while Virgil D. Hawkins did not win the case as he could never enroll in the University of Florida, it mattered to many people of color. The case lifted segregation in Florida’s higher education institutions and opened up learning opportunities for all state citizens, regardless of their skin color or background. In addition, the case also highlighted serious segregation issues, not only among university administrations and students but among higher judges that needed to be addressed. Thus, this case contributed not only to the protection of the civil rights of the state’s citizens but also to the Civil Rights Movement, which was just beginning to emerge in the United States.

References

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Web.

Hawkins v. Board of Control of Florida, 162 F. Supp. 851 (N.D. Fla. 1958). Web.

Paulson, D. & Hawkes, P. (1984). Desegregating the University of Florida Law School: Virgil Hawkins v. The Florida Board of Control. Florida State University Law Review, 12(1), 59-71. Web.

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