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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Stephen C. O'Connell
Interviewer: Joel Buchanan
Date: June 19, 1996
B: I am Joel Buchanan at the home of President Stephen C. O'Connell [president,
University of Florida, 1968-1974], June 19, 1996, at approximately 2:30 in the
afternoon. Good afternoon President O'Connell.
O: Good afternoon, Joel.
B: How are you, sir?
B: Thank you for this interview. This interview is for the University of Florida Oral
History Program, [and] deals with the integration of the University of Florida.
President O'Connell was the president of the University of Florida in what year,
O: 1967 to 1973--September 1967 to September 1973.
B: You played a major part in the change of the University of Florida to the
integration of its Negro students. Can you share with me some of those
experiences, and when it started, sir?
O: It started before I became president. The first incident, you might recall was
Virgil Hawkins's [first African-American to apply for admission to the University of
Florida College of Law] attempt to enter the University of Florida College of Law.
At that time, as you know, the law provided that there be separate institutions for
blacks and whites. Dr. Reitz [J. Wayne Reitz, president, University of Florida,
1955-1967] and his administration denied Virgil the right to enter. Various
lawsuits followed that by Mr. Hawkins. It finally ended up in the federal district
court here, at which time Mr. Hawkins was given permission to enter the
University if he could meet the standards, but he elected not to do that. I think
the record shows that he received something just over 200 on his LSAT exam,
which made him not eligible to enter based on the standards as they existed at
that time. Unfortunately, the denial was not based on his lack of academic
credentials and aptitude, but on his race. Shortly after Mr. Hawkins was denied,
another black student was permitted to enter the law school without fanfare. In
the Hawkins's case, when it came to the supreme court, they appointed a
commissioner in Gainesville, a circuit judge who took testimony. The result of
that testimony was that if Hawkins was permitted to enter, it would cause violent
uprisings in Gainesville. Based on that, the Supreme Court of Florida, of which I
was a member at that time, denied Mr. Hawkins admission based on public
safety reasons. All of this, of course, in hindsight was very unfortunate for
everyone, the University as well as Mr. Hawkins and other blacks. Shortly after
that, the next African for admission was admitted to the law school.
B: Who was that, sir?
0: I am trying to remember his name. He practices law in Fort Lauderdale now.
B: Is that George Allen [first African-American admitted to the University of Florida
College of Law]?
O: That is correct.
B: George Allen, all right.
0: I cannot remember the year he was admitted, but it had to be somewhere around
1964 or 1965, somewhere in there.
B: Was he admitted without any problems?
O: No problem at all.
B: So you are saying that the commission that was established by the Supreme
Court of Florida...
O: The commissioner.
B: Virgil was denied because of the concern with public safety.
O: That is correct. I think I may have a copy of that opinion here. Because of the
evidence that he took, [he felt] that there would be violent uprisings within the
community if he [Hawkins] were admitted.
B: And you were the chief justice at that time, sir?
O: No, I was not chief justice at that time. The case came to the Supreme Court of
Florida four or five times, I think. I was there only for the last one.
B: I see. Tell me about your tenure as president. That was during a very turbulent
time for the University of Florida, but a very interesting time.
O: Quite interesting.
B: You were the president, so share some things with me about the period of the
demonstration on campus.
O: Well I am going to go back a bit. I have here a summary, of compilation of
programs for minorities that were established during my tenure. I did not
prepare it; Bob Bryan [Robert Armisted Bryan, vice president, University of
Florida, 1957-1988] prepared it when he was vice president. When I became
president of the University, there were no regular black faculty members, and
there were sixty-one black students.
B: Already at the University of Florida when you got there?
O: When I left in 1973, we had nineteen black faculty members, one member of the
administration, Dr. Cole [Thomas Winston Cole, Professor in Educational
Administration and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs], and we had 642 black
students. We knew that there were difficulties in the perceptions that blacks had
of the University and its treatment or willingness to accept black students. So in
1969, we established the position of coordinator of minority affairs. His duties
were to recruit and expedite the enrollment of black and other minority students
and to work with faculty, the administration, and students to solve problems that
those students might have. In 1968 and 1969, you may remember, we formed
an Action Conference. This was partially due to the disruptions that were
occurring on other campuses and with threats on our campus. The Action
Conference was supposed to deal with problems and make recommendations to
avoid the kind of problems that other universities were having. As a result of
that conference, a faculty committee on disadvantaged students was appointed
and the Council on Minority Affairs was established. That council was
comprised of administrators, faculty and students. I will give you a copy of this
paper. Then, in July of 1969, I issued a memorandum setting forth the
University's commitment for equal treatment of the admission and education of
students, the employment and promotion of teaching and non-teaching
personnel, [and] use of facilities owned by the University or under its control
irrespective of race, creed, color, or natural origin, saying that the University
would, and we did conduct a positive program of non-discrimination concerning
race, color, sex, creed, and national origin in all areas of employment and placed
the responsibility for achieving those objectives on the executive vice president.
B: Who was that at that time?
O: Harry Sisler [Harry Hall Sisler, Professor of Chemistry and Chairman of
Department; Director of Division of Physical Sciences].
B: All right.
O: I believe it was Harry Sisler; yes it was. Then we established what was called
the Critical Freshman Year Program, designed to render special assistance to
students who fail to meet one aspect or another of the entrance requirements.
That began in the 1970 summer quarter. One-hundred thirty-six of the 210
students enrolled in that first year program were black. Then the College of
Medicine Minority Student Program, supported by the Joshua Macy Foundation,
was a well-developed program by 1970. That program was designed to
increase the enrollment of black students in medical schools by means of
visitation to high schools and colleges to emphasize the opportunities for
professional and graduate students in medicine. With the support that the Macy
Foundation, the Health Center offered summer fellowships to minority group
students. Twelve were awarded in 1969, [and] fourteen in the summer of 1970.
As a result of these efforts, the University graduated its first two black physicians
in 1970. Then in a joint effort with [the] University of Florida's College of
Medicine, FSU, and FAMU, a basic medical science program was developed to
feed medical students from FSU to FAMU directly into the clinical phase the last
two years of our College of Medicine. That program still exists.
B: Yes it does.
O: IFAS, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, with a grant from the
Rockefeller Foundation, made funds available for fellowships for a year of free
graduate study for blacks needing preparation to fully qualify them for graduate
work. Fourteen students were enrolled in this program in the spring of 1970.
This program ran from February 1969--June 1972. During that same period, an
African-American Studies program was developed in the College of Arts and
Sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences formulated a consortium of four
traditionally black colleges in Florida with the University of Florida to encourage
and prepare disadvantaged students for undergraduate, graduate, and
professional careers. This effort received funding from the Carnegie
Corporation from 1970--1976. I would guess even though you were involved
very much [with] this University, you did not realize all of this was going on, did
B: I was not aware of it, and still today, I think there are people who were not aware
of how much was happening at the institution at that time.
O: Many did not want to recognize it, as you know.
O: The College of Arts and Sciences began a program for junior college transfer
students from minority groups. The program provided students with a C
average and an AA degree, the opportunity to enter an experimental program in
which the participants were able to take up to two quarters of University work, on
an S/U basis, permitting that period of time to adjust to the pressures of
university life. Do you want me to give you some more?
B: Yes, let me ask you some questions. During this time, were you directly
involved in a lot of the planning of these programs or did your executive vice
president, Dr. Sisler, do that?
O: Both. I was directly involved in most of it, and kept aware of it by the executive
vice president because we worked very closely together. Nothing went on
without his advising me or my advising him.
B: During the time you are talking about now was when you had your major black
student walk out at the University of Florida. Do you recall that very well, sir?
O: Yes I do.
B: Share one of those experiences about that. I have interviewed two students
who were a part of the walk out. One is now an administrator at the University
of Florida in the Special Services Program, a critical program, where they bring
students in that only meet 90 percent of the requirements.
O: I remember quite well the incident. A group of black students, about eighty, I
think, with four or five whites, most of whom were from off campus.
B: Off campus persons?
O: They could have been at Santa Fe Junior College, but I am not sure they were.
The records would show it. They came to my office in the morning. They burst
in, and did not have an appointment. I was speaking at the time to a student
who was on the college council from the College of Business Administration.
They burst into my office, and handed me a list of demands that they wanted
met. I told them that I would be happy to discuss with them the matters they
wanted to talk about, but I did not react to the demands. I explained to them the
University policy on disruption, which they were creating, and asked them to
leave. I told them that I would be glad to meet with them at a scheduled time if
they wished to do that. They left. They came back either once or twice more.
The last time, they did not enter my office. They sat in the waiting room and in
the halls, letting no one come in or out. At that time, I called the police and
asked them to evict them, which they did. The students who were arrested were
taken, I think, to the county jail. Then, the lawyer of the University, who handled
such matters in student affairs, came to me and asked what I wished [to be]
B: Can you tell me who that attorney was?
O: If I can find it.
B: We can find it from the record, I am quite sure.
O: He was the son of a College of Law professor; I ought to know his name. I
cannot think right now. Anyway, I explained to him that we did not want them
kept in jail, but we were not going to let the incident pass without their being
charged. If they were treated by the court and released, they could re-enter the
University. They would not be ejected from the University. Most elected to stay
at the University. I do not believe they were fined. A few left. I always
attributed that incident to the coordinator of minority affairs who we hired. As it
turned out, he was more interested in creating disruption than making a way for
the blacks to enter the University stream easier.
B: This person's name, I think, was Roy Mitchell.
O: That is correct. We fired him after this. That was not all. He was carrying a
pistol on campus, threatening some people. That is not significant now, but his
presence was not helpful to the black students. Interestingly enough, I was at
the University of Florida Foundation meeting the first week in June in St.
Petersburg, and a black man, who is now a colonel in the air force (I believe it
was), and his wife came up to me after I was introduced at the program. He
spoke to me and said that he was one of those, and that he now has to explain
every time a promotion comes up what happened to him on that incident
because it is on his record. He made a statement that incident really changed
his attitude on how to conduct himself. He realized what he was doing was
completely wrong. He was not gaining anything for anyone in creating that
disruption, which is quite interesting to me that it had that effect. I have heard
that from one other person who works here in Tallahassee about the same
instance, that it corrected his view of how you should conduct yourself. That
was the end of that. The aftermath went on for three, four, or five days; I cannot
remember. Then Steve Uhlfelder [Steven J. Uhlfelder, JD 1971, Tallahassee
attorney], who was president of the student body at that time, led a march on my
office, if you remember.
B: He is now serving on the Board of Regents. Was the group that he led for the
O: Yes, right.
B: Were they arrested or asked to leave? Or what [happened]?
O: They were put out, yes.
B: I read somewhere that the students who were arrested were allowed to leave the
jail. I think I read that you said they could get out on their recognizance, is that
O: Yes, that is correct. No bonds.
B: According to one of the reports I read, at some time during this period, you had a
meeting with all of the students who walked out and their parents.
B: Tell me about that incident.
O: That was not a very receptive meeting, I remember. I explained to the parents
what the rules of the University were, and that what they did was contrary to
those rules. I explained to them, if I remember correctly, what we had done to
try to bring black students in and make them feel welcome and accepted. Some
of the black parents were in their opposition to their children having
been treated that way. I explained to them that I thought a part of that
responsibility was on the parents, and they did not like that. So that meeting
was not very helpful.
B: I was told that meeting was closed doors to the media and outsiders. It was just
with the administration of the University of Florida and the parents.
O: That is right.
B: I guess you invited those persons who had left the University of Florida.
B: Did the programs that you have outlined start after the walk out took place?
O: Mostly before.
B: But the public and the student body did not know it, I assume.
O: That is correct.
B: Or did not care to know it.
O: Did not care to know it.
B: I interviewed one of the first administrators that you brought on campus, the
person who was in charge of recruiting students, Ben Mathis [Benjamin L.
Mathis, Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs]. He had spoken about
that period of time. He came right after the period of disruption on campus. I
think he came in under Bob Bryan or Sisler.
O: If it was after I left, it would have been under York [E.T. York, Jr., Vice President
for Agricultural Affairs and Professor of International Agriculture, Institute of Food
and Agricultural Sciences].
B: No you were there. He was brought there right after the walk out.
O: After we had fired Mitchell?
B: Yes. Of course, you have said fired. No one has heard that he was fired, just
that he had left. The perception is that he left when the students left and did not
O: We did not make an issue of it.
B: I see. Also, I was told by Winston Cole that you recruited him. You recruited a
high-ranking black to come to the University of Florida as an administrator.
What was the reason behind that sir, if I may ask?
O: The same as all of the other programs we started. It was necessary to have a
black administrator to deal with other black administrators so they would
understand, or have a better understanding of the needs of the black students,
not just to give an appearance to the students and the black community that we
were putting a black in that place. He was a very important person on our staff.
I consulted with him frequently.
B: He mentioned that you did, because I think he was the president of Wiley
College in Texas before he came.
B: Of course he discussed that he had some problems leaving there as the
president of a black college to come to the University of Florida as a dean. Do
you feel that you were able to work toward bringing about this first in a very
confused period in history? There was a lot of demonstrating going on at this
period. The Kent State situation...
O: As you remember Joel, everything that happened elsewhere was a potential
ignition for something to happen on our campus. Whether it was the bombing of
the harbor in Vietnam, Kent State as you mentioned, or Martin Luther King's
assassination, everything that happened was a potential for disruption on our
B: Do you feel that you were the best president for the University at that period?
O: I cannot answer that. Others will have to answer that, Joel. It was a trying
time. I was not forewarned. As you know, I was not an academic. I kept in
very close [touch] with the University of Florida and what it was doing through the
Alumni Association, and other projects that I worked [on] with Dr. Reitz [J. Wayne
Reitz, president, University of Florida, 1955-1967] for the University. I did not
know what others knew was in the wings for universities and student disruptions.
I am glad I was there during that time.
B: That is good. Was there a lot of pressure placed on you by the alumni on what
to do and not to do with the University during this period?
O: We heard from a lot of public officials, alumni, [and] from parents. You had to
listen to what they said but not be controlled by it. I never was. I knew what we
had to do on that campus, or I thought I did. That is what we did. I consulted
with all of my vice presidents, deans, and others frequently, but we did not allow
the outsiders to tell us what had to be done. I can say that the Board of Regents
at that time was fully supportive of what we did, with the exception of one incident
when the then governor sent troops, the National Guard, in without telling us.
We had full support from the cabinet and the state. That does not mean that
they agreed with everything we did. I do not think that would be fair to say.
B: Was the National Guard sent to protect the University?
O: The city mostly, to stop the disruption. I think that one was around the Kent
B: One of the persons who was very active in the demonstration, I have read, was
Dr. Gannon [Michael V. Gannon, retired Distinguished Service Professor of
History, former director of Early Contact Period Studies, College of Liberal Arts
and Sciences], who was a very close friend of the O'Connells.
B: Did you ever consult with him, or how did you respond to him being a part of the
demonstration, being a friend of yours, and being out there carrying on with
O: Mike Gannon was a positive force. He did not start the parades, but he
frequently ended up leading them in a way that would diffuse them. So he
performed a very fine service to the students as well as the University.
B: Were you ever able to consult with him about what was going on there from [the
viewpoint] of a person who participated?
O: Yes, I talked to him.
B: I think I read once that he was arrested.
O: I do not think he was.
B: He was not arrested?
O: Not to my knowledge.
B: Maybe he was not arrested. You know the articles you read are so sketchy
because there was very little put there about what happened.
O: I do not believe so.
B: I will have to check with that. Any other programs that were started during that
time when you were at the University that you want to share with me?
O: Yes. I do not think I mentioned that graduate school set aside a portion of
graduate fellowship funds to support minority group students. The enrollment of
blacks in the graduate programs at the University of Florida from 1970--1971 was
1.7 percent of the total--just under the national average of 2 percent. I think the
next thing was the Herbert Lehman Educational Fund from New York, which
provided the College of Law five black scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to
$1,500 per student, per year. That is not a lot of money, but it was more than
B: I see. Now in those kinds of programs, do you find it difficult to get blacks to
come to the University?
O: That was true, and that was a part of the whole effort that we were making. The
blacks did not look upon the University of Florida as a place where they would be
welcomed. Unfortunately, I suspect that was true of any university in the South.
O: Because of history, which you could not change. We were trying to change.
Then the University of Florida and FSU received a grant in 1971 from the Council
for Legal Educational Opportunity, the CLEO program. Do you remember? It
financially assisted up to thirty-three black students applying to law school. If
you remember, and maybe you do not, Joel, HEW, the Health Education Welfare
Department of the U.S. government, was auditing all institutions as to their
progress in minority affairs. In 1970--1971, they audited us, and they showed
that in most categories, the University was meeting or exceeding its goals in the
employment of blacks in the ranks of academic and non-academic positions.
B: Really? This is in 1970--1971? HEW?
O: Correct. They were difficult to deal with because they had quotas, numbers, or
percentages that you were supposed to meet, but always denied that there were
quotas. That is what you were supposed to meet. Our employees were very
important to us too. The Personnel Division set up an employee relations
section to better communicate to all employees the benefits, rights, and
privileges of working at the University of Florida. You cannot forget them. Our
General Education Program enabled employees to obtain high school
equivalency and obtain high positions [as a result].
B: That was established during that period of time, and it is still in existence at the
University right now.
O: I hope it is.
B: I just read the other day where they made awards to four or five people for that.
O: All right. [In] June 1971, the Upward Bound Program began. This program was
designed to generate the skills and motivation necessary for success in
education beyond high school among young people from low-income
backgrounds and inadequate secondary school preparation, which was a
common problem we were running into then.
B: Was it because they were not prepared academically?
O: Correct. That is still true to some extent.
B: What do you attribute that to?
O: You have to say it was lack of standards in the public schools, or lack of demand
that standards be met. I cannot answer which it was. The standards were not
there or the schools were not demanding that they be met. They were, as you
remember, social promotions being made to avoid damaging the psyche of the
individual student. You have pointed that out. At some time, it had to catch up
with the student, and it did when they came to us. It is still true to some extent,
as I understand it.
B: Yes it is.
O: All right. Then the Educational Opportunity Program, the SSDS Program was
funded by the University of Florida and a grant from ATW. These programs
were compensatory programs for low-income, low-achieving students who
through lack of financial sources or low scores on admissions tests would have
been unable to attend the University of Florida. The EEO program was a
continuation of the Critical Freshman Year Program. That was a primary agent
for assisting black students in gaining admission to the University. There were a
few black students who were fully qualified, but we did not have many of those
trying to come to the University of Florida. They went to traditionally black
colleges, to Harvard, or to some other institution where they had a longer history
of enrolling black students. The Office of Student Affairs had always established
[a budget]. I had a budget for recruitment of minority students, which we started
back in 1969. If you remember, the Institute of Black Culture was opened in
February of 1972. That was one of the things that the black students who
occupied my office demanded to be set up. We tried to explain to them that one
was in progress, but it was not there yet.
B: Oh, so one was in progress before this actually took place?
B: I talked with the former dean of students (I forget her name right now), and she
said that she was very helpful in finding a facility for the Institute of Black Culture.
O: There on University Avenue.
O: Who would that lady have been? Mrs. Stephens?
B: She is married--Stephens.
O: We had a budget of $100,000 to establish the Institute of Black Culture. When
we brought black students in, they were assigned roommates in the dorms
without regard to color or race. I may be able to find a comparison in 1971-1972
which indicated that of 215 black students, 106 had rooms or suites with students
of a different race. That was not always successful, some on the part of the
white students and some on the part of the black. They did not want to be there,
but we held out for as long as we could. It usually worked out. Do you
remember in 1972, we had a black student body president, Sam Taylor? He did
not last the whole term. If I remember correctly, he flunked out.
B: Yes. I do not think he has ever gone back to graduate [school]. He is now with
Southern Bell in Atlanta.
O: Good. Always enjoyed Sam. We placed in effect a non-discriminatory policy
for all campus organizations.
B: What does that mean, sir?
O: That means that fraternities, Blue Key, or any other organization on campus
could not discriminate because of race.
B: That was one of the things that you instituted?
O: Yes. That is about it, Joel.
B: Did you find that you had resentment from your established organizations when
they were required to admit students of different backgrounds?
O: No. Not on the surface, at least. I think that most students and most of the
student organizations, faculty, and administrators were more than willing to try to
help the black students. The difficulty was on the part of the black students
being convinced of that because I guess they had been told or felt that it was
B: And social perception, more than a reality.
B: Do you feel that the administration helped create some of problems than actually
helped solve them or work within the system?
O: Say that again.
B: The administration you had on campus at that time, Roy Mitchell, I think, was one
of the first [black administrators]. You had a lot of activity going on that was
negative toward the University. Do you feel that this was motivated or
encouraged by some of the persons on campus or more so of an outside
O: With all do respect and fairness to Mr. Mitchell, I know he was not helpful in
bridging the gap between perception and reality. He did not help introduce the
black students to our campus the way they should have been. He came with a
chip on his shoulder, demanding his rights, whereas we were furnishing every
right we had to give. He was demanding something more, which I think was his
mode of operation.
B: Were the efforts at the University of Florida encouraged because the federal
government had said that you must integrate?
0: I cannot answer that because it started before I got there. We did it out of a
sense of fairness and right to do. The quotas and dealing with that aspect was
something the federal government was utilizing, and we had to meet whatever
they demanded. That was not our critical move--to meet that issue. We were
trying to bring in qualified black faculty and administrators, whereas every other
university in the country was trying to do exactly the same thing. I do not know
the statistics now, but I did at one time [know] how few Ph.Ds were granted to
blacks per year, and how many had been graduated in the past. You would
have seen how low the pool was from which everyone was trying to draw.
B: I have read that it was very, very difficult.
O: It was very difficult.
B: Was there any provost put in place to deal with the minorities on the athletic
programs at Florida?
0: I helped recruit the first black, Willie Jackson [Willie B. Jackson, 1975 graduate of
the College of Journalism, Recreation Leader, member of the first freshman
B: Did you?
O: Coach Graves [Samuel Ray Graves, Director of Athletics] brought him into my
office. He had him visit the campus.
B: His second son is now playing ball for Florida. He has done very well. He has
spoken about how you were very instrumental in getting him to be at the
University of Florida.
O: Willie was a great athlete. He did not do everything that he could have
achieved, but he was a damn good receiver. The fact that he sent his two sons
(and they were excellent too) there speaks well for him and his wife.
B: I think his wife is going to become one of the counselors at the P.K. Yonge
Laboratory School. She has been in the public school system.
O: Willie has been a very fine citizen.
B: That is very, very good. Why is it that we do not hear about all these things that
Stephen C. O'Connell did on his administration?
0: I cannot answer that. I am not going to brag about it.
B: Did you have a chance when George Allen was there as a student to have any
[contact with him]?
0: I was his committee. I met him and talked with him many times when the court
used to go to the law school for various events. I would see him there.
B: Did you have any encounter with the first undergrad who graduated from Florida
and went on to law school, who is now a judge, Stephan Mickle [Stephan P.
Mickle, graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, 1970, judge for the
First District Court of Appeals]?
0: I see him up here now. I believe he might have been teaching at the University.
No, he was not teaching then. When did he graduate? I do not remember. I
know him. I cannot place just when I first met him.
B: During this period when they were having all the disruptions on campus, were
there ever any personal threats made against the president of the University of
B: None at all?
O: None that I can recall. It would not have bothered me. I would have expected it
from some of the kooks.
B: Oh really? If you had to redo that period again, would you do it any differently?
O: I cannot think of any way that I could. If I had known what was coming and
could have prepared better for what came, I might have dealt with it a little bit
differently. Looking at each incident, the thing that I was grateful for was that I
had been used to being kicked around as a lawyer when I was a practitioner, by
arrogant judges and sometimes abrasive attorneys on the other side. I learned
as an appellate judge to listen before I decided. Being able to listen to even the
most abusive type of talk was very helpful.
B: How did that help you or give you some background in being able to listen and
not respond to the activity of the person at that time?
O: I never took any of these incidents with any kind of personal umbrage. You
cannot afford to become personally involved in any kind of disputes. You have
to remain above that if you are going to be effective in making any kind of
decision or dealing with any kinds of problem. I tried to do that.
B: Do you feel that the president of the student body at that time, Mr. Uhlfelder, also
encouraged some of the activity that was going on?
O: He did. Very much so.
B: Is that just his nature?
O: At least at that time, I felt that he was an opportunist, as many student leaders
are. He carried his to extreme, in violation of every rule that the board that he
now sits on had.
B: Is that not amazing, how time brings about a change? Another question. Were
you on the supreme court when the decision was made about admitting blacks
into white institutions? I think the decision came down concerning the public
O: That came in 1954, the Brown decision [Brown v. Board of Education]. That
was not higher education. I do not recall when the one on higher education
came about. It obviously was in effect at the time that Virgil Hawkins was
appealing his decision.
B: Were you the justice at that time? What does this file deal with?
O: You do not remember Senator Glisson [James A. Glisson, Senator of Florida],
when he and Bob [Robert L. Shevin], the attorney general, ran for governor and
lieutenant governor? In his public statement, he made the statement that I wrote
the opinion about Virgil Hawkins and the law school admittance.
B: So he wrote the opinion?
O: No, I did not.
B: Glisson wrote the opinion?
O: No. Read it with me. I have not read it for a long time.
B: "I could not go back home and look at Virgil in face, and say I voted to commend
a man who forced him to go to out of state law school." The Gainesville Sun,
May 18, 1978.
O: This was on the naming of the O'Connell Center, that he voted no. This was the
reason he gave, but I was correcting him.
B: Can I have a copy of this?
O: Yes, I will give you a copy.
B: We are looking at a letter here dated June 16, 1978, that is on your stationary.
You are correcting Mr. Glisson about a statement that he has made. You quote
several places where, I guess, the information is located.
O: Here are the pile of opinions issued by the Supreme Court of Florida in the
Hawkins's case. The first, second, and third were by Tom Sebring [Harold L.
Tom" Sebring, justice of the Florida Supreme Court], and the fourth one was by
Roberts [B.K. Roberts, justice of the Florida Supreme Court] in 1955. Then the
last one was by Roberts in 1957. I came on the court in September 1955, and
did not participate in that one. I did participate in this one, the last one. Let us
see what it says.
B: I will let you go ahead and tell me. So you did participate in the opinion of 1957,
the last one?
O: The last one.
B: You did not write any of the opinions? It says here that you did not.
0: I did not write any of them, no.
B: Is it the responsibility of the chief justice to render the decisions about the upper
O: Cases are assigned by
B: What does that mean?
O: That means that when cases come into court, to the clerk's office, they are
assigned for argument. It goes to a justice who has the responsibility for
preparing a summary of that case, which is sent to all the other judges before
they hear argument, so it will be prepared. He must do more than read the
briefs to prepare this summary. After the argument, that justice who prepared
the summary is assigned the duty of writing the opinion. It goes by wrote from
each of the seven members, so that all do not get most of the cases. Each gets
the same number.
B: So at this point, you only sat in on the last opinion that there was? According to
this, there were five.
B: All right. You said here, "I did not write any of the Hawkins's opinion. I was not
the chief justice at any of those times, and Mr. Hawkins was not forced to go out
of state to get a legal education. In fact, when he finally won the right to be
considered for admission at the University of Florida, he apparently abandoned
that right." All right. This is good. I would like to have a copy of this. Did you
ever have the privilege to meet Virgil Hawkins?
B: Never met him?
B: Do you find it interesting that they have a Virgil Hawkins's Clinic at the University
0: I think it is good, but for the wrong reasons.
B: Explain that to me because I have heard that said before.
O: Virgil Hawkins (you know his history) not only did he not practice the law well,
and was, I think, disbarred.
B: Yes, he was.
O: So I say, to have a clinic in his name, for a man that was not a good member of
the Bar, as it turned out, is the wrong reason to establish a clinic in the law
school in his name. That is all. I never knew him. I think you will find that you
will have to read the federal court opinion. Here it is; you did not read this. This
is from the District Court of Florida. Mr. Hawkins abandoned his petition for an
order requiring that he be admitted to the College of Law. Whether he had
thereafter applied for admission, as he was entitled to do under that opinion, I do
not know. He may well have elected not to do so, because the file in that case
reflects that he only scored about 200 on the LSAT.
B: That is a very important thing.
O: Anybody who takes it gets 200.
B: Anyone who takes it gets 200?
O: That is my understanding.
B: I see. So there was no score there to justify [his admittance]?
0: I do not think we would have admitted anybody with a 200 score.
B: That is true. I hear that. When you go back to the University of Florida and you
see now how the University has changed, with approximately 2,500 minority
students there and students in all of the graduate programs, how do you feel as
being the president that was there at the major point in history when that change
was taking place?
0: I feel very good about it.
B: Do you feel that it happened too quickly, or were you given enough time to deal
with that? The reason I say that is I heard President Criser [Marshall M. Criser,
president, University of Florida, 1985-1989] mention one day in speaking (he said
it very simplisticly) from the mid 1930s until the 1960s, the University of Florida
did not deal with Afro-American students, and very few females. During the
1960s, it began to admit Afro-American students, and that it was going to take a
while for the University of Florida to get the programs in place and get the
students there at the University. It was going to take a while. He said that you
cannot expect what has not happened in forty years to be done in ten or fifteen
O: Psychology means a great deal in anything you deal with because it does not
always predict rightly the future. The past does not, and sometimes the past is a
bar to the future. It has been in the case of black students. If there are 2,500
there now, as opposed to the 600-something that were there when I left (642).
In six years, we went from sixty-one to 642, ten times almost.
B: Something that I will share with you. The Upward Bound Program has just
celebrated, I forget what anniversary, and the percentage of the students that
enter the Upper Bound Program and graduate Florida is more than 85 percent.
That program has been very successful.
O: That is damn good.
B: G.W. Mingo [Gwenuel W. Mingo, Director, DSSSP and Lecturer] speaks very
highly of the program. People come in with not necessarily the right attitude for
the University of Florida or have not been adequately prepared to be there. This
program has helped them bridge that gap. Of course now there is a question, if
all of these black programs that were instituted under your administration, which I
did not know, still need to be there?
O: I am sure that not all of them are still enforced because they were refined as we
went along, as you will see from this. The thing that I always maintained and
advocated for all of our colleges was that we could admit those who did not have
the right preparation and try to overcome it, but we were not doing anyone any
favors if we lower our graduation standards. That would have been a disservice
B: Yes it would have.
O: There is always a fear of that. That is what happened in the high schools.
They did not want to hurt anybody's feelings and did not want to have on their
record that they were not passing everyone that was in school. After they had
come to us, if we gave them a diploma that was not deserved, who would correct
B: Then they would not be able to get a job, and they would be very disturbed about
O: Or if they got a job, it would not last long.
B: Was this program before the Affirmative Action Law, the different programs you
put in place?
O: We had never heard of Affirmative Action. I did not. I cannot remember
hearing about Affirmative Action.
B: Were many of these programs instituted by the federal government or state?
O: They will tell you whether they were programs that were supported by [the state
or federal government].
B: We mentioned HEW, the EEO Program, Upward Bound, the Critical Program
and the CLEO Program. I would like to have a copy of that, if I may.
O: You can have it. Let me see if I have another copy of this.
B: Before we finish, what would you have to say to the tenured? I know this is a
very selfish question. As the president of the University of Florida, [what was]
your roll in helping to bridge the gap between the black/white community?
0: I am trying to see if I have another copy of this Hawkins's case. It does not
appear that I do. I will just have to send you a copy.
B: That will be fine.
O: The citations are there. You can get them at the law school.
B: Periodically, I give talks about the history of the integration of the University of
Florida, and I use the material that is in someone's files that I find sort of
incomplete. I would love to have a statement about Stephen O'Connell and how
you feel that you were very significant in this beginning of a period in history that
had never taken place before.
O: It was hard at that time to get any satisfaction from it because of the continual
complaints from students and faculty that not enough was being done, whereas a
lot was being done. I think many expected the whole thing to be changed
immediately, which as you well know and most people would think and know, it
cannot be done.
B: Was it because the general public was not aware of the policies that were in
place, what you had to put in place to get a program in place?
0: I think that, as you know, at that time, we had come to expect instant success
and instant progress. It is not in the cards to do that, particularly with something
that had the background that this had. There was no way to do it instantly. It
was a process we started, which had significant progress in the short period of
time, and it has formed the basis for what has come later, which I am very happy
B: Is there anything that sticks out in your mind that is a major point of positiveness
for you that happened during your administration?
0: I would think that the views of those who knew, for example Dean Cole, what
was going on. Their appreciation for what was happening was the thing that
was more meaningful to me.
B: I really want to thank you for this interview. It has been amazing. More people
have asked if I have had the privilege to interview you, and my background with
you has been very positive. I am very pleased with this. I hope at some point
that I am able to pull together the black alumni of the University of Florida, and
have you visit with them to share with them some of these things because I was
not aware of a lot of things that were put in place, that were happening when
there was a lot of confusion going on on campus.
0: I would be glad to do that Joel.
B: Thank you, I have enjoyed being here at your home. So what are you doing
now besides writing your memories and speaking?
O: Not writing my memories. I am trying to run this damn farm without much help.
B: Do you find this enjoyable?
O: It would be if it were not so confining as it is right now. I am losing money on the
cattle, but I cannot give up on it. This time of year, you see that grass up there?
It needs to be cut and bailed, but it rains everyday. You can only put up hay
when it is hot and dry. If I do not put up enough hay, I cannot feed those cows
B: That is a concern.
O: The problem is the mercy of the weather, as well as the market. Right now the
market is killing us. There is some hope that the next two or three years it may
B: President O'Connell, how many of acres do you have out here?
O: Almost 700.
B: You just take care of the cattle right now. Any other livestock?
O: I have three burros that the Governor Wayne Mixson [Lieutenant governor of
Florida, 1979-1987] gave me that help in keeping the coyotes away from the
cattle. They chase dogs and coyotes. The man who works for me has two
horses, but that is all other than my mean dog out in front.
B: You do not plant any vegetables or fruit?
O: I used to have a garden, but it is like having children--you have to tend it every
B: Are you back on campus very often?
O: I go to all the Foundation meetings and I am still on the advisory committee for
Blue Key. I go to those meetings. I go to football games, of course, some
basketball [games], and some other events.
B: What have you seen on campus that has been built since you left that you find
delightful? Of course, the O'Connell Center is used quite frequently, and is a
major structure on campus. What else have you seen built here that has been
totally amazing to you since you left?
O: The counseling center, for example.
B: Academic counseling?
O: It is a major step forward, I think. It was always one of the most difficult
problems we had--getting faculty to do counseling. They said they did, and
some did. Most did not like it, and did not do it. It was something that was very
important to the students. This is a major step forward. Academic advisement
and counseling are essential to an institution the size of ours now.
B: It has really expanded.
O: When I was there, it increased 1,000 students per year. Now it usually
advances much less, but is it about 35,000 now?
B: Yes, sir.
O: The College of Arts and Sciences is larger than many universities, as you know.
B: That is right. So it has expanded academically and building-wise. Do you think
we have outgrown our location?
B: You do not?
O: No. We are fortunate that we have almost 2,000 acres of land now. That is a
lot of land.
B: But we are almost right downtown Gainesville and that becomes a concern with
the citizens of the city and the University of Florida.
O: There has to come a time, I think, when there has to be some limit put on the
size of the University. There are others who say that is not the case. I think
you lose a lot when it becomes a megalopolis.
B: It has lost the friendliness of the University, and it has become such a large
university. When we recruit students, we almost tell them you are actually
coming to a city. The University of Florida is larger than many of the little towns
that students [come from], who we recruit to come to the University. Something
is happening now with the athletes. The requirements academically for them to
be recruited with is almost, I was told, the same problem that was there
concerning the black students. You must come with a minimum requirement,
and it does not happen very readily. Because Johnny can play ball very well,
does not mean that Johnny should be at Florida. Do you agree with the
O: I agree with that. Otherwise, you are not having a student athlete. I have the
feeling that most students, if they know in advance what the requirements are,
will meet them. They are led to believe that they do not have to meet standards.
If high schools and community colleges will continue to elevate their
expectations of students, they will meet it. Some will. All those that should go
on further, and will meet them. If they cannot meet them, they should not go
B: Do you not advocate that if Johnny is a good football player and not academic,
that he should be brought to the University just to play ball?
O: I do not advocate that. No. I never have.
B: Do you think it would not be practical to do that?
O: No. To bring him just to play ball? We would become another pro team if we
B: I want to thank you for this interview. It has been delightful.
O: Good to see you again, Joel.
B: Nice seeing you too. Please give my regards to all of the members of your
0: I am sorry that Rita is not here to see you too.
B: I am too.
0: I remember those days when you took care of her so well.
B: Thank you. I want to say to you that my being a part of your administration and
working with you has been a very significant part of my life. There are times
when I am called to talk about that experience because so many Afro-Americans
have a different view of Stephen C. O'Connell. I have shared with them many
times you cannot evaluate a person about what you think; it is a matter of the
encounter you have. This interview is going to help give a significant role to that
integration of the University of Florida because there are things that you shared
that I think many, many people do not know about, the things that were in place
with that. I will definitely tell T. Winston Cole that you said hello.
O: Give him my best, and his wife too.
B: She is doing very well. Thank you.