Sister Series Herstory
The late 1950's signaled a change in pace and face for the University of Florida (UF). Departing from a history rooted in discrimination and degradation, African Americans began to make their presence known and their voices heard. The first attempt made by an African American to apply for admission to UF was S.D. MCGill. 1 Mr. McGill, a Jacksonville attorney, wrote a letter expressing interest in taking an extension course at UF. With no consideration, Attorney McGill was referred to Florida A&M. McGill's effort sparked enthusiam on the part of his counterparts to apply to UF, however, he also fueled a fury within admissions officers who ardently enforced these discriminatory practices. Between 1945 and 1958, more than 85 African Americans were denied admission on all levels to UF. 2 In an attempt to follow the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education George Starke, Jr. was the first African American student to be admitted to UF and the College of Law in 1958.
In the following year, African American women began to author their voice of existence when Mrs. Daphne Duval began attending night classes at UF.Establishing an African presence at UF took nearly a hundred years since UF’s conception. The new battle for students was to create a comfortable and supportive environment that eliminate the residue left by racism. Addressing this issue, in 1968 students organized the Black Student Union (BSU) that would aid in enhancing the experience of African Americans at UF. Combining the introduction of BSU with the revolutionary social climate of the 1960’s, UF began to evaluate its hiring practices. Two years since the unveiling of BSU, UF hired eight black faculty and staff, which included Betty Ingram in the English Department, Bylle Avery in College of Nursing and Lavon Wright as the first black counselor in the Student Financial Aid Office. The 1970's were characterized by triumph and tragedy, as the University welcomed new faculty, the insensitivity to the current students resulted in a sit in known as "Black Thursday." The sit-in staged in then President's Stephen C. O'Connell's office resulted in the creation in of the Institute of Black Culture.
The momentum gathered from the sit-in was an energy that African American women embraced as they set out to be among the "firsts" in numerous arenas. In 1973, Hazel Land became the first black female to graduate from the University of Florida Law School. A few years later, Karen Stephens was selected as the first Black Miss University of Florida, Sharon Bruton became the first black female inducted into the Florida Blue Key and in 1982, Sharen Brown beame the first black female to graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering. On the political front, Pamela Bingham made history by becoming the first black female elected Student Government President. Assisting African American women in the journey for identity and support, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. established the first historically black Greek letter undergraduate sorority chapter at UF. Following Zeta's presence,Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. chartered a chapter in 1975, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in the same year. Most recently, Sally K. William became the first black to receive a Ph.D. from the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition.
It is because of this rich tradition of accomplishments and achievements of these African American women that we celebrate "herstory." We must also recognize that history could not be complete without history, because both stories are interdependent living testiments of humanity. And, so we pay homage to those African American women who braved racism and sexism and bore the brand of oppression so that others might reap the fruits of higher education.