The University of Florida Gators are coming to town this Saturday for a football game against the University of Miami Hurricanes. So now is a good time to reflect on UF's long history of racism. For decades, the Gainesville school's overseers were instrumental in preventing African-Americans from getting a higher education.
Between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied for admission to UF, and all were rejected. One of those applicants, Virgil Hawkins, fought his rejection all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where the chief justice, Stephen C. O'Connell, was a segregationist who would later become UF's president. Not surprisingly, the state's highest court refused to integrate. The school didn't admit its first black undergraduate students until 1962.
Willie Jackson Sr. and Leonard George, the first black student-athletes to play football at UF, were among only 343 black students. When the black student union staged a protest about the disparity, 66 students were arrested and O'Connell insisted on pressing charges. As a result, a third of the black students and several black professors left UF.
In the past decade, UF twice passed over an African-American, Charlie Strong, for the top coaching position. The defensive coordinator served as interim head coach for a bowl game in 2004 but was quickly cast aside for superstar coach Urban Meyer. Strong stayed with the Gators for five more years, molding a stout defense that helped the school win two national championships. He expected a fair opportunity for the head coach's job once Meyer hung up his whistle. But when UF officials begged Meyer to stay on for one more year after the 2009 season, Strong saw the writing on the wall.
So he accepted the head-coaching vacancy at the University of Louisville, where he's built a powerhouse. In a January 2009 interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Strong expressed his belief that race was part of the reason he wasn't offered the gig at Florida. He got the last laugh, though, when his Louisville Cardinals whomped the Gators in the Sugar Bowl this past January 2.
That's why I can't wait for kickoff. The Canes are gonna roast those racist Gators.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.