Remembering Stephan Mickle, the first African-American to earn an undergraduate degree at UF
Stephan Mickle, the first African-American to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida and the second Black student to earn a law degree at UF, died Tuesday, Jan. 26. He was 76.
Mickle was a pioneer who accomplished many firsts.
In addition to being the first to earn an undergraduate degree from UF in 1965, he was among the first seven African-American students to integrate the university in 1962.
He went on to become the first African-American to establish a law practice in Gainesville in 1972. In 1979, he began a five-year tenure as the first African-American county judge in Alachua County, later achieving the same first during his eight years as a circuit court judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
In 1993, he began serving as the first African-American federal judge in the First District Court of Appeal and later became the first African-American to serve as federal judge in the U.S. District Court at the Northern District of Florida in 1998.
His achievements were recognized by the university when he became the first African-American to receive a distinguished alumnus award in 1999. Mickle was known as a mild-mannered, humble and deliberate man who often attributed his accomplishments to chance.
“(I)t was a series of watersheds along the way that steered me in a certain direction,” he said in a 1995 interview with the university for its Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. “I do not take any credit for being brilliant to lay out my life.”
Mickle was the son of educators. After living in Daytona Beach for several years, he was sent to live with his grandparents in South Carolina for some time when his parents separated. When his father remarried, they relocated to Gainesville, and he and his brother rejoined him.
After high school, Mickle had hopes that he would be accepted into Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University. W. George Allen, would encourage Mickle to apply at UF, where he was accepted academically. He hoped to become an instructor.
His undergraduate experience at UF, however, was solitary, he recalled in several interviews. Though he faced no “major” incident because of his race, he referred to his experience as a “wall of silence.”
Despite the isolating experience during his undergraduate years, he persisted.
“I just kept telling myself, I can do it,” said Mickle in a previous interview. “I am the captain of my own fate.”
Mickle declared political science as his major during his junior year at UF. Still, he said he could not envision his life as a lawyer. In 1966, he obtained a master’s in education from UF. His goal was to become a professor at a junior college in Florida.
Once he graduated, he struggled to achieve that goal. He was continually dismissed under the guise of not having enough experience to be a professor. He taught in high school, but left for law school at UF after becoming disillusioned with the school system.
Law school at UF was a different experience than his undergraduate years, Mickle said. His peers were more accepting, perhaps because they all were admitted to the university by passing the same test, he said.
Also, he met his beloved wife, Evelyn, the summer before beginning law school. They married the following year. They had two daughters, Stephanie and Amy Grace; a son, Stephan; and a nephew, Cotie, whom they raised in their home.
Once he graduated in 1970, he had a stint as a lawyer for the federal government in Washington, D.C., before heading to Fort Lauderdale and establishing a private practice. In 1971, he began serving as an adjunct professor of law at UF and did so for 38 continuous years.
In October 2020, the Levin College of Law hosted a special event that honored Mickle’s life for his grace, nobility and dedication. A portrait of Mickle was unveiled during the event.
Midory Lowry, who served as his law clerk for 16 years, said during the event that Mickle was a genuine man who was very caring. And it reflected in his work and in the courtroom.
“He cared very much about making the right decisions, and getting through to people about really what matters most,” she said.
The University of Florida’s mission is to prepare our students to lead and influence the next generation and beyond for economic, cultural and societal benefit. Recognized as among the top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report, UF is one of the nation’s largest public universities, and is the only member of the Association of American Universities in Florida. Teaching, research and scholarship, and service span all of the UF’s academic disciplines and represent its commitment to be a premier university that the state, nation and world look to for leadership. www.ufl.edu.