Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

UF's First Black Students Persevered

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

UF's First Black Students Persevered

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

GAINESVILLE | When hundreds of black University of Florida graduates gathered here this past weekend to honor pioneers whose talents helped lead the state's flagship school to begin admitting more black students, they didn't just see examples of success.

They also saw examples of survival, examples of blacks who excelled by refusing to be discouraged by those who insisted they wear labels of inferiority.

DISCRIMINATION

Stephen Williams, who in 1970 became the first black Gator basketball player, remembers that insistence. At first it scared him. Then it steeled him.

"I had a bad experience in a restaurant in Louisiana when we went to play LSU," Williams told me. "A group of people gathered around me and told me that I had to leave. It put some fear into me because I didn't know if they were going to carry me outside to try and harm me, but they didn't."

So he didn't leave.

"We also had an incident at Mississippi State when we were walking through a crowd of students, and the students were spitting," he said. "They didn't spit in my face. It was kind of on my shoulders, and we had warm-up suits on, so it didn't get to my body."

So he played ball anyway and went on to become captain of the team in his senior year.

Reuben Brigety, the first African-American to graduate from University of Florida's medical school in 1970 who became a prominent doctor in Jacksonville, also remembers the bigotry.

"One of my first big incidents here was that I couldn't get my laundry done," Brigety said. "There was this big sign at this laundry that said, 'Welcome Gators.'

"Well, they had signs saying white shirts and colored shirts, but when I brought my shirts in, a lady said they didn't do colored shirts. I was so innocent at the time, I said, 'Well, you do the white shirts, and I'll do the colored shirts. …

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