A Cause Worth Fighting For

Harley Herman is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law. During the first decade of his practice, he met Virgil Hawkins, when they represented opposing parties in lawsuits. Herman and Hawkins began practicing law in the 1970's, but Herman was in his mid-20's and Mr. Hawkins was in his mid-70's. Mr. Hawkins began his legal career so late in his life, because despite constant threats to his life, his decade-long lawsuits seeking admission to the all-white University of Florida, despite Florida's open and direct defiance of Orders of the US Supreme Court mandating Hawkins' admission to UF. His fight tragically ended with a Court Order where Hawkins withdrew his application for admission and the Judge enjoined UF from denying black applicants admission to its taxpayer-funded university. The distinguished legal career that Hawkins would have provided to his clients if Florida had complied with the binding court decisions, can only be imagined. As the retirement of Judges was 70 when Hawkins was living, the start of his legal career at that age provide us with only a glimmer of his true potential.

While Herman's legal career as a young UF law graduate prospered, Mr. Hawkins' career ended with the surrender of his law license in 1985. He died impoverished and disgraced, from a massive stroke a few years later. The small cracked piece of marble with his name on it (shown in the book cover) was all that remained to inform others of his life. Following Mr. Hawkins' death, Harley Herman began an effort to restore Hawkins right to be honored and remembered as the man whose fight enabled Florida to desegregate its universities, without the violence that was encountered at the universities in Mississippi and Alabama.

Herman's efforts began with an unprecedented petition to the Florida Supreme Court, asking the Court to grant the last wish Hawkins made to the Court in 1983: "When I get to heaven, I want to be a member of the Florida Bar!" Although such reliefe had never been granted by any court prior to Herman's petition, in October of 1988, the Florida Supreme Court granted the petition and Mr. Hawkins was posthumously reinstated as a member of the Florida Bar. The court stated that Hawkins was "entitled to be recognized for his contribution to our state in the manner that he would have most desired had he lived." In re Virgil Darnell Hawkins 532 So.2d 669 at 671. A few months after that decision, the British Bar granted a similar request to Mahatma Gandhi, who similarly lost his law license as a result of his civil rights efforts. In recent years, others such as Lloyd Gaines, whose lawsuit sought the integration of the University of Missouri, have been posthumously admitted to their respective state bars.
Following the Court's decision Herman designed the monument to Mr. Hawkins that stands in Hawkins' hometown of Okahumpka, Florida and drafted the 1989 bill to name the University of Florida College of Law's Civil Legal Clinic after Mr. Hawkins, so that students who received the education he was denied, could represent in Hawkins' name, the clients he wanted to represent, from the time at age six, when he saw defendants in chains without legal representation receiving long sentences for minor crimes. Herman's work has continued for over three decades after Mr. Hawkins death, with the most recent honor being Herman's eight-year fight that resulted in a historic marker at UF's Bryant Hall, the building on the UF's main campus where the first black student was admitted in 1958. A PBS Documentary: "A Lawyer Made in Heaven" can be accessed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2-O_bcqw8Y,
A Cause Worth Fighting For tells the story of Mr. Hawkins' seven-decade fight to attend law school and represent clients after admission to the bar. It also details Harley Herman's three-decade fight to assure that historic importance of the work and sacrifices of Virgil Hawkins that peacefully ended segregation at Florida's public universities are not forgotten even during the one month each year, when the stories of black history's milestones are remembered.

Casualties of War

The sacrifices and decisions made during Virgil Hawkins efforts to segregate the University of Florida cannot be fully put into perspective, without an understanding of the prior and subsequent efforts in other Southern States to enable black students to attend the universities of their states which were paid for through their tax dollars.

Like most law students, when Harley Herman attended the University of Florida, his Constitutional Law provided the legal decisions concerning universities, which ultimately became the precedent for the wide known: Brown v. Board of Education. None discussed the impact on the clients who placed their lives on the line to make those decisions possible. None rode off into the sunset to glory and successful lives. Most like Hawkins fled their home states after their court "victories" and died impoverished because few would hire them after the courts' compelled defiant states to provide all of their citizens with Equal Opportunities Under Law. (For example few know that Rosa Parks had to flee Alabama and lived her remaining years in Detroit Michigan. Had it not been for her work at the office of Congressman John Conyers, she might have died destitute and homeless.)

The stories of the men and women who like soldiers on the front lines, placed their lives and bodies in harm's way so their lawyers could proudly display their court victories are largely unknown. They are essential to understand the legal and strategic missions and mistakes made from 1949 - 1958, to obtain the decisions that desegregated UF, at the cost of Hawkins' right to attend the University of Florida. For example, Lloyd Gaines, whose US Supreme Court case began the dismantling of the concept of Separate but Unequal, was murdered before he could benefit from the Court's ruling in his favor, It was Autherine Lucy, not Vivian Malone who was the first black student admitted to the University of Alabama, though her time as a student ended three days after her admission, due to the riots and physical attacks on Lucy that ended with her expulsion. Though PBS journalist Charlayne Hunter is known as one of the first black students admitted to the University of Georgia, the effort to desegregate UG began with the lawsuit of Horace T. Ward, that had an untimely end when Georgia had Ward drafted during the Korean War, with the hope that he would not survive the conflict.
The pre-Brown and pre-Hawkins cases of Gaines, Sweatt, Sipuel and McLauren consume at most one hour of discussion in the Constitutional Law classes of first-year law students. To put the Hawkins' battles in perspective, the entirety of the stories of the men and women who largely became casualties of the desegregation wars need a more complete discussion. The text of this discussion cannot be included in "A Cause Worth Fighting For" as it requires hundreds of pages to place those stories and their related litigation in their proper context. As such Casualties of War will be published to provide a more extensive narration and discussion of these early civil rights battles and their impact on both the Hawkins cases and the desegregation of Florida and the surrounding Southern States.