University of Florida’s first Black student reflects on making history

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — George Starke Jr. was raised on the streets in Parramore.

His father was the first black doctor to acquire membership in the Florida Medical Association, so it’s no surprise that when George Jr.’s opportunity to make history arrived, he took it.

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On a sunny September day in 1958, Starke Jr. walked into a classroom at the University of Florida and became the first Black student in the school’s history.

Now, at 90 years old, Starke lives in Clermont, not far from where he grew up.

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After earning his degree at Morehouse College and serving a few years in the Air Force, he was accepted to Florida’s law school, four years after segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.

“It had been in the news about desegregation had been ordered in Gainesville, and I decided to apply,” Starke said. “And it was after passing the LSAT I was admitted, to my surprise, and I went for it.”

That first day, Starke was not met by overt racism outside the classroom like other barrier-breakers were in the south, he said.

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“I was wondering whether I was going to run into something like that at the University of Florida, and the answer was no,” Starke said.

But in the classroom, there were issues.

“I had had a lot of difficulty finding a mentor who, once we found him, was ostracized (by) faculty,” Starke said. “Some of the faculty would speak and others would not. And you could say the same thing in the classroom.”

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During his first semester, law enforcement informed him his name had up in Ku Klux Klan meetings.

Those stresses eventually took their toll, and Starke left the law school. He went onto a successful career in corporate finance.

A few years ago, he was recognized by the University of Florida with an honorary doctorate of law. He was also recognized last year by state leaders for his contribution to Florida history and education.

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.