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A Guide to the John A. H. Murphree Files Regarding the Virgil D. Hawkins Case

Finding aid created by Michael Bennett

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections

June 2017



Descriptive Summary

Creator: Murphree, John A. H., 1904-1987
Title: John A. H. Murphree Files Regarding the Virgil D. Hawkins Case
Dates: 1956, 1978
Abstract: Case files belonging to Florida Circuit Judge John A. H. Murphree concerning the 1956 Supreme Court Case Virgil Hawkins v. Board of Control regarding the admission of Virgil Hawkins, a black man, as a law student at the all white law school at the University of Florida. Murphree was appointed by the Florida Supreme Court to act as commissioner on the case and gather information for the Florida Supreme Court ruling.
Extent: 2 Folders.
Identification: MSS 0390
Language(s): English

Biographical/Historical Note

John A. H. Murphree was born March 14, 1904, son of the University of Florida's second president, Albert A. Murphree. Murphree obtained his law degree from the University of Florida in 1928, and was appointed as Circuit Court Judge by Governor Spessard Holland in 1943. During the 1950's, Judge Murphree was tasked by the Florida Supreme Court with collecting testimony for the Virgil Hawkins case. Until his retirement in 1979, John Murphree maintained his seat unopposed. He died January 10, 1987.

In 1949, 41-year-old Virgil D. Hawkins was denied admittance to the University of Florida's College of Law based on its policy of segregation. An appeal to the Florida Supreme Court resulted in a decision to instead construct a law school for black students. Undeterred, Hawkins would continue to push his case, going before the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court on several occasions.

In 1956, the Supreme Court ordered Hawkins be accepted. That same year, the Florida Supreme Court issued a commission to gauge the public's reaction to the possibility of Hawkins being accepted. Judge John A. H. Murphree was appointed commissioner and given the task of collecting letters, petitions, and questionnaires. The records provided by Judge Murphree convinced the Florida Supreme Court that admitting Hawkins to the University Law School would result "in great public mischief." These records were then used as justification by the Florida Supreme Court when it rebuked the United States Supreme Court's decision.

In 1958, Hawkins withdrew his case under the condition that the University law school would no longer use race as a condition to turn away students. Months later, the University of Florida's College of law would accept George Starke as its first black student. Hawkins' decade-long struggle helped pave the way for racial integration at the University of Florida. Hawkins eventually received his law degree in New England, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1977. He died in 1988.


Scope and Content

The collection contains two folders. The first folder contains materials from 1956 while Judge Murphree was a commissioner acting on behalf of the Florida Supreme Court to collect public positions on racial integration to be used in the Virgil Hawkins case. The folder primarily contains letters and petitions from Florida citizens urging opposition to desegregation. There is also some correspondence from Judge Murphree regarding his involvement in the case.

The second folder contains Murphree's correspondence concerning the case, a copy of the Florida Supreme Court's original ruling in Virgil Hawkins vs. the Board of Control, and a report created by the Board of Control using the results of the survey based on the findings of the commission headed by Judge Murphree. Also of interest is a newspaper article from the Gainesville Sun, dated June 8, 1978, which incriminates Judge Murphree for his role in the Virgil Hawkins affair. In response, Murphree wrote a letter asking the editor to remove "the erroneous implication you have assigned to my part in the Hawkins litigation." In the letter, Murphree asserted his role as commissioner was to "merely receive the testimony and other evidence presented concerning the Hawkins matter."


Access or Use Restrictions

Access

The collection is open for research.


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], John A. H. Murphree Files Regarding the Virgil D. Hawkins Case, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the University of Florida in 1989.


Contents List

Folder
1 Case file - letters and petitions. 1956
2 Case file - correspondence, report, and newspaper article. 1956, 1978

Selected Subjects and Access Terms

Civil rights
Florida--Gainesville
Hawkins, Virgil, 1906-1988
Murphree, John A. H., 1904-1987
University of Florida. College of Law




For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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