Stephan Mickle, the first African-American to earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and the second black student to earn a law degree at UF, died Tuesday, January 26. He was 76 years old.
Mickle was a pioneer who achieved 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 enter the university in 1962.
He became the first African-American to establish a law firm in Gainesville in 1972. In 1979, he began a five-year term as the first African-American county judge in Alachua County, earning more later 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 Appeals and later became the first African-American to serve as a federal judge in the State District Court. United in the Northern District of Florida in 1998.
His accomplishments were recognized by the university when he became the first African American to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999. Mickle was known as a gentle, humble, and thoughtful man who often credited his accomplishments to the chance.
“(I) it was a series of turns that pointed me in a certain direction,” he said in a 1995 interview with the university for its Samuel Proctor oral history program. “I take no credit for being brilliant to show 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 a time when his parents separated. When his father remarried, they moved to Gainesville, and he and his brother joined him.
After high school, Mickle hoped to be accepted into Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University. W. George Allen, would encourage Mickle to apply to UF, where he was accepted academically. He hoped to become an instructor.
His undergraduate experience at UF, however, was lonely, he recalled in several interviews. Although he had not faced any “major” incidents due to his race, he called his experience a “wall of silence”.
Despite the experience of isolation during his undergraduate years, he persisted.
“I kept telling myself, I can do this,” Mickle said in a previous interview. “I am the captain of my own destiny.”
Mickle said political science was his major during his first year at UF. Still, he said he couldn’t envision his life as a lawyer. In 1966, he obtained a master’s degree in pedagogy from the UF. His goal was to become a professor at a junior college in Florida.
After graduating, he struggled to achieve this goal. He was continuously fired on the pretext that he did not have enough experience to be a teacher. He taught in high school, but left for law school at UF after being disappointed with the school system.
Law school at UF was a different experience than his undergraduate years, Mickle said. His peers were more tolerant, perhaps because they all got admitted to college passing the same test, he said.
In addition, he met his beloved wife, Evelyn, the summer before he began studying law. They get married the following year. They had two daughters, Stéphanie and Amy Grace; one son, Stéphane; and a nephew, Cotie, whom they raised in their house.
After graduating in 1970, he worked as a lawyer for the federal government in Washington, DC, before moving to Fort Lauderdale and establishing a private practice. In 1971 he began serving as an assistant professor of law at UF and did so for 38 consecutive years.
In October 2020, 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 at the event.
Midory Lowry, who has been his legal assistant for 16 years, said at the event that Mickle is a genuine and very caring man. And that was reflected in his work and in the courtroom.
“He cared a lot about making the right decisions and making people understand what matters most,” she said.
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