Today in Sanford history, W. George Allen, the first black student to graduate from the University of Florida, was born. It was March 3, 1936.
Born in Midway to Lessie Mae Williams and Fletcher Allen, young George was raised by his mother and stepfather, Bruce Brown. He attended Midway Elementary and Junior High schools and graduated from Crooms Academy in 1954.
Allen enrolled at Florida A&M University with the intention of becoming a doctor, but by chance he was cast as a lawyer in a school play, which led Allen to switch career paths. He graduated In 1958, with a B.S. degree in political science and a minor in economics. Allen joined the U.S. Army after graduation and served as a special agent in the Counter Intelligence Corps.
Allen was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant and had offers from several prestigious universities to attend law school.
“I was admitted to Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, but I’m a native Floridian, and I felt that somebody had to integrate the University of Florida,” Allen said in a 2013 interview with Florida Trend Magazine. ‘The racists told me I didn’t belong there and I’d never graduate.”
Allen earned his J.D. degree from the University of Florida Law School in 1962 and soon after opened his own practice in Ft. Lauderdale. He went on to become one of Florida’s most prominent civil rights attorneys. His legal skills helped integrate beaches in Fort Lauderdale and the schools in Broward County.
Several times during his career, Allen was encouraged to become a judge, but he preferred his role as an advocate in private practice.
“The first time I was offered a judgeship, they weren’t making a lot of money back then,” Allen told Florida Trend. “Nixon was president. I think they were making $36,000 a year, and frankly I was making more. Also, judges have to be impartial, like referees, and I have an opinion about every damn thing.”
Allen passed away last fall, Nov. 8, 2019. He was 83.
While Allen was the first black student to graduate from the university of Florida, he was not the first black student to enroll at the university. That trail had already been blazed in 1958 by another man with Sanford connections – George H. Starke Jr., son of Dr. George H. Starke Sr., Sanford’s first black doctor.