In celebration of Black History Month, we honor the first African American to graduate from the UF College of Nursing: Evelyn Moore Mickle, B.S.N.
To say Evelyn Moore Mickle’s (BSN 1967) journey to becoming a nurse was difficult would be an understatement. As the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Nursing, her path to earning her degree was fraught with challenges and struggles of feeling alone and unsupported.
Now almost 50 years after her graduation, after a long and difficult road of coming to terms with her experiences, she is ready to tell her story and to say she is finally proud to be a Gator Nursing graduate. Part of that healing has been the warm embrace and welcome that Dean Anna McDaniel has shown her since beginning as dean
Mickle can still remember how she felt on her first day of nursing school. Walking down University Avenue, across campus, down the hill and up to the J. Hillis Miller Health Center and how anxious she was about finding her classes, and obtaining her supplies, like books and her uniforms. She never worried about how she would be treated.“Three months after she began her deanship, Dr. McDaniel asked to meet with me. I am sure she had so much on her plate, but she made meeting me a priority. She wanted to know my story and listened. I saw how much she cared about me and my experience, and that has really touched my heart. When she introduced me and told my story from memory at the Association of Black Alumni event, amazingly, she told my story from memory. Astonished, I felt welcomed by the UF College of Nursing,” Mickle said.
When Mickle, a transfer student, entered nursing school in 1965, it was the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., and tensions were high. Only the year prior, the Civil Rights Act was signed and allowed the federal government to enforce desegregation and prohibit discrimination in public facilities, in government and in employment. In March of 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a famed civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery to raise awareness for the difficulty for black voters in the South.
“There were five African-Americans in that class. We felt totally isolated. We only had each other. It was a very difficult experience,” Mickle said.
Of the five, Mickle was the first one who graduated. She relied on the support of the first African-American student in the College of Medicine, staff, and nursing assistants at UF Health Shands Hospital and a HSC librarian who would make sure the books she needed were put aside. Despite that, the challenges were difficult.
“Many nights I cried myself to sleep,” Mickle said. “Without my church family, I would not have made it.”
“Besides the challenge of being in the college and the rigor of the nursing curriculum, Evelyn bravely faced the beginning of the integration of blacks at UF,” said Professor Emeritus Jodi Irving, a young faculty member when Mickle was a student. “One only has to know about the history of those times to have an inkling of what she faced. She is a pioneer in her own right. I have great respect for her and hold her in regard for her continued support of the college.”That family was at Gainesville’s Mount Carmel Baptist Church, a place Evelyn and her husband, the Hon. Stephan Mickle, are still very active. Stephan Mickle (BA 1965, MED 1966, JD 1970) was the first black undergraduate degree recipient at UF and second UF law graduate. Mickle recalled her final semester, which was public health nursing, where she was given more patient cases than any other student. Lacking any transportation, she found a way to visit five patients across town, some of whom lacked basic health care and resources. But she persevered and got them the help they needed.
A long-time leader in the Greater Gainesville Black Nurses Association, her professional nursing career was diverse and distinguished. Mickle’s work experience included psychiatry, pediatrics, internal medicine, juvenile detention, day care, school nursing, clinic supervisor, health education and volunteering. She was a strong role model and positive influence on many P.K. Yonge students during her tenure there as the school nurse. She gladly supervised UF nursing students during their Community Health rotation.
“I believe that facing the adversities as I did and my struggles helped to make me who I am today,” Mickle said. “It has made me a stronger person and has allowed me to rely on my faith to see me through.”
Mickle received the Association of Black Alumni “Gator Pioneer Award” on October 11, 2013, and was honored as the first black graduate of the University of Florida College of Nursing. Dean McDaniel attended the awards ceremony and also gave a testimonial on behalf of Mickle at a reception held at Emerson Alumni Hall.
“We are so proud to count Evelyn as a Gator Nurse, and as Dean, I am honored to also count her as a friend and trusted advisor,” McDaniel said. “She is so inspirational to me as she is to so many fellow nurses.”
In 2015, Dean McDaniel was honored to officially “pin” Mickle during a UF ceremony honoring Black History Month. The constant support shown by Dean McDaniel, Irving and Professor Emeritus Jo Snider has allowed Mickle to embrace her degree and her college.
“I am finally proud to say I am a Gator Nurse,” Mickle said. “If my story inspires anyone facing adversity in their life,I am honored.”
Evelyn Moore Mickle’s story was portrayed in the Gator Tales series and can be found on the Gator Tales YouTube channel. Her oral history can be found by searching on oral.history.ufl.edu