Milestone Moment: College of Nursing’s First Black Graduate and First Black Dean Reflect on History and the Road Ahead

Dean Shakira Henderson and Evelyn Moore Mickle pose for a phot. Mickle was the University of Florida College of Nursing's first black graduate. Henderson is the college's first black dean.

When Evelyn Moore Mickle graduated from the University of Florida College of Nursing in 1967, the young lady from Live Oak, Florida, became the college’s first Black graduate.  

Almost 60 years later, Mickle is celebrating Dean Shakira Henderson, who recently became the college’s first Black dean.

“I’ll tell you the truth, I cried when I heard. Did I ever think I would live to see this? I didn’t,” Mickle said.

The appointment touched Mickle so deeply because her journey, while historic, was painful. While in school, she experienced indifference and outright intolerance from the administration, faculty and students.

“It was very special for me to see Dean Henderson selected. I hope that she will be allowed to do the job she is capable of doing and was hired to do. I know she will take the college in the right direction,” she said. “I think she will give students an enlarged perspective on the art of nursing, caring and leadership.”

Henderson joined the college on Jan. 29 and was also named associate vice president for nursing education, practice, and research — or System Chief Nurse Executive — for UF Health.

She previously held positions at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, UNC Health, and the UNC – Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

“Dean Henderson has all those attributes of team leadership that Dean (Dorothy M.) Smith was on the cutting edge of,” said Mickle, referring to the college’s founding dean.

Henderson was excited to meet Mickle after hearing her story.   

“Evelyn Moore Mickle is an inspiration. She is one of the pioneers who opened the doors for countless others. Her journey helped ease the way for many to be seen and recognized for their talents and abilities,” Henderson said.

The two met at the Dorothy M. Smith Nursing Leadership Awards celebration on Feb. 15.

“It was an honor to meet her and talk to her. We will be talking more in the future, I am sure. After meeting her, I am convinced she was the right selection and will do great things,” Mickle said.

Henderson expressed her respect and admiration for Mickle.

“I was humbled by her strength and inspired by her resilience. Her presence serves as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the transformative power of education,” she said. “In our institution’s history, we have faced challenges and triumphs alike, but few stories resonate with the depth and significance of this one. Mrs. Mickle persevered through trials that tested her resolve and spirit, navigating through adversity with grace and fortitude.”

Mickle was one of five Black students invited into the college in 1965. The invitation came on the heels of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which officially ended racial segregation in public schools and universities. However, attitudes in the South did not change overnight.

“There were five of us that were hand-selected because the University of Florida needed some of us to attend to continue to get federal funding,” Mickle said.

When she arrived, she found the transition still underway. For a time, the hospital cafe remained segregated.

And many of the students were less than welcoming. She was always last to find a partner for labs.

“No one wanted to work with me,” she said. “I didn’t make a friend until late into my first year. It was a nursing student who was Jewish.”

Some of the faculty also made it difficult. She was given patients who refused previous contacts and was given assignments requiring travel to rural areas of the county despite only having a bicycle for transportation. She overcame those obstacles.

“I was very much unsupported. Much of this I would like to forget. But I was never offered help, or support, or even counseling,” Mickle said.

Administration even offered to ease her transfer to the historically-Black Florida A&M University. However, FAMU did not have an accredited nursing program at the time. She had also previously been admitted to FAMU, so did not need help to transfer.

It almost became too much.

“I never thought of dropping out, but I often considered transferring,” she said, adding that she neither had the money to transfer nor would she give up her dream of becoming a nurse.

Her desire to care for others started as a little girl after visiting the sick with her mother.

“She would pick up her towel and her basin, and she would go to see anybody that was sick and shut-in. She would take me along with her. I loved it. I wanted to go and do what she was doing. I wanted to care for others,” Mickle said, adding she also visited the sick with her father, a pastor.

When she was 7, she remembers visiting the hospital in Live Oak with her parents. They did not allow children on the ward, so she sat in the segregated waiting room while her parents visited.

“I remember meeting this one Black nurse at the hospital. Her name was, Alzeta Abrams. She was beautiful. I loved the uniform. The cape and hat were so distinguished,” Mickle said.

Abrams had trained at the segregated Brewster Hospital in Jacksonville, which also had a nursing education program.

But her dream was galvanized as a teenager after her brother became ill, and she would help care for him at the Live Oak hospital while her parents worked.

“That’s what solidified it for me. I wanted to help my people,” she said.

Despite the struggles, there were bright spots. A few faculty members and students embraced her.

One instructor pledged to tutor her after Mickle failed part of her nursing board certification exam.

Still, her college education enhanced her passion for nursing.

“After I matriculated here, nursing really came alive for me. I wanted to work with public health and families,” she said, adding that the ideas of team leadership instilled in her at the college helped her career.

While it took time to reconcile her experiences at the college, she has made peace with it all. She credits former Dean Anna McDaniel with helping the process.

“She reached out to me. I resisted at first, but she persisted,” Mickle said, adding McDaniel made her feel welcome.

She still wears the Gators scarf and pin McDaniel gave her during their first meeting.

“She never stopped letting me know that she respected and embraced the sacrifice it took. I think Dean McDaniel laid the groundwork for Dean Henderson,” she said.

Of the five students integrated into the college in 1965, Mickle was the first to graduate.

“Her journey was not just one of academic achievement, but a testament to the power of perseverance and the unyielding pursuit of excellence,” Henderson said. “Mrs. Mickle stands as a testament to the progress we have made and the distance we have yet to travel in our collective journey towards belonging and inclusivity.”

Mickle continues to share her story with nursing students at the college.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t give up. In the long run, when you have adversity, it makes you a better individual.’ Not mistreatment but adversity,” she said. “That is the only reason for me to continue to tell this story. I hope it will encourage someone not to give up because some dear prices have been paid.”