GAINESVILLE (AP) _ The University of Florida this week celebrated the 50th anniversary of desegregation, and honored the pioneers who opened up the school to all races.

The celebration took place Wednesday, Sept. 17 at the university’s Levin College of Law as part of its Constitution Day events. The event honored UF’s first black law student, George Starkes Jr., and relatives of Virgil Hawkins, who helped end segregation at the university.

Despite his solid academic qualifications, Hawkins was denied admission to the University of Florida College of Law in 1949 based solely on his race, according to UF News, a campus publication at the university.

It took nine years, five Florida Supreme Court and four U.S. Supreme Court rulings before Hawkins broke the color barrier for students at the university. As a result, more than 12,000 African Americans have since earned degrees there, the publication reported.

The university was desegregated in 1958 after Florida resisted federal court orders for several years to open its doors to minority students.

Pictured above is Virgil Hawkins.