Stephan P. Mickle was described as a trailblazer in Alachua County. He left a legacy of firsts, despite growing up in a Gainesville segregated by both law, practice and custom, said Rod Smith, his former law partner, in a speech.
The inspiration to many was memorialized at the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse Friday.
After Mickle died last January, Alachua County commissioners unanimously approved a new courthouse name: Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr. Criminal Courthouse, ending the nearly 20 yearslong search for the perfect name.
Mickle was the first Black undergraduate from UF and the second Black person to obtain a law degree from the UF Levin College of Law.
“At the time and place of his childhood, the likelihood of Stephan Mickle graduating from the University of Florida could be found at the intersection of impossible and improbable,” attorney Rod Smith said during his speech.
Mickle continued on an upward trajectory after graduating.
He was the first Black person to establish a law practice in Gainesville and the first Black Alachua County court judge. His commitment to justice was honored when he became the first Black federal judge in the First District Court of Appeal, and later, the first Black federal judge in the U.S. District Court at the Northern District of Florida.
The renaming ceremony was held along South Main Street in downtown Gainesville, where hundreds of people attended. It was delayed until this year so it could be a highlight of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration activities of 2022, said Rodney Long, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc., in a speech.
P.K. Yonge Symphonic Band opened the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance, and Chief Judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Mark Moseley followed with opening remarks.
The ceremony featured speakers including Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, retired and practicing judges and former colleagues. Mickle’s family members also spoke.
Mickle’s wife, Evelyn Mickle, didn’t want just another ceremony honoring her husband. She wanted a lasting memorial that would carry on her husband’s legacy for years to come.
“It is our honor and our hope that this renaming of the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse with Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr. will spark hope, hope and more hope as it is passed from generation to generation,” she said during her speech.
Judge Mickle left an impact on Alachua County in nearly every stage of his adult life.
The reveal of Judge Stephan P. Mickle Sr.’s name above the main entrance of the courthouse concluded the event. Over a hundred attendees counted to three, signaling the ribbon cutters to lift the covering and unveil the new inscription. Cheers and applause overcame the crowd.
The courthouse is now a symbol that represents a great deal to 75-year-old Gainesville resident Johnnie Dennard Jr., a friend of Judge Mickle.
“To me, it’s an affirmation of the goodness of a person that can transcend his life, that can inspire other people,” he said.
Dennard attended the event to honor Mickle’s lifelong compassion. Dennard, who played the trombone, was in the Lincoln High School band with Mickle, who played the clarinet.
“It’s just so uplifting to see this kind of thing for a person that you have known to be very intelligent,” he said. “He was a good person, and he was dedicated.”
Dennard recalled his friend as jovial and personable, but he was also a jokester. He remembers Mickle’s smile, his laugh and, of course, his “darn good clarinet skills.”
The people who knew Mickle outside of the courtroom remember him for his compassion and his humbleness, which he exuded throughout his childhood and career. Arago Welch Sr., an 80-year-old Gainesville resident, looked back on when Mickle first moved to Gainesville. They lived across the street from each other and grew very close in high school, he said.
“He didn’t look down on me just because he was a judge,” Welch said. “He seemed more like a friend to me — a brother.”
Grace Mickle, his 32-year-old niece, said the most inspiring thing about him was his down-to-earth personality. He was not only an exemplary judge, but an exemplary uncle, too.
“I just grew up with him being my Uncle Stephan,” she said. “We went to the same church. We would go to fish fries after church. He would be there in his Gators stuff. That’s what I remember about him.”
Watching the unveiling of his name above the courthouse entrance was a surreal, impactful experience, Grace said. The courthouse now resembles the lasting memory of his inspiring life.
“It was beautiful just to see so many people — people off the street — wanting to be a part of a courthouse being dedicated to a Black man that had to go through so much,” she said. “If anybody deserves it, he deserves it.”
Contact Carissa at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Carissaallenn.
Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.