The Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association (“VHFCNBA”) has made great strides since its inception.
The organization began in the 1950s with a group of African American lawyers who were members of the Chi Epsilon Legal Fraternity that mercilessly fought against injustice in Florida. The original members (including Paul C. Perkins, G.E. Graves, Francisco Rodriguez, F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr., T.J. Cunningham, Earnest Jackson, Horace Hill, William Holland, I.C. Smith, T.J. Reddick, Charles Wilson, Sr., Earl Johnson, William Fordham, Raleigh Rawls, James Collier, Norris Woolfolk and Henry Arrington) traveled tirelessly throughout the State of Florida providing support and strength to one another. They proclaimed their mission as “ensuring access to the justice system; increasing economic parity for the less fortunate, underprivileged and disadvantage of our society; and educating the community (particularly, the Black Community) on the need for empowerment and self-determination.”
With the inclusion of African American female lawyers in the 1960’s, the organization became a State affiliate chapter of the National Bar Association and changed its name to the Florida Chapter National Bar Association. Since that time, the VHFCNBA has made a significant mark on the NBA and is proud to claim as its members eight past Presidents of the NBA, including: W. George Allen, 1975-76; Warren Hope Dawson, 1982-83; Sen. Arthenia Joyner, 1984-1985; H.T. Smith, 1994-1995; Evett Simmons, 2000-01; Linnes Finney, 2006-07, Daryl D. Parks, 2011-12, and Benjamin L. Crump, 2015-16.
In 2002, the VHFCNBA established a Judicial Council to serve as an independent autonomous entity within the organization. The Judicial Council consists of African American members of the judiciary and is dedicated to addressing issues that are specific to this esteemed group. Today, the VHFCNBA consists of a network of nearly 1,500 attorneys statewide. Under the leadership of H.T. Smith, the VHFCNBA established a scholarship/loan fund to aid law students and recent graduates. Additionally, the VHFCNBA has been the catalyst for the establishment of local, affiliate Black bar associations throughout Florida. The VHFCNBA serves as the umbrella by which the local chapters exist. These local chapters work together to strengthen the VHFCNBA through joint projects and shared vision.
The local affiliate chapters of the VHFCNBA include: Caribbean Bar Association, Daniel Webster Perkins Bar Association, F. Malcolm Cunningham, Sr. Bar Association, Fred G. Minnis Bar Association, George Edgecomb Bar Association, Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, Haitian Lawyers Association, Isaac Anderson Jr. Bar Association, Joseph W. Hatchett Bar Association, Palm Beach County Sheree Davis Cunningham Black Women Lawyer Association, Paul C. Perkins Bar Association, Tallahassee Barristers Association, T.J. Reddick Bar Association, Virgil Hawkins Bar Association (Polk County), Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association.