Geoge Knox, JD '73, with Jan Jacobowitz and Prof. Anthony Alfieri
Miami Law’s Center for Ethics and Public Service selected attorney and legal professor George Knox, J.D. ’73, to receive the 14th annual William M. Hoeveler Ethics and Public Service Award. This prestigious prize celebrates ethics, leadership, and public service in the legal profession.
In his honor, the law school hosted a luncheon and ceremony, where Knox spoke to an audience of students, faculty, attorneys and alumni. His discussion was moderated by the Center’s founder and director Professor Anthony Alfieri and Jan Jacobowitz, the director of the Center’s Professional Responsibility and Ethics Program.
Knox began the discussion by focusing on his experience as one of the first black students at Miami Law. He discussed the collective struggle that he and six other black students faced on a daily basis because of their color and the divided expectations that surrounded them. While some faculty members pushed them to excel with weighty expectations, just as many were waiting to affirm their failings and doubt their abilities.
“Whatever those feelings had been, they were not necessarily open, they were not necessarily revealed . . . we had to learn to look deeper.” Knox explained that “this constant scrutiny was a part of [our] everyday life.”
These multifaceted responses to their presence at the law school meant that Knox and his fellow black classmates were forced to navigate a tumultuous path throughout their time as law students that their fellow white classmates proceeded without.
“The commercial law [professor] told me, ‘of course you’re going to fail commercial law because you belong in landlord tenant or some of those other social service courses . . . you’re not quite equipped to deal with the sophistication of a course like commercial law,’” said Knox.
Yet he reflected that despite this added pressure from above, there was no tension between him and fellow law students whom he noted had come from all walks of life.
Knox further discussed his experience as the first black faculty member of the University of Arkansas where he bonded with the two other young professors: Hilary Rodham and Bill Clinton. They were collectively known as the “mod squad.”
“I used to say I was the blond.”
Knox then went on to discuss his tenure as the City Attorney for the City of Miami where he was hired when he was 32 years old after only three years of legal experience. Knox then left the City Attorney’s office to become the first black partner in a downtown law firm and progressed down a private firm path.
Throughout his career, Knox reflected that he “stopped talking about being the first black, because honest to goodness the list got too long.” Knox then went on to serve as a visiting faculty member at FIU, lecturer at Miami Law, and become a professional facilitator and Florida Supreme Court Certified Civil Mediator.
As parting words of advice, Knox stated that he never “focused on anything except getting the job done, and honestly not making a mistake.” Knox also left students with a message: “The fact that you survive is a great statement about your capacity to survive. Everybody goes through something, and the question is how you manage to cope with it.”