Harold Long, founder of United Black Students, passes away

Harold and Lesle Long. Harold Long was the founder of United Black Students at the University of Miami. 
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Harold and Lesle Long. Harold Long was the founder of United Black Students at the University of Miami. 

Harold Long, founder of United Black Students, passes away

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
A double University of Miami alumnus, Harold Long led a sit-in at then-President Henry King Stanford’s office in 1968 that helped pave the way for the admission of more Black students at the institution.

They faced arrest and expulsion from school for their actions, but to Harold Long, a young, socially conscious undergraduate who began studying the United States Constitution as a teenager, the cause for which he and 13 other University of Miami Black students were fighting was worth it. 

They wanted the University of Miami to enroll more Black students, to increase the number of minority scholarships, create a curriculum focusing on African American history, and hire Black professors to teach those courses.

So, mirroring the peaceful civil rights protests of that era, Long and the students marched into then-University President Henry King Stanford’s office on May 17, 1968, and quietly sat on the floor, demanding that the administration take action on their demands. They were prepared to go to jail for their cause. “There comes a time to stand up for what you believe in,” Long said back then. “If I don’t do it now, when would I? What type of man would I be, or lawyer?” 

Long, a champion for the rights of underrepresented students at the University of Miami during the late 1960s, who founded the institution’s United Black Students organization before going on to graduate from the School of Law and become a successful private attorney, died unexpectedly on Wednesday, Feb 24. He was 73. 

“Harold’s passion for service and commitment to justice were honed right here in Coral Gables, and the U is forever changed for his transformative role as a student leader on our campus,” said President Julio Frenk. “His love of the University never waned, and we will all miss his frequent visits, especially the way he shared his inspiration with the next generations of ’Canes.”

Frenk called Long “a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” noting that even today, the University still relies on the strong foundation of student involvement he modeled. 

In no other instance was that involvement more evident than at the sit-in Long staged in Stanford’s office back in 1968. “His passion led him to do things that were risky and career threatening in terms of the means by which he carried out his leadership,” said George Knox, a prominent Miami attorney, School of Law alumnus, and close friend of Long’s. 

But even knowing the risks that were involved, Long felt he was obligated to take on such challenges, realizing that students who followed in his footsteps would one day benefit from his actions, Knox said. 

And subsequent classes of students did gain from Long’s efforts, as Stanford, who maintained a lifelong friendship with Long, became sympathetic to the students’ agenda and met repeatedly with the leadership of United Black Students (UBS). 

“Harold got into good trouble, necessary trouble, for racial justice and equality for UM Black students in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Denise Mincey-Mills, an alumna who spearheaded the UTrailblazers-First Black Graduates initiative. “Today, we’re standing on Harold’s shoulders.” 

“A pillar for civil rights and racial justice for the University of Miami and surrounding community” is how current UBS President Landon Coles described Long. “His name was synonymous with good trouble as he demanded the very best of this community. It was his efforts that have paved the way for so many, including myself, to thrive here at the University.”

Long earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University in 1968 and graduated from the School of  Law three years later, eventually becoming Justice of the Peace for the City of Opa-Locka. And as a successful private attorney, he often defended the underserved. 

Knox—who at only 32 years old was appointed Miami’s city attorney, serving in that role from 1976 to 1982—practiced law with Long for five years, operating an all-purpose firm that litigated everything from criminal to civil to financial cases. He described Long as “a miracle worker” in the courtroom. “It was pretty clear that there was some special gift that Harold had been endowed with,” he said. 

Knox recounted how in the early days of their law practice, he and Long sometimes struggled to sustain their firm financially. “It was not easy for Black attorneys in private practice during that time to make a fortune,” Knox said. “There were numerous occasions when Friday afternoon would come, and we were not sure how we would pay our associates and assistants.” 

But Long, recalled Knox, would often save the day, taking on a new client and acquiring the funds they needed to satisfy pressing obligations. “We almost came to expect it,” Knox said. “These are the kinds of things that happened almost as a matter of course with Harold.” 

It was University of Miami Board of Trustees member H.T. Smith, a Miami Law alumnus, who bestowed on Long the moniker “miracle worker.”

The two practiced law together for seven years, renting office space out of a Miami high-rise on Biscayne Boulevard. Smith recalled a day in 1983 when he and Long, facing a one-day deadline to file an appeal on an important case, walked into their firm’s library, and how Long pulled a book from the shelf and opened it to the very page of a former case that was crucial to their appeal. “We ended up winning,” Smith said. 

On another occasion, Smith recounted, Long, while representing a client facing life in prison, took the risky move of forgoing a closing argument, winning that case as well. “For me, that solidified that he was a miracle worker,” Smith said. 

Their law partnership was like a marriage. “We often spent long nights and weekends together working on cases,” Smith said. “And what kept us together for so long was that Harold was loyal. Whether we were law partners or not, I could always count on Harold Long.” 

William Harold Long, Jr. was born June 7, 1947, in Daytona Beach, Florida, a graduate of Campbell High School and the son of longtime educators. 

The injustices and inequities of his time inspired him to become a lawyer, said his widow, Leslie Long, who described her late husband as a “fighter for justice, liberty, and the rights of all people.” 

“If anyone had him as a lawyer, he was going to study and work their case religiously and fight to the very end,” she said, noting that Long became a Pentecostal minister later in life. “He loved people, and he loved life and justice. As a husband and a father, he was the best,” she added.

The University, she said, was one of the loves of his life, the only school to which he applied after graduating high school. “It was the logical choice,” Long once said. “Predominantly white universities were just beginning to accept Black students, and UM was the most notable school to be open to the change.” 

Over the years, Long had amassed a large collection of scrapbooks filled with newspaper and magazine clippings about the University. He was planning to write a history book on the institution, which Leslie Long, who became just as passionate about the University after the many years of marriage, said she intends to finish. 

“We will continue honoring Mr. Long’s legacy by educating the campus community, advocating for diversity and inclusion, and by celebrating the vast contributions of the African diaspora,” said Renée Dickens Callan, executive director of Student Life, who often communicated with Long when she led the office of Multicultural Student Affairs.