The Allen Platt case (Mount Dora, Florida, 1954-1956).
This school segregation case, which received national media attention at the time, involved Allen Platt, who moved his family (including five children and a niece) from Holly Hill, South Carolina to Mount Dora (Lake County), Florida in October, 1954. Platt and his family considered themselves of Croatan Indian and Irish descent. The children began to attend White schools in Mount Dora (as they had in South Carolina), but some of their classmates commented to their parents about the Platt children’s dark skin. The sheriff of Lake County, Willis V. McCall, a White supremacist, visited the Platt home, rudely examined and photographed the children, and “deciding that they were Black” advised them to stay away from school until he could “investigate”. His action was supported by the principal, superintendent, and school board. Platt wrote the governor of Florida that “I then, now, and will continue to refuse to send [my children] to a Negro school” (Start, “The Platt case,” para. 4). The Platts’ landlord received a threat that their house might burn down if they were not evicted—so he asked the family to move.
The local newspaper, The Topic—edited by Mable Norris Reese—covered the story extensively and featured Platt’s side of the controversy, resulting in crosses burned on Reese’s lawn and subscriptions to her newspaper canceled. Some people, however, contributed to a legal fund for Platt, and three lawyers volunteered to handle the case. The lawyers filed suit in Circuit Court, requesting a declaratory judgment asserting that the Platt children could attend White schools. The attorneys for the school board were unable to get the case dismissed on technical grounds, and their appeal to the state Supreme Court was denied.
When the family moved to nearby Orange County, the White schools would not admit the children until the Lake County School Board had resolved its dispute with the family. The Mount Dora Christian Home and Bible School researched the family’s background and decided to admit the children. Sheriff McCall then wrote the governor of Florida protesting that “if the Platt children are taken into classes of Christian Home and Bible School, everyone connected with it could be sued and prosecuted” (Start, “The Platt case,” para. 9).
When the court case was tried, the school board’s attorneys’ and Sheriff McCall’s evidence that the Platts were Black was flimsy compared to the Platts’ lawyers’ evidence that they were not. The school board’s attorneys’ primary argument was that on some records the Platts were listed as Croatan Indians, and Webster’s Dictionary defined Croatans as people with mixed Indian, White, and Negro blood.
The court found (on October 18, 1955) that the Platt children could attend Mount Dora’s White schools. The school board first voted to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court; but before doing so, it voted again and accepted the circuit court’s ruling. In the meantime, someone had set fire to the Platts’ cottage. The children finished school at the Mount Dora Christian Home and bible School.