By Evette D. Champion
If you lived in America during the 1950s when the Jim Crow laws were in effect, the matter of your complexion could be the deciding factor as to whether or not you were mistreated. Ebony Magazine ran an article in 1955 about the Platt family who lived in Florida. The family were orange-pickers who were barred from the best schools because of the shape of their noses, and ostracized because of the “tint” of their skin, even though the family claimed to be white.
The teachers and police authorities of Lake County, Florida stated that six of the seven children in the Platt family had “dusky complexions” and “broad noses” which were common Negro traits. Because of their features, the family was forced to leave their “Whites Only” community and the children were expelled from the white schools in Lake. Ultimately, the family was forced out of their neighborhood into a home that was devoid of basic amenities like hot running water.
In the article, attention was drawn to the Platts when the darkest Platt child, Denzell, was not allowed to go to the Mount Dora theater, a whites only establishment. Before the incident, when the family settled in Mount Dora, Florida, there was some people wondering about their race, but ultimately they were accepted as white. Sheriff McCall began digging into the Platts race because their brown skin and broad noses were “offensive to his sense of whiteness.”
So, during the middle of the night, McCall, two armed deputies, and even a photographer entered the Platt home. The children were lined up, much like in jail, and photographed. They were inspected and picked apart. McCall said Denzell “favors a nigger” and in regards to 13 year old Laura, he said “I don’t like the shape of that one’s nose.”
When the story about the Platt family appeared in Ebony, the article shed light on the realities about color and how capitalism affected America during the mid-twentieth century. People made a huge effort to avoid the “negro” existence similar to what had happened to the Platts. Working-Class white ethnics, indigenous folk, and immigrants used products that that would eliminate skin problems like rashes, pimples and evening out skin tone. Even light skinned #black people used these products in order to “pass” as white.
Black media companies made a strong effort to bring stories like the Platts to the forefront in an effort to highlight the fine line between racial categories that were listed under segregation.