In 1956, Holland took his son, 6-year-old William Jr., to all-white Northboro Elementary in West Palm Beach, some 2 miles from his home. School officials were polite. But William Jr. wasn’t going in.
Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. But the ruling mostly had been ignored in Palm Beach County. Holland slogged through the courts for two years — and eventually forced county schools to integrate, although it would not do so totally until for another decade and a half.
Holland, who died at 80 in July 2002, was a pioneer long before that. He was the county’s first black lawyer and was an attorney for a half-century. And he didn’t stop at schools. He successfully integrated golf courses, department stores, the airport’s taxi service, and Florida’s Turnpike restaurants and restrooms.
Along the way, he faced death threats; his homes were pelted with eggs, fruits, bottles and explosives; and someone killed his fish with acid. It got so bad Holland couldn’t obtain life insurance.
Over the years, Holland assembled a body of papers that describes his contribution to Palm Beach County’s history. At the time of his death, he was working with Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney Renelda Mack to compile them so as to share them with the public.
Recently, this reporter got an inquiry from an old friend: James Cusick, a manager at the University of Florida’s libraries and a former Florida Historical Society president. He was asking about the status of the Holland papers, which his library also had sought.
Subsequent calls to Mack and to Holland’s widow, Margaret Holland, revealed the papers still are in Mrs. Holland’s home.
“I would like to get something done with them,” Mrs. Holland, now 72, said last month. She said the papers still fill two file cabinets and several boxes and much work still is needed to organize them. She also said she and UF couldn’t agree about how the papers would be used. And she said she was waiting to hear back from the State Attorney’s Office.
Mack replied that her office no longer has a civil rights unit as it existed in 2002. And, she said, the state attorney makes no claim to the papers.
“It’s really an issue of Mrs. Holland making a final decision,” Mack said.
An Appreciation: Michael Gannon died April 10. The former priest, and later University of Florida professor, was a giant in the scholarship of Florida history and was both a colleague and an invaluable mentor to many, including this reporter.
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