Samuel Plato

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Samuel M. Plato (1882–1957) was an African-American architect and builder who is noted for contributions to the African-American community in Louisville and imaginative designs elsewhere in the country.

Swallow Robin Hall at Taylor University was designed by Samuel Plato[1]

Early years[edit]

Plato was born in Waugh, Alabama.[2] He graduated from State University Normal School (now Simmons College of Kentucky) in Louisville in 1902 and then completed a mail-order program in architecture with International Correspondence Schools.[2]

Plato was a pioneer for African Americans. He spent 19 years after graduation in Marion, Indiana ending in the early 1920s.[1] This was at a time that the Ku Klux Klan had reached an all-time record half a million members in Indiana.[1] Despite this, he found support early on by Marion business owners John Schaumleffel and Wood Wilson.[1] In Marion, he was successful in his fight to open up the building trade unions to African-American workers.[2]

He was the first African-American to be awarded a contract to build a post office,[2] and built 38 of them in total by the end of his life.[1] He was one of only a few African-American contractors to build federal government defense housing projects during World War II.[2]

At one point, he was hired in Decatur, Alabama to work on a post office without realizing he was black and skipped the welcome party and got right to work to avoid an unpleasant situation.[1]

Historians state Plato was successful because of his persistent efforts and because his reputation for quality and integrity could not be ignored.[1][2]


Plato believed in helping others and devoting himself to his family. In 1939 he devised a plan to move his sister and her family off the old homestead in Waugh, Alabama, and into a new home nearby.[2]

His second wife, Samuel an Elnora Plato (1891–1975), helped put several nieces and nephews though college and graduate school, with Plato employing some of them on jobs in Louisville and Washington, D.C.. Elnora Plato was his constant travel companion and business manager. Having built her own successful dressmaking business before their marriage, she used the funds from this enterprise to help Plato. She funded the cost of Samuel's sister's new house in Waugh and was able to keep Samuel's sister's company from going bankrupt.[2]


Plato designed and built a wide variety of buildings from New York to Alabama, including Greek Revival and Craftsman-style houses, elegant mansions, post offices, banks, churches, schools, office buildings, theaters, and government housing projects. Eight of his buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Broadway Temple A.M.E. Zion Church in Louisville and J. Woodrow Wilson House at Marion.[1][2][3]

During his career he was in demand as a speaker at The Tuskegee Institute and The Hampton Institute. He was honored posthumously in 1960 by the Howard University School of Engineering and Architecture, where he had been a special lecturer. He was admired and respected by everyone. Elnora Plato said he "was a pioneer for years and he wanted his business to live. Then, too, he wanted to inspire young engineers."[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Kielisch, Erik (March 4, 2005), "Plato's Influence Remains on Campus: Works of Swallow Robin's Architect Comes to the Archives", The Echo: The Taylor University's School Newspaper, Upland, IN, 92 (20), pp. 1–2 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Filson Historical Society
  3. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.