Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Black Architects that Made America Great

By Sandra K. Yocum

 Photo: Black Architects from the 19th and 20th Centuries, Getty Image

Before the Civil War, blacks learned the building trade to benefit their owners, but after the Civil War, they passed their skills to their children and these budding architects would eventually attend school and lead the way for other black architects. 

Robert R. Taylor (1868 – 1942), Getty Image

One of these pioneer architects, Robert R. Taylor (1868 – 1942), became the first accredited black architect and a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1892. Booker T. Washington recruited him to establish the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Later, the school of architecture would be named the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science (TSACS).

Other architects would follow such as Wallace A. Rayfield (1873 – 1941), Moses McKissack III (1879 – 1952), and Julian Abel (1881 – 1950). Many of these architects did not sign their work and did not receive credit for their efforts. 

Julian Abel (1881-1950), Getty Image

Julian Abel was not given credit in his lifetime for the beautiful works of art on the Duke University campus such as the gothic Duke University Chapel. At the time he designed these buildings for the campus, Duke was a whites-only university. It would be the 1980s until Abel was given credit for his work at Duke University and in 2016, Duke named a campus quad after him. 

Rayfield was the second formally trained black architect and his buildings played an essential role in the Civil Rights Movement; his 16th Street Baptist Church (completed in 1911) was the site of the 1963 bomb that killed four black teenage girls. 

McKissack III established one of the earliest black-architecture firms in the U.S., today the firm, McKissack & McKissack managed the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928 -2012), Getty Image

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928 -2012) called the “Rosa Parks of architecture,” was one of the first black women in architecture; she co-founded one of the first women-architectural firms, Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond in 1985, with two other women-architects, Margot Siegel (1925 – ) and Katherine Diamond (1954 –).

Paul R. Williams (1894 – 1980), Getty Image

The twentieth century would include Paul R. Williams (1894 – 1980), the architect of the stars as well as designing the LAX Theme Building, and a significant architect for the city of Long Beach, California.  Click here to view a video about Williams.

Marshall Purnell (1950-), Getty Image

J. Max Bond ( 1935 – 2009) who was also involved with the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Marshall Purnell(1950 – ) considered one of the most accomplished architects in United States today with projects that include Washington Convention Center, Washington Nationals Baseball Park, Washington NBA and NHL Venue Verizon Center, and the National Martin Luther King Memorial.

In 1930, there were only 60 registered black architects, but today, there are more than 2,278.

About the author: Sandra K. Yocum is the Founder/President of the Yocum African-American History Association (YAAHA) that is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the events which shaped the lives and contributions of African-Americans. Information can be found at: www.itsmorningagain.com