In a segregated Washington, D.C. public school in 1897, teacher Mary Church Terrell took bold action. She persuaded the school board to set aside the afternoon of February 14 so she could honor the birthday of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and teach about his life and work. The event ignited momentum to expand the focus on Black history, and Gerald Ford in 1976 declared February Black History Month.
Of the many notable Black architects in history, these achieved significant ‘firsts’:
Moses McKissack III (1879-1952) together with his brother Calvin Lunsford McKissack (1890-1968), founded the nation’s first Black-owned architecture firm. McKissack & McKissack today is a continuation of that firm.
Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) was discouraged from studying architecture at Los Angeles’ Polytechnic High School due to his race. He went on to graduate from the U. of Southern California School of Architecture. He was licensed as a California architect in 1921. In 1923 he became the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Beverly Lorraine Greene (1915-1957) earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree and Master’s degrees in both Architecture and City Planning. In 1942 she became the first Black woman licensed as an architect in the United States.
John S. Chase (1925-2012) was the first Black student to earn a Master of Architecture degree from the U. of Texas and the first Black architect registered in the state of Texas. He was a co-founder of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) in 1971. In 1980, he was the first Black appointee to the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.
Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012) has been called the Rosa Parks of architecture. She was the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in both New York (1954) and California (1962). She was also the first Black woman to become a member of the AIA in 1959, and its first Black female fellow in 1980.
Today, only 2% of licensed U.S. architects are Black. NOMA works nationally and in local chapters for the purpose of minimizing the effect of racism in architecture. Learn more about their work here at https://www.noma.net/about-noma