Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko
The achievements of Black America have always been obscured by prejudice, and through the investigative works of people like Ronald Lee Harden, they are beginning to see the light of day.
Georgia Louise Harris Brown, Julian Francis Abele—these names do not hold much weight in the public consciousness. Despite their enormous contributions to American design, these Black architects remain obscure and forgotten by the general populace and the communities they tirelessly worked to elevate. Although their creations stand on the horizon, becoming famous landmarks and cultural touchstones, only a few know who their makers are. This travesty is because systemic racism has largely glossed over their achievements and kept them from being appreciated publicly. Only a vanishingly small number know what these people have done.
But now, there is a renaissance, a resurgence of interest, in due part to works from people like Ronald Lee Harden, who examine the silenced contributions of Black America and want to showcase them to the world.
There will come a day when these Black architects are recognized for who they are and what they have done, not only as pioneers for the Black community but for American society as a whole, inspiring and promoting future generations of architects.
Here are six Black architects who played a significant part in the architectural evolution of the United States of America:
Beverly Lorraine Greene (October 4, 1915 – August 22, 1957)
The first African Woman to become a licensed architect in the United States, Beverly Lorraine Greene began her storied career in the 1930s.
She would come to work for several architectural firms of note, including one headed by Isadore Rosefield, which focused on hospital design, and another by Marcel Breuer, where she contributed to the plans of the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. Greene was also a key designer for many buildings at New York University, though she would not live to see them completed. Throughout her life, she fought for increased visibility for professional Black women.
Georgia Louise Harris Brown (June 12, 1918 – September 21, 1999)
The second African Woman to become a licensed architect in the United States, Georgia Louise Harris Brown, had an esteemed professional career that involved studying under and working with Mies van der Rohe in Chicago despite the overt racism. She would contribute significantly to many Chicago residential, church, and business projects, including Promontory Apartments and 860 Lakeshore Drive.
Brown would do most of her projects in Brazil, where she hoped to be given more freedom as a Black female architect, helping design several industrial and residential projects.
Julian Francis Abele (April 30, 1881 – April 23, 1950)
The first ever Black student to be admitted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Architecture and its first Black graduate, Julian Francis Abele quickly became respected among his peers for his creativity and initiative. These qualities led him to be invited by famous architect Horace Trumbauer as part of his firm, where he was the chief designer at the age of 27 and made many significant contributions, including the design of the Duke University Chapel.
When he joined the American Institute of Architects in 1942, Abele had become one of the most sensitive designers in America and the most accomplished Black architect of the era.
Moses McKissack III (May 8, 1879- December 12, 1952)
Co-Founder of the oldest minority-owned architectural firm in the United States, Moses McKissack III, came from a longstanding line of construction workers and obtained an architectural degree through a correspondence course.
As an independent architect, Moses McKissack III designed the residences for many of Vanderbilt University’s faculty and Fisk University’s Carnegie Hall. When he co-founded McKissack & McKissack with his brother, his projects leaned more toward general practice, e.g., residences, public schools, etc.
The most significant project McKissack undertook would be the Tuskegee Army Airfield, which was the result of an almost $ 6 million federal government contract.