The Legacy of Building

One of the richest legacies of African Americans is construction. From the pyramids of Egypt to the building of America, Blacks have been involved in this industry that will survive the times. We will always build. Even when we demolish existing structures it is because we are about to build something new to replace it.

African slaves were brought to this continent in the early 1500’s to build New York (New Amsterdam at the time), Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC and the entire Southeastern territories. The craftsmanship that was learned through this action gave freed slaves an advantage as we slowly approached the Industrial Revolution. America relied on the crafts learned by Blacks during slavery and passed along to offspring from generation to generation. Even “Chicken George’s” son in the Roots documentary owned a lumber yard to sell supplies to the local black craftsmen who were the builders of the community.

Due to the Jim Crow laws of the South, there were many Black southern craftsmen who would travel to perform their skills. Many would go to places like New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, etc. and would out compete local white contractors who could not perform as well as they did and could not settle for their affordable pricing. It was because of this, that construction unions in the North were formed to block out Black crews from coming into communities and providing a better service for a cheaper price. Soon after the unions were formed they set in motion the Davis-Bacon Act (named for two New York congressmen). This act set up arbitrary labor wage scales so that Black craftsmen could no longer underprice their white counter parts. They all had to pay a certain price, prevailing wage, at a minimum and competition became no more. With the price competition out of the way, the whites moved in through political favor and blatant racism. This would be followed with Project Labor Agreements which meant some projects would be declared “Union Only”. With the construction unions discriminating against Blacks, Project Labor Agreement’s would also mean “Whites Only”.

Construction unions have made it rough for Black laborers and black owned construction companies. However, some of the best have made it through the years. Almost all of the longstanding Black construction companies have Southern roots. The three largest companies are Powers & Sons, SR Smoot and Russell. The founders stressed education on their children and today the second generation is bearing the fruits of that education. The third generation is not only getting college degrees in engineering, their degrees are coupled with Construction Management, Architecture, Law, MBA, etc. The new generation in construction is something we can all be proud of.

From an article written by Harry C. Alford (https://www.nationalbcc.org/news/beyond-the-rhetoric/251-beyond-the-rhetoric-40)

Paul R. Williams, Architect


Paul Revere Williams was born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894 to Lila Wright Williams and Chester Stanley Williams. When Paul was two years old his father died, and two years later his mother died. Paul was fortunate to grow up in the home of a foster mother who devoted herself to his education and to the development of his artistic talent.

In high school a teacher advised him against pursuing a career in architecture, because he would have difficulty attracting clients from the majority white community and the smaller black community could not provide enough work. Williams did not give up. Confident in his strengths, he simultaneously pursued architectural education and professional experience with Los Angeles’ leading design firms. Certified as a building contractor in 1915, he was licensed as an architect by the State of California in 1921. Earning accolades in architectural competitions and the respect and encouragement of his employers, Williams opened his own practice and become the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923.

As his reputation grew, his practice expanded to include buildings now considered landmarks: MCA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Palm Springs Tennis Club and Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building. The private residences he designed for leaders in business and entertainment became legendary: actor Bert Lehr, comedians Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, dancer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, popular entertainer Frank Sinatra and the entrepreneurial Cord and Paley families.

Williams also donated design plans for a new location for First A.M.E. Church where he was a member. This is the oldest church founded by African Americans in Los Angeles. When Williams died in 1980 his funeral service was held at the First A.M.E. Church in the building he had designed seventeen years earlier. Pastor Cecil Murray wrote of his childhood friend: “Paul R. Williams not only designed buildings. Paul R. Williams designed lives. Paul R. Williams designed the future and dreams of tomorrow. The blood of Paul R. Williams is in the walls of this church.” (Los Angeles Sentinel, January 31, 1980)

The Great Pyramid of Giza
Some of the most impressive buildings and cities ever made by humans can be found in Africa. It is home to the world’s oldest-known pieces of art. Africa has an extensive archaeological record, extending as far back as when the first-ever stone tool was made in what is today Kenya. It is a racist notion that only Europeans – white people – are the only people capable of great architectural feats.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only wonder of the ancient world that has survived to the present day. The tomb is attributed to Khufu or Cheops, pharaoh in ancient Egypt from 2,620 to 2,580 B.C. Even with modern technology its construction would be a challenge to both engineers, workers, and geologists. It’s the largest pyramid ever built, 482 feet high and 754 feet on each side and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for almost 4,000 years.

Ancient Egypt was a very highly advanced civilization and the construction techniques used to build the pyramids was not understood by modern man. Instead of acknowledging that black Africans built not only the Pyramid of Giza along with other pyramids, it was commonly cited by pseudo-archaeologists that these structures were built by aliens. These fake theories which were originally racially motivated, are still being promoted in a number of science fiction books and movies. Today, many of these theories can still be found in television shows like Ancient Aliens on the History Channel.

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