Mockett Celebrates Black History
Five Black Architects & Woodworkers that Changed the Industry
In honor of Black History Month, we want to take a moment to highlight some Black Designers, Architects, and Woodworkers who helped shape the world of Industrial Design as we know it today. Although often in the shadows, the legacies of these trail blazers are far-reaching and still thriving.
Henry Boyd (1802-1886)
Boyd was born a slave in 1802 and remained enslaved for the first 18 years of his life. He was apprenticed out to a cabinet maker and quickly realized his talent for the trade. He was able to pave a path for himself out of slavery by accepting work assignments and saving enough to gain his freedom and a way out of poverty. Boyd eventually opened his own workshop for woodworking in Cincinnati where his main focus was building and assembling bedframes of his own design, the Boyd Bedstead which utilized a right and left wood screw process, with swelled rails, making for a stronger fit to endure more stress. His woodworking company, the H. Boyd Company, and his famous Boyd’s Beadstead saw great success over the years and his design is still widely used today. The H. Boyd Company wasn’t the only successful venture Henry was a part of – he was active in the Underground Railroad and would even house runaway slaves in an alleged secret room that he built in his home for that purpose.
Thomas Day (1801-1861)
Day was an antebellum cabinetmaker whose business flourished in a time when most African Americans were enslaved and free blacks were restricted in their ventures and activities. Thomas was born a free man in 1801 and grew up to open a Furniture business in North Carolina which became one of the most successful businesses of its kind before the Civil War. Day created exquisite furniture and architectural interiors for his high class clientele. He was amongst the first to offer his customers architectural elements for their home and fine furniture to match the motif. To this day, the woodwork in numerous homes in North Carolina and Virginia is credited to Day. Today, Thomas is remembered as a skilled craftsman with an unmatched work ethic who instilled his own style and uniqueness into each of his pieces of work. His legacy quite literally lives on in the form of a statue in his likeness on the steps leading up to the North Carolina Museum of History.
Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942)
Taylor is credited for a lot of firsts – he was the first black student to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he was the first accredited black architect in the United States. After studying architecture at MIT, he was recruited to Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute to plan and oversee the construction of new buildings on campus and to develop its architectural and engineering programs. During his near 30 years there, he designed over 25 buildings, including a home for the Founder and President of the Institute. He is also credited with designing buildings at Selma University and the Colored Masonic Temple in Birmingham, AL. He leaves behind an incredible legacy – he was honored in 2015 by the US Postal Service with a stamp commemorating his life and work, and his great-granddaughter, Valerie Jarrett, served as a senior advisor to President Barack Obama.
Beverly Loraine Greene (1915-1957)
Greene is most notably credited with being the first black women to be registered as an architect in the United States, but was also the first black woman to graduate with a BS degree in architectural engineering at the University of Illinois and the first to earn a Master’s in city planning and housing the year following. Her first job as an architect was designing New York City’s Stuyvesant Town, which was a complex where black people would not be able to live once complete. Amongst some of her most famous projects are a theater at the University of Arkansas, the arts complex at Sarah Lawrence, and the UNESCO United Nations headquarters in Paris which was, unfortunately, completed after her death in 1957.
Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)
Sklarek is another architect whom is credited with a lot of firsts. She was the first black women to become a licensed architect in both New York and Los Angeles, the first black woman to become a member of the AIA, and its first black female fellow in 1980. Educated at Columbia University, Sklarek lead numerous large commercial and civic projects including the Mall of America, the United States Embassy in Tokyo, and Terminal One station in Los Angeles International Airport. In 1985 she co-founded the Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond firm which was the largest women-owned architecture firm at the time. She passed away in 2012 but not before breaking down barrier after barrier for black female architects.