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February 18, 1894 – January 23, 1980
At Adeptales, we focus on Black British and African history, however, we also love to shed light on exceptional people.
One of the greatest designers and architectures in American history is someone that you have never heard of.
I didn’t know of him until I saw a Twitter thread chronicling their life’s work.
Paul Revere Williams was a man who defied limitations and his race, his legacy is still standing to this day.
Williams was born in Los Angeles in 1894. Sadly both his parents died of tuberculosis when he was 4 years old.
He was taken into foster care, a nurturing and kind woman named Mrs. Clarkson took him in and began to notice his natural gift for drawing.
A friend of Mrs. Clarkson’s worked in construction and told him about architecture.
Paul excitedly told his guidance counsellor about his goals and hit his first obstacle.
“He stared at me with as much astonishment as he would have had I proposed a rocket flight to Mars,” “Whoever heard of a Negro being an architect?”
It took me ages to realise but when someone cannot see what you see for yourself, politely excuse yourself out of that conversation.
Luckily for us, Williams never doubted his ability and told himself
“If I allow the fact that I am a Negro to checkmate my will to do, now, I will inevitably form the habit of being defeated”
Forging ahead he graduated in 1912 and went to study at Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and making sure he stood out for the right reasons.
Williams was always in a sharply pressed suit and his moustache was always on point.
Slowly but surely one opportunity led to another until it gave him the chance to build his own architecture firm – Paul Williams and Associates.
“Without having the wish to ‘show them,’ I developed a fierce desire to ‘show myself.’ I wanted to vindicate every ability I had. I wanted to acquire new abilities. I wanted to prove that I, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, deserved a place in the world.“
Paul Revere Williams’ 1937 essay entitled “I Am a Negro” for American Magazine
It didn’t become easier from there but Williams being the utmost professional persevered and didn’t let societal restraints stop him from his career.
He learned how to draw buildings upside down, as he was aware that his white clients felt uncomfortable sitting next to a Black man.
Whenever he met with other architects, he often kept his hands clasped behind his back as it removed the awkwardness of his colleagues unsure of shaking his Black hand.
Perseverance paid off and in 1923 he became the first African American member of the American Institutes of Architects.
After the loss of his first child, he dedicated their memory by designing St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Williams became the go-to for celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Lucille Ball.
“When asked what was my theory of design—that I did so many contemporary buildings, yet I shunned the exotic approach—my answer was, ‘conservative designs stay in style longer and are a better investment.’’
One of the buildings that you may recognize is The Beverley Hills Hotel.
That’s his handwriting on the signature logo.
The irony is that he wasn’t allowed in the building.
In his five-decade career, Williams designed thousands of buildings.
Williams was active in political and social organizations earning the admiration and respect of his peers.
He donated his time and skills to projects he believed helped the health and welfare of young people.
In 1957, he was the first African American elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Williams retired in 1973 and died in 1980 leaving a legacy behind that lives on.
After all “we may not live forever but we want to leave something behind that will”
We at Adeptales salute you, Paul Revere Williams.
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