Last week, W. White listed some of the architects mentioned in The American School and University publications beginning in the late 1920s. Another architect listed in that same directory but not mentioned last week (because there were no Mississippi buildings noted) is W.A. Rayfield (1874-1941), one of the earliest African American architects in the country. Rayfield, a native of Georgia, was educated at Howard, Columbia and the Pratt Institute, and taught architecture and drafting at Tuskegee before beginning his own practice in Birmingham, Alabama in 1908. He designed a number of churches for the A.M.E. denomination and schools (most for the Freedman’s Aid Society) in his large regional practice.
A new book edited by Allen R. Durough and published by the University of Alabama Press brings much of Rayfield’s work to light for the first time, and is a must-read for anyone interested in Southern or Mississippi architecture in general, or the history of African American architects. How The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield: Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Alabama came to be a book is almost as interesting as the story it tells. According to the Press summary,
In the early 1990s, while cleaning out the barn on his property in Bessemer, Alabama, Allen Durough discovered the remnants of the lifework of African American architect Wallace A. Rayfield, including several hundred of Rayfield’s drawings, floor plans, business advertisements, family portraits, and graphic art pieces. This book gathers that priceless material legacy into a cohesive whole, reproducing 159 illustrations that document Rayfield’s life and work on two continents.
Durough includes catalog-style descriptive entries and illustrations of Rayfield’s designs for six types of structures: residences, churches, schools, commercial buildings, fraternal buildings, and barns. These entries contain location, commissioning data, and brief structural notes, providing a useful resource for architectural historians and preservationists. A listing of the 359 known Rayfield structures detail their locations in 19 states, plan date, building type, and name. Also included is a biographical sketch of Rayfield, an overview of his publications, and a survey of his professional artwork and advertisements.
Only one picture of a Mississippi building (True Light Baptist Church in Hattiesburg) is included in the photographic section of the book, but Durough’s larger list of known Rayfield structures includes a much larger number, many of which I was unfamiliar with (and am still trying to puzzle through, so if any of them sound familiar to you, let me know–I’d love to run a post about any of his remaining buildings).
I’m not clear about whether this list was compiled solely through the materials found in the barn, or if it includes other sources. I’m also not sure whether we know that all of these commissions were actually built. For instance, it seems like someone would have heard of “Mound Bayou College” but none of my sources have. At any rate, my new goal is to “discover” a previously unknown Rayfield and add it to the list!
- St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Greenville (1930)
- New Zion Baptist Church, Greenwood (1918)
- True Light Baptist Church, Hattiesburg (1925)
- McDonald Hall Renovation, Rust College (1921)–this is no longer standing
- Science Hall, Rust College (1923)–also no longer standing
- Atwood & McKissack Store, Jackson (1911)
- Providence Baptist Church, Laurel (1930)
- Lebanon Baptist Church, Lexington (1914)
- First Baptist Sunday School Building, McComb (1915)–is this a black church or the white First Baptist?
- Haven Institute and Conservatory Dormitory, Meridian (1920s)–no longer standing
- Mound Bayou College, Mound Bayou (1916)
- Girls Trades Building, Okolona Industrial College (1919)
- Girls Dormitory, Utica Normal and Industrial Institute (1914)
- President’s Home, Utica Normal and Industrial Institute (1914)
- Heroden Baptist Church, Vicksburg (1919)–this was still standing last I knew, on Clay Street
If you have heard of Rayfield, maybe even seen his name on a cornerstone in your vicinity, let me know!