New Book on Black Architect W.A. Rayfield

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!



Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Books

9 replies

  1. I found a reference to Baptist College, also called Mound Bayou Industrial College, that was established in 1904 by Mrs. A. A. Harris, and also a New York Times article written in 1912 that references both schools. Both of those dates are prior to the date identified here of 1916. I’m going to check the university references and see if I can find anything else. The NY Times piece is very interesting on its own, however. You can download a pdf of the 1912 article about Mound Bayou, its founders and history at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F40C16FF395D11738DDDAB0994DE405B808DF1D3

    Thanks for this great story!

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  2. St Pauls M.B. Baptist church is on the Greenville/Washington Cty Historic Commission’s web site. Go to http://www.jgwchpc.com then go the ‘markers’ scan down to the St Pauls Historic Marker, click on that and it will bring up a picture of the church. Didnt know that Wallace Rayfield was the architect.

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  3. I’ll be in Vicksburg soon, so I can confirm if Heroden Baptist Church still stands (and take some pictures of it if it does).

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  4. I have done extensive searching and cannot find anything on Mound Bayou College. I am all set to drive to Mound Bayou and start interviewing elders. I did find quite a few lists of the many buildings Rayfield designed, including one that I have a picture of somewhere in my files (an actual photograph–pre-digital) of the Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. I think it was slated for destruction at one time due to revamping the highway system leading into Ft. Worth. There were a number of scholarly articles regarding his work as well as names of books written about him, and if I can get my hands on them, they may have additional information.

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  5. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one who just has to start the search for information! When I googled the architect and saw the cover of my recent Preservation Mag I remembered the great story. So I went ahead and emailed Mr. Durough to ask if he had any information on the church, the renovation, and if it had a steeple. I’ll report back with whatever I find out. I am getting in touch with the Vicksburg Historical Society and can maybe track down a Baptist Church library. I’ve done that for a Lutheran church that I was looking into and found great info.

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    • The author of the book didn’t have any info on Heroden Baptist (which I think is actually called Mt. Heroden) , the historical society didn’t, and the Warren County Library didn’t. All I have is a piece that the author had saying that the church was to be built at 1000-10003 North Street in 1919. There was and is no North St. Clay Street has always been Clay, Locust that runs parallel has always been Locust. But according to an old book, there was a street on the edge of town at the time (1858) that was the “1st north street” and that may be what was meant, but Clay Street existed at the time so who knows. I have found nothing on the minister who commissioned the church or any more info on the church. I have emailed the church as they will be the best source for their history. I will keep you all posted!

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