Mississippi Architects: W. A. Lattimore, African American Designer

I had not heard of W. A. Lattimore until I ran across an article in a 1963 edition of the Mississippi Free Press, an African American newspaper published from 1961 until about 1964.  My initial efforts to look into his body of work or even learn his personal history has turned up very little.  A spelling variance in his last name (Lattimore vs. Latimore) has not made the research any easier.  Outside a 1959 Jackson City Directory listing a residential design firm of “Nelson & Latimore,” I’ve only found a few other mentions in the Free Press.  The below article is great because it gives us a background of Mr. Latimore along with what his usual routine was, in addition to what a person considering a career in architecture in 1963 might expect.


A drafting table, a sharpened pencil, and a keen mind–three key ingredients that go to create a building, and three of the tools used by an architect to lay the plans for houses, office buildings and skyscrapers.

The position of the architect in a community is highly demanding.  The public expects from him a definite skill, a love for beauty, an original imagination, and a strict practical sense to be able to design usable structures at low cost.

To find out about the kind of man at the center of these demands, the FREE PRESS interviewed W. A. Lattimore, architectural designer, who began his practice in Jackson in 1956.

Impressive Work

Lattimore’s most recent work includes a residential building in Gulfport valued at $175,000, a $150,000 motel in Natchez scheduled to open this January, and numerous homes for both white and Negro families.  He is presently associated with Bilbo McHuley Builders.

Lattimore’s day begins with conferences.  There are contractors, building manufacturer’s representatives, and property owners who must be contacted.  In conference, Lattimore irons out various problems and initiates new plans and new ideas for building.

At The Drawing Board

“After the conferences,” Lattimore said, “I usually try to spend at least six hours a day at the drawing board,” where ideas are translated into floor plans.

Architecture is a changing field and new ideas, new materials and techniques are constantly being introduced.  As an architectural designer,  Lattimore must keep ahead of the new developments.  He does so by finding an hour, somewhere in his day, for reading and studying various professional publications such as “American Builder,” “Architectural Record,” and “Architectural Forum.”

Early Exposure

Lattimore received early training in his field.  “My father was a contractor, and I was reading blueprints at the age of twelve,” he said.  After finishing high school, Lattimore entered the service, took an engineering exam for the Service Engineering Corps, and qualified.  His studies in the service included surveying, map computing, engineering, and topographic drafting.

Lattimore attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Roosevelt University and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Howard University in Washington D. C.  He received his degree of Bachelor of Science from Howard in 1952.

After Graduation, Lattimore was employed by the Bureau of Census in Washington.  From there he moved to Chicago where he was employed until 1956 when he returned to Mississippi.

Architecture As A Career

For the student interested in the pursuit of architecture as a career, Lattimore pointed out that the field is highly competitive and demands both hard work and talent.  “An architect is basically a self-employed person.  There is always room for the best,” he said, “but an ordinary talent will find it hard to prosper in the face of so much competition.”

The interested high school student should be in the top 20% of his graduating class to have his application considered by the better schools.  A degree in architectural-engineering requires five years of study and is presently the most lucrative to hold.  A Bachelor of Science degree requires four years of college work.

Math Important

The high school student should take as much math as possible, and all the sciences with the exception of biology.  Courses in mechanical drawing are required, and art courses are strongly recommended.  The state administers an examination to people wishing to practice with the title of architect, but it is possible to practice as an architectural designer, as Lattimore is presently doing, without being licensed by the state.  Applications for the state can not be made with out minimum of one year of practical experience in an established firm, Lattimore said.

Henry Wright, architect and community planner, once said that architectural designs must be conceived “to meet the expectations of the land.” As a community, all of us make and share those expectations, and the architect is given the difficult and creative task of organizing the space around them.

Mississippi Free Press, Saturday, December 14, 1963 page 5.

Around this time the term Architect was taking on real legal connotations, and its probable that Mississippi’s chapter of the AIA was still segregated in 1963, but the article doesn’t make clear the reason why Lattimore was not licensed.

Has anyone ever come across information on Jesse E. Nelson or William A. Latimore?  It’s possible messieurs Nelson & Latimore are still practicing some where.  According to the article it sounds like Mr. Latimore’s work is spread across the state.

Categories: African American History, Architectural Research, Gulfport, Historic Preservation, Hotels, Jackson, Natchez


10 replies

  1. Fascinating…I think I see where my “free day” is going now. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The article suggests that he studied at IIT during the Mies van der Rohe years – it would be interesting to discover if he studied architecture while there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That would be interesting. I had looked into the Howard University Yearbooks to see if I could learn what his BS degree was for but could not locate him. No luck with the Roosevelt or the IIT yearbooks either.

      The few examples of his work I’ve seen are houses from the early 1960s that are somewhat conservative in design. Perhaps his commercial and ecclesiastical might be reflective of a Mies influence?


  3. This article is fascinating in many ways, not just because I had never heard of Lattimore, but also just the general insights into his daily routines, including that wonderful hour to read up on the latest architectural publications. Regarding his lack of state license, I wonder if the next sentence, “Applications for the state can not be made with out minimum of one year of practical experience in an established firm, Lattimore said.” is relevant here? McHuley’s firm was a building firm, not an architectural firm, and this may have been a way for the state’s architectural community to discourage this kind of arrangement where an architect worked for the builder? I believe the McKissacks of Nashville were licensed in Mississippi, so while I doubt the state was actively looking to license black architects, there was precedence. Maybe some of our MissPres architects can offer insights about the licensing process and the hurdles Lattimore would have faced.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The article makes it sound like he set up his own shop when he returned to Jackson in 1956. Maybe looking into Jesse Nelson might give some insight to what Latimore was doing between 1956 and 1963 when it sounds like he was working independently?

      I think it is interesting that he is working all across the state.


  4. I must say now having used almost all of my free day (that is what makes it free–I can do what I want to :), I have little more information. I cannot find Jesse Nelson anywhere, and little about Lattimore, but I did turn up a few nuggets of interest. Since you are planning an additional post, I will not steal thunder here with a spoiler alert.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for posting this. As an architect I like to hear about the careers of my predecessors. I also posted this on the Howard architecture alumni FB page to see if anyone there has info on Mr Lattimore. https://www.facebook.com/Howard-University-School-of-Architecture-Alumni-61324548771/

    Liked by 1 person

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