Tuskegee University receives $100,000 gift to advance young Black architects

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Tuskegee University receives $100,000 gift to advance young Black architects

White Hall (1909), of the original campus buildings designed by Robert R. Taylor on the historic Alabama campus of Tuskegee University. It has long been used as a women's dormitory. (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

The charitable arm of Atlanta-founded architecture firm Cooper Carry has bestowed the Department of Architecture within the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture & Construction Science at Tuskegee University with a $100,000 gift to help bolster the number of licensed Black architects.

A bulk of the funds—$80,000—will be used to establish a need-based scholarship program for undergraduate students. The remainder of the gift will go toward technology scholarships that provide students with the crucial tools of the trade, namely laptop computers and/or design software, according to a news release issued by the private independent university in rural Macon County, Alabama, which kicked off the 2020 fall semester earlier this week on a modified schedule and with remote learning in place due to the coronavirus crisis.

Founded in 1881 as the Tuskegee Institute with educator and orator Booker T. Washington serving as its inaugural president, Tuskegee University is the only American university, be it a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) or otherwise, with a campus designated as a National Historic Site by the National Park Service. The campus itself was designed by Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African-American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the nation’s first accredited Black architect. Largely Greek Revival in style, the campus also features more contemporary buildings by other noted architects including, most famously, Paul Rudolph’s Tuskegee Chapel.

Today, the university is home to one of two National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)-accredited architecture programs in the state of Alabama along with Auburn University. It’s also, as of 2007, one of only seven HBCUs with accredited architecture programs including Howard University in Washington, D.C., Baltimore’s Morgan State University, and Hampton University in Virginia.  An even more modest number of HBCUs are home to landscape architecture programs. A small handful of HBCUs—there are 101 schools that identify as such in the United States as reported by the New York Times in 2019 although this number does vary by year/source—offer non-accredited architecture programs.

“Tuskegee is one of only seven accredited architecture degree programs, which collectively account for approximately half of all African American graduates in architecture. This gift will enhance student academic success and increase our commitment to the students by making sure they are prepared when they go out into the workforce as future architects,” said Dr. Carla Jackson Bell, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs and former dean of the school, in a statement.

As the school points out, only two percent of the roughly 100,000 licensed architects in the U.S. are African American, a number that hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. The racial disparity within the profession is a stark one—and has received additional scrutiny in recent months. And as noted by Roderick Fluker, associate professor of Architecture and interim dean for the school, Tuskegee University has produced the largest percentage of licensed architects of any architecture program in the Southeast, making it a hallowed and highly desirable institution for aspiring Black architects in the region. The $100,000 gift will enable even more Black architects-in-training to pursue their goals of shaping the built environment.

“Our students have incredible potential and through this partnership with Cooper Carry, we will be able to not only attract more students to our program, but we’ll be able to keep our current students in the program, and on track to graduate,” said Fluker.