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In the 17th and 18th centuries, most construction relied on slave and free black labor. After the Civil War, African-Americans continued to play a vital role as craftsmen, laborers, and artisans. As black entrepreneurship grew in the early 1900s, it drove a new trend towards both black construction and design. This resulted in the commission of black architects in the city such as Richmond native Ethel Bailey Furman, Virginia’s first African American female architect. Her career, like that of Richmond’s black contractors, reveals the involvement of blacks in the creation of uniquely African American buildings and neighborhoods, each a rich repository of memories of generations. Although many old neighborhoods and major historic sites associated with African American history in the former Confederate capital were lost to poor planning, demolition by neglect or the desire to bury a troubled past, the achievements deserve study and appreciation. With appreciation may come more vigorous efforts to preserve what remains architecturally of some of the most fascinating chapters in American history.
Architectural historian and A.C.O.R.N. Board President, Selden Richardson, wrote “Built by Blacks.” Richardson has been ardent and outspoken advocate for an endangered African American armory in Jackson Ward, one of the last remaining in Virginia. Dr. Maurice Duke, professor emeritus of English at VCU and author of other books and articles on American history and literature is the book’s editor and photographer. Duke is a former photographer and book editor for the Richmond Newspapers, Inc.
“Built by Blacks” may be purchased at Richmond-area bookstores or through A.C.O.R.N. The cost is 19.95 per copy. Proceeds from book sales will benefit A.C.O.R.N., which helps to restore vitality to Richmond’s urban neighborhoods primarily through the return of vacant or abandoned buildings to productive use.
To learn more about “Built by Blacks,” or to purchase a copy CLICK HERE or call 804-422-2148.