From the Archive: Readings for Black History Month
To mark Black History Month, we’ve assembled a selection of readings from our archive.
The articles, galleries, and reading lists gathered here engage, in different ways, with the challenge articulated by Kofi Boone in “Notes Towards a History of Black Landscape Architecture,” to tell stories about the power of physical places to catalyze political and economic transformation. The readings range from the revisionist histories and curricula that are remaking — decolonizing — the canon to the histories that are being written in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
Writers, designers, and artists delve into the African and Black contributions that shaped modern America; the legacies of pathbreaking architect Paul R. Williams, city planner John B. Williams, and fair-housing advocate Morris Milgram; and the innovative libraries and collaborative projects that are preserving the narratives of marginalized communities. Others explore the relationship between housing and race in American cinema; the inequities that have been built into our environments, from dividing walls to disrupted burial grounds; and the connections between nature, place, and identity. Six essays drawn from our series The Inequality Chronicles tackle the legacies of systemic racism in Memphis, Baltimore, and New Orleans; efforts to create change through grassroots movements in Houston and Philadelphia; and the achievements of progressive local government in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois.
[Image: City Center demolition ceremony November 12, 1970, from “Imagining a Past Future,” by Moriah Ulinskas.]
Chicago Inside Out
Forget the flashiness of city politics. Cook County has quietly become one of the best places in the nation for thinking creatively about the role of government in people’s lives.
Houston’s Quiet Revolution
A modern settlement house movement is brewing in Texas. Have organizers figured out the secret to reviving the immigrant dream?
For decades a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia has struggled to repair the damages inflicted by postwar urban renewal projects.
George Floyd and A Community of Care
At E. 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, a self-organizing network explores what it means to construct and maintain a public memorial, a space for collective action.
In what ways do libraries act as ‘instruments of social control,’ and how could they be made into instruments of restoration, reparation, or transformation?
Remembering Emmett Till
The ruins of a grocery store and the nostalgic restoration of a gas station reveal the enduring racism beneath the surface of historical markers.
A Nation of Walls
An artist-activist catalogues the physical remnants and political legacies of “segregation walls,” unassuming bits of racist infrastructure that hide in plain sight in American neighborhoods.
Imagining a Past Future
City planner John B. Williams — and the photographic archive he commissioned — give us the opportunity to complicate received stories of failed urban renewal.
Architecture and Control
Any telling of public history in American architecture must attend to questions of power.
AIA Gold: Paul Revere Williams
Paul Revere Williams was the first African American to become a member, in 1923, and later a fellow, in 1957, of the American Institute of Architects. His story is often framed (and at times sensationalized) by the obstacles he overcame. It also offers a critical lens for considering the intersection of race, identity, and architectural practice.
Prop and Property
On the relations between race, property, and spectacle in Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird.
"Housing Is Everybody's Problem"
Largely forgotten today, Morris Milgram was a pioneer of multiracial suburban housing. His legacy in the fight for fair housing in America deserves to be remembered.
Homeplace: Planning and African American Communities
What bell hooks called “homeplace” is a location and a domain, as well as a set of social and political characteristics of neighborhoods, towns, settlements, and landscapes in which cultural sovereignty and self-determination is possible.
Black People, Porches, and Politics
Architecture has always excelled at using the built environment to convey narratives. Unfortunately, that opportunity has rarely materialized in African-American communities. Providing access to narratives undiscovered and often neglected, one can begin to understand and empathize with marginalized communities.
Notes Towards a History of Black Landscape Architecture
What if we started to tell different stories about landscape architecture, stories that recognized the power of physical places in catalyzing political and economic transformation?
The Lay of the Land
Place and land and nature: how we tie these things together is critical to our sense of self-purpose and our fit in the world.
Elegy in Three Plagues
Viral spread, racist prejudice, and a presidency premised on lies and violence: The antithesis to these plagues is the backyard as birding preserve.
The racism that plagues African Americans in life is perpetuated in death. Today there is nothing less than a preservation crisis for Black burial grounds across the country.
Washington Park Cemetery
Photographing the history of disruption at an African-American burial ground in St. Louis.
Race, Space, and Architecture
What might be included in a decolonial pedagogy for architecture? An interactive, open-source curriculum offers some ideas.
Black in Design
By understanding historical oppression and the ways that it informs spatial oppression, today's student designers, planners, and policymakers are better equipped to engage with these problems.
An anti-colonial architecture may very well resemble an anti-architecture, the intentional un-building of monuments, buildings, parks, suburbs, cities, and infrastructures that have perpetuated spatial racism.
Resources on Anti-Racism
Since 2020, we've been collecting the cogent demands that have emerged to restructure faculties, decolonize curricula, invest in equity, and end the biases that, as the National Organization of Minority Architects has put it, “prevent people of color from entering into and thriving in the profession of architecture.”
To understand racial inequality in America, start with housing. Here, in the nation’s poorest major city, the segregationist roots go deep.
The Third Rail
In Baltimore, public investment — and disinvestment — in transportation have figured greatly in the persistence of racial and economic inequality.
Wearing the Lead Glasses
A writer tracks the longest epidemic in American history — from his own family, to the origins of the gas industry, to the Flint water crisis and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Race, Space, and the Law
Law has played a crucial historical role in the constitution of space, place, the body, and various other modalities of belonging in the U.S.
Planners and community partners have vital roles to play in elevating the oppositional strategies and resistant geographies that can counter the ongoing processes of racially oppressive inequality.