The Town of Hobson City, Alabama held its first 10K (6.2 miles) recreational bicycle ride two weeks ago (August 15). Atlanta based Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team Club (BRAG), the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club (MACC), and the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency donated twenty two new and refurbished bicycles and a stationary training bike to the new Hobson City Youth Bicycle Club. Bicycle safety accessories and additional assistance was provided by Fun Wheels, Wigs Wheels, Oxford Lumber, Fly/Hunt, Curtis Strong & D85G, and Triangle Bikeworks. Contact the Town of Hobson City (256-831-4940 ) for 2016 Heritage Ride plans.
The 116th Annual Hobson City, Alabama Founder’s Day activities (August 14-15) will inaugurate a 10K (6.2 miles) recreational bicycle ride. Hobson City’s Calhoun County Training School was established in 1905. The school’s vocational trade curriculum included bicycle mechanics. African American bicyclist Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878 – 1932) won the world 1 mile (1.6 km) track cycling championship in 1899, 1900, and 1901. African American inventor Isaac R. Johnson received a patent for a folding bicycle frame in 1899. Mr. C. C. Sykes, a prominent Black businessman, operated a bicycle shop in neighboring Anniston MORE….
The best teacher I ever had, my mother, passed away this week. Nadine grew up in the rural east Texas piney woods, a few miles outside the town of Nacogdoches. She attended the two room Macedonia Rosenwald School, on what is known as the “Low Douglass Road”, for grades one through nine. Nadine was naturally left handed, but the teacher at the Rosenwald School was right handed, and forced Nadine to learn to write right handed. She worked as a maid and cook for forty seven years.
When I graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Nadine and her sister, Margaret, traveled to Boston/Cambridge for the ceremonies. Then chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department, Charles W. Harris, made time to greet parents privately. When our turn came we went into his office. Chairman Harris casually asked Nadine how she liked the campus in early June. Without hesitation, she began to give her observations about the New England plants, in detail. She was particularly descriptive in explaining the differences between the shape, size and color of the flowers of the eastern dogwood and the southern dogwood she grew up with in Nacogdoches County, Texas. She used the joints of her fingers to describe the width of flower and length of petals. The Chairman grew more attentive as her description progressed. When she finished, he smiled broadly and said “… well Everett, I see where your interest in landscape architecture came from!” I received the degree, BUT Nadine gave the plant taxonomy short class at one of the world’s best universities.
The National Park Service (NPS) website features the National Register (NR) listing of the Entrance Court at the Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo New York. The Entrance Court was designed by pioneer African American architect and Landscape Architect John Edmonston Brent (1889 – 1962). Ellen P. Hunt/AIA collaborated with me to research, interpret and produce the successful NR nomination. The key to the project methodology was being aware of “context” in every aspect. Before we began the project we were aware of the deep significance and national legacies of Frederick Law Olmsted; twenty three Colored Y.M.C.A.’s built across America; Dr. Booker T. Washington; Tuskegee Institute; and Mr. Julius Rosenwald. Once we were introduced to Mr. Brent’s association with the Buffalo Colored Y.M.C.A. we were immediately able to identify leads to other aspects of his work and civic life.
This afternoon the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) announced that the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) has received a one-time national Innovation Grant in the field of historic preservation. A large number of applications were submitted from organizations in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Louisiana, eastern Massachusetts (broadly defined as the Boston metropolitan area), Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. The HBTSA proposal was researched and prepared by Everett L. Fly, Ellen P. Hunt, Dr. Carey Latimore, and N.Y. Nathiri.
The HBTSA is composed of five of America’s most historic Black towns:
Tuskegee, Macon County, Alabama (settled c.1833; incorporated 1843)
Grambling, Lincoln Parish, Louisiana (settled c.1865; incorporated 1953)
Hobson City, Calhoun County, Alabama (settled c.1865; incorporated 1899)
Eatonville, Orange County, Florida (settled c.1881; incorporated 1887)
Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Mississippi (settled c.1887; incorporated 1898)
The Innovation Grant will support planning and programmatic costs up to $10,000.
The project meets National Trust interests in the following preservation priorities:
• Building sustainable communities: Demonstrating that historic preservation supports economic, environmental and cultural sustainability in communities.
• Reimagining historic sites: Application of innovative, replicable strategies that create new models for historic site interpretation and stewardship.
• Promoting diversity and place: Broaden the cultural diversity of historic preservation by exposing the depth and scope of American history embodied in historic Black towns and settlements as a collective national resource.
Working with Trinity University history professor, and History Department Chair, Dr. Carey Latimore, Ph.D., and his students this semester has provided opportunities for field research in the San Antonio and south Texas region. We recently visited the Sweet Home African American settlement less than forty five minutes from downtown San Antonio. Mr. James Ussery, Mrs. Connie Quarles, and Mrs. Betty Young were gracious hosts at the Sweet Home Rosenwald School. Each shared personal memories of days growing up in the community. Each offered amazing details regarding the school band, softball team, girls gardening class, boys gardening class, mattress making in the girls home
economics class, and the produce canning plant. They described various ways that families and members of the settlement shared resources, skills, knowledge, and practical wisdom to maintain the community. Sustainable practices such as harvesting rain water from the school roof and use of local materials were part of everyday life. All retain vivid recollections of attending the Rosenwald School. They explained that the school served African American families from miles around, and outside the county. This made it necessary for a number of the male students to find room and board with nearby families and girls to stay in the dormitory across the road. Mr. Ussery also took time to guide
the students to the original Sweet Home Cemetery and point out the original church site, initially known as Elm Creek Baptist Church. The church name was changed to Sweet Home Baptist Church after a storm damaged the first structure and the congregation moved to its present site in 1906. The initial settlement formed around the Elm Creek Church beginning in 1864, and was one of the charter members of the Guadalupe Baptist District Association which formed in 1873. At one point the association covered more than a dozen counties, and more than 3,500 square miles. A number of San Antonio’s African American churches, such as Mt. Zion First Baptist, were active association members. Though many Sweet Home descendants eventually moved to the city of San Antonio and beyond, significant physical and cultural traces of the community remain.
The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc. (P.E.C.), guided by N.Y. Nathiri, celebrated and produced the 25th Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival for the Arts and the Humanities during the last week of January, 2014. One of the unheralded programs was the Eatonville Yards & Gardens Tours highlighting sustainable gardening techniques practiced by current residents, and linked directly to truck gardening courses taught at Tuskegee Institute more than one hundred and ten years ago. Despite uncharacteristically cold weather, Eatonville gardeners displayed impressive products, including turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, cauliflower, and papaya.
Professor Perry Howard, FASLA, and his advanced landscape architecture students from North Carolina A & T State University completed their semester long study of sustainable landscape concepts for Eatonville, Florida. A summary video, “Looking Back to Move Forward, The Reawakening of Eatonville”, is now available for viewing. The study covers issues ranging from environmental to human sustainability.
Also this month, Ellen Hunt has a special offer on one of her jewelry pieces. The Capote Cross is made from a casting of a nail that came from the Capote Church in Seguin, Texas. The church, built by emancipated African Americans in 1874 is still standing and under renovation. Ellen was intrigued by the rectangular nails, and the thousands of them used to build the church. Who made them? Was it an apprentice in a blacksmith shop in Seguin or did they come from a bigger factory? This sterling silver cross is a reminder of that earlier era and the questions we still have about that period of time in Texas. This cross is available in limited editions. The first one sold out, the second is in production and should be available next week. If you are interested visit HUNTDESIGNJEWELRY.
I had the great pleasure and honor to participate in the Humanities Texas 40th Anniversary celebration in Austin, Texas this week. In the preceding months I had received a number of requests for a single linked index of products from my projects, including Black Settlements In America, across the United States. Whether a matter of providence or not, Dr. Jim Veninga (Director Emeritus of Humanities Texas) challenged me directly to do this during the Humanities Texas events. So, the following list of links represent the first set of which I am aware:
- Nicodemus, Graham County, Kansas – Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)
- Idlewild, Cass County, Michigan – National Resource Team Report
- Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Management Plan (Huntley Partners Team) – Buffalo, Erie County, New York
Another comprehensive update will be posted in 2014 as the next series of projects begin and becomes available. Thanks to Jim, et.al., for the final “ push”!
From my initial exposure to the background of John Edmonston Brent I sought to interpret his career and achievements using multidisciplinary, and professional, standards. I did not pursue the research for nostalgic or sentimental reasons. Through the course of my Black Settlements In America (TM) studies and projects I learned that broad professional primary research of authentic documentation and comparative analysis often reveals more than traditional accounts. Even basic accounts indicated that Mr. Brent’s life and career were extraordinary. He was the son of an African American architect, Calvin T.S. Brent, and a Tusegee graduate. John Brent was the architect of record for Buffalo’s Michigan Street “Colored” YMCA (1926), located at the intersection of Michigan and Broadway. From my 1980‘s research of African American architect, and Tuskegee graduate, W. Sidney Pittman I was aware that this was one of twenty three “Colored Y’s” built with funding from local communities and Mr. Julius Rosenwald (CEO of Sears & Roebuck). These facts also suggested important relationships beyond Buffalo. Unfortunately, the Michigan Y was demolished in the 1970’s.
But a few archived news articles mentioned that Mr. Brent had worked at the Buffalo Zoo. So, I was convinced that there was more to learn, and I decided to search for other pieces of his work that might remain in the city. Dr. Donna Fernandes, Zoo President/CEO, was gracious enough to allow me to interview her staff and enlist their working knowledge of the zoo’s evolution.
At first it seemed as though there was no record of Mr. Brent’s association with the Zoo. But, Ellen Hunt, AIA Architect: http://ww.epharchitect.com, and I made a series of telephone contacts. This led to Mr. Burke Glaser, Senior Architect, with the City of Buffalo. Mr. Glaser knew where the old zoo drawings were stored, and agreed to let me look through them in his downtown office. The drawings were stored in large metal flat files. The first search session yielded seventeen original tracings initialed, “J.E.B.”, by Mr. Brent. Two additional visits yielded twenty three more original drawings. My original expectation was to find architectural drawings, of buildings. Instead, I found a group of what can only be classified as exquisite landscape architectural drawings. Most were pencil on vellum, but a few were pen and ink on linen and mylar.
Apparently, I asked so many questions about Mr. Brent, that a newspaper article and word of mouth eventually reached his descendants, Robert Milner, Janessa Robinson, Jennifer McGriff, and Brent Rollins. They came to a meeting and asked why a Texan was so interested in their great uncle. After quickly outlining my interpretation of Mr. Brent’s significance, the descendants agreed to schedule an oral interview. The first interview set the stage for a series of interviews and conversations over the next six months. These provided insights and leads into, and authentic documentation of, Mr. Brent’s civic and professional career that had not been exposed previously.
Though I had authentic drawings, it was not clear which, if any, of the original structures remained. The zoo exhibits had evolved, and changed out of necessity. And, the gate numbers had changed. In May of 2012 Ms. Jean Miller, Zoo Registrar, and Jennifer Fields, then Zoo Public Relations Coordinator, walked me across the zoo. They pointed out physical changes and shared background stories on various features. Since I had studied the original drawings for gate #3 and #4 I began to recognize specific details as we approached. When we reached the east seat wall of gate #4 I realized that it was intact.
My years on state and municipal historic review boards immediately told me that National Register criteria could be met. The gates were more than 50 years old; remained in their original location; had not been significantly altered; were built using distinctive construction techniques and materials; formed a distinguishable composition; and could be authentically associated with the life and career of John Edmonston Brent. It was clear that the Entrance Court could, and should, be considered on its own merit.
Ellen and I spent the next six months verifying, cross referencing information, and filling in details on the Zoo and Mr. Brent. I made a trip to the Rakow Research Library in Corning, New York to verify the type of glass Mr. Brent specified for the lights in the gate pilasters.
I also spent a day in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland to gather and verify documentation on Mr. Brent’s work in Washington, D.C. The process used obvious existing documentation, but also searched for new authentic information. We used information contained in a single line of text, periodicals and whole books. We used public records and private collections. We combed through municipal, county and state records. We established geographic contexts using local and national references. We compared written data against oral information. We used photographs, maps, engineering and architectural drawings. And, hours were spent on the actual site documenting and studying the physical qualities, characteristics and details of the composition components. The end product was a twenty seven page nomination narrative that covered every aspect of the Entrance Court, from the public art to the key people who worked with Mr. Brent. The comparative multidisciplinary process enabled the State and National Register listing of an important American physical composition and the American landscape architect and architect who created it.
I look forward to presenting the keynote talk to begin “Preservation Week” produced by Preservation Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia. The theme of this year’s week long event is “Threatened Sites & Communities.”
A pre-event audio interview, hosted on Marcello Rollando’s “Reasonable Voice” show, has also been posted on BlogTalk Radio:
This is a very timely, and nationally significant, theme. Late last year someone contacted me about an African American high school constructed in 1949 in Louisiana that has been considered for sale despite the fact that it was architect designed as an “international style” composition, and publicized as a national model for its curriculum and design prior to the 1954 Brown v Board decision. Since I received the invitation to Charlottesville my good friend, Susan Barnes-Gelt (@SBGtweets), sent me an article about the pending demolition of an African American homestead (1897) in Denver, Colorado. The owner, Joseph Adolphus Thomas-Hazell, became one of the founders of the Colorado Black town of Dearfield, Colorado (1910).
Last week Ellen Hunt, AIA (http://ww.epharchitect.com), and I stumbled onto a Rosenwald School located in central Texas that was unknown, even to the Rosenwald Schools Initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Every historic resource that is lost, demolished, or ignored represents a loss of opportunity for American education, economics, sustainability, and quality of life.