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John A. Lankford
John A. Lankford


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John Anderson Lankford has the distinction of being the first African-American architect in the United States with an established architectural office He was also an attorney, blacksmith, real estate broker, professor, and author John Anderson Lankford was born on December 4, 1874, on his parents’ farm in Potosi, Missouri, one of eleven children of former slaves Philip Anderson Lankford and Nancy Ella Johnson Lankford Mr Lankford’s paternal grandfather was Rev Philip Andrew Lankford (b 1813, Caucasian) ; his paternal line can be traced back to the 1600s in France and to 1645 in Albemarle County, Virginia Of John Anderson Lankford’s ten full siblings and three half-siblings, the lines of descent for six may never be known since some were slaves born prior to the end of the Civil War After attending public schools in Potosi, Lankford worked in Crystal City, Missouri, in a plate glass factory Following this, from 1889 to 1896, he attended Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University) in Jefferson City, Missouri It is reported that in order to get enough money to travel from Crystal City to Jefferson City, he met a porter who took him to St Louis and on to Jefferson City, where he took classes and worked as a janitor to earn money for his books.

He also worked at the Plymouth Rock Pants Company in order to earn money for his clothes and at a steam laundry in order to get his laundry cleaned Lankford was invited by Booker T Washington (via letters sent to numerous promising African-Americans of the day) to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama First, between his time at Lincoln and Tuskegee, he worked in a blacksmith shop in St Louis To pay his board at Tuskegee, where he took chemistry and physics classes between 1896 and 1898, Lankford not only worked in the foundry and steam fitting department, but also as in amateur photographer Mr Lankford received a BS from Shaw University in Raleigh, NC (1898), where he later taught (1900-02).

Here he met his wife, Charlotte Josephine Turner Upshaw (1876-1973), who was the granddaughter of the famous religious leader and political activist Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) Following his time at Shaw, Lankford received several Masters Degrees, a law degree, and, later in life, numerous honorary degrees Professor Lankford came to Washington, DC in July 1902 with a commission in hand to design and supervise the construction of a new hall for the Grand United Order of the True Reformers True Reformers Hall was a stately, five-story brick building notable for its arched, 18-foot windows and ornamental frieze The building was considered remarkable because it was financed, designed, and built entirely by African-Americans True Reformers Building, 1200 “U” Street NW, Washington, DC The newly renovated 1903 structure, now a state-of-art office complex and home to the Public Welfare Foundation, contains a modern, two-story auditorium appropriately called, The John Anderson Lankford Auditorium The building housed stores as well as the offices of physicians, lawyers, and newspaper bureaus In addition, the building served as the headquarters for the First Separate Battalion, Washington's black national guard unit, and a dance hall where Duke Ellington played his first gig for 75 cents.

The First Presbyterian Church of Potosi, Missouri (1909), which is still in active use almost 100 years later Lankford designed and constructed numerous churches still standing today throughout the United States and as far away as Capetown, South Africa, but it is evident that he had a great fondness for this, his first church design In his 1916 book, Lankford said, “This edifice is an English Gothic, classical structure, solid stone; the plans were procured by us, by winning a competitive context against ten white architects whose offices were located in different sections of the United States The committee for the church awarded us for our architectural services first prize Cost of the church thirty-five thousand dollars; committee and entire congregation are white” (Photo credit: Esther Carroll) During John Anderson Lankford’s lifetime, he served on numerous professional and civic organizations In his later years, he helped establish the School of Architecture at Howard University, and during WWII, he was the supervising architect at the Washington Naval Yard John Anderson Lankford passed away July 2, 1946 .



 
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