Since 1976 Black History Month has been nationally celebrated every February as a time to recognize the accomplishments and heritage of African Americans. Originally called Negro History Week in 1926, it was created by historian Carter G. Woodson who wanted Black history to be studied in American schools. The month of February was chosen because it included the birthday of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, born in February 1818.
The Monrovia Public Library has a large collection of works by and about African Americans. Every genre is covered: fiction and non-fiction, history, biography, literature, music and cultural and social history can be found.
Let’s take a look at a famous Black California architect, whose name may not be immediately familiar to all. Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style written by his granddaughter Karen Hudson, includes a biography and is primarily a beautifully illustrated look at buildings he designed. Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Paul Williams was a talented artist who studied architecture and engineering and became the first licensed African American architect in the western United States. A superior draftsman, he learned to draw upside down because he anticipated that potential white clients would not want to sit next to him. Although racism kept him from the many jobs for which he first applied, he took a volunteer job. That experience and the fact he won several architectural competitions led him to paid work and an incredible career.
This story of a hard-working young African American man, who found success in his profession, would be wonderful by itself, except Williams’ life was truly extraordinary. Paul Williams became a prolific, sought after architect who was a favorite of movie stars. His clients included Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Frank Sinatra and Tyrone Power. His more than 2,000 homes dotted Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Bel Air. Mr. Williams’ commercial buildings included the Wilshire Blvd. Saks Fifth Avenue, The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Los Angeles County Court House and the LAX Theme Building.