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Sun, 05.10.1874

Wallace Rayfield, Architect born

Wallace Rayfield

*Wallace Rayfield was born on this date in 1874.  He was a Black architect

Wallace Augustus Rayfield was born in Macon, Georgia, attending local schools in Macon.  After the death of his mother, he moved to Washington, DC. He was an apprentice at an architectural firm while attending Howard University. He then completed a graduate certificate from Pratt Institute before earning his bachelor's degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1899.  

Upon graduation, he was recruited by Booker T. Washington to the Directorship of the Architectural and Mechanical Drawing Department at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1907, Rayfield opened a professional office in Tuskegee from which he sold mail-order plans nationwide. He advertised in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, and Talladega, Alabama and Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, and Augusta, Georgia.  In that same year, he married his first wife, Jennie Hutchins, a Tuskegee student from Clarksville, Tennessee.  Rayfield left Tuskegee Institute and moved to Birmingham in 1908 to focus on his practice. He brought with him glowing letters of recommendation from Washington and secured a $40 commission on his first day in the city. He appeared in the city directory of that year at his residence at 109 Corrilla Street (now Center Place South).

Later that year he constructed his own residence at 105 1st Avenue South in Titusville. The house was designed, financed, and constructed entirely within the Black community (one of only 10 such houses in Birmingham, according to historian Phillip W. Holland). The home featured a large stained-glass window and a special "architectural room" surrounded by windows in the attic level. Rayfield’s work as an architect consisted of designing the most significant buildings in civil rights history, including 16th Street Baptist Church in 1911 and Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1914.

The Rayfield’s raised a daughter, Edith there, attending Saint Mark's Episcopal Church. Mrs. Rayfield died in 1929 and was interred at Grace Hill Cemetery.  During the Depression, it was impossible to keep ahead of business. On March 1, 1932, he married widow, Bessie Fulwood Rogers.  Rayfield was the leader of the group of prominent Black citizens that founded the South Elyton Civic League for the improvement of the Titusville community.  In his later years, Rayfield joined the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on 6th Avenue South.  

Wallace Rayfield suffered declining health and died of a stroke at his home on February 28, 1941. He is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Woodlawn Alabama.  In 2010, the University of Alabama Press published a book that contains an overview of Rayfield’s life, with numerous photographs of buildings he designed and illustrations from drawings he used in his industrial drawing classes at Tuskegee. His book, and the collection of Rayfield’s papers on which it is based, have confirmed his standing as a pioneer African American architect. 

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