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The Upside Down Architect

Paul Revere Williams began designing homes and commercial buildings in the early 1920s. He was the first black architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923, and in 1957 he was inducted as the AIA's first black fellow. Despite warnings from those who thought he was being impractical ("Your own people can't afford you, and white clients won't hire you," was one such warning), Williams became an architect.

Many of the neighborhoods in which his homes were located were closed to him because of his race.

That's something California had in common with several other American states — not all of them in the South. Hudson notes that there were also restrictive covenants in greater Los Angeles. "By law, he could not live in some of the places [where he designed homes]. Particularly in Flintridge, where he designed his first home in his own office, the land deed said a black person could not even spend the night."

He taught himself to draw upside down so white clients wouldn't be uncomfortable sitting next to him and toured construction sites with his hand behind his back because he wasn't sure every person would want to shake a black man's hand. So he gave them the option of extending their hand first.


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