DR. DOUGLAS WILLIAMS
Instructor // University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
A void of cultural inclusion of African American landscape architect narratives has existed until recently. There has been a burgeoning of landscape architect biographies of men and women with ranging career longevity, but only a few notable biographies of African Americans. Among those documented is David A. Williston (1868-1962), who is recognized as the first black landscape architect. His existing narrative is limited and calls for a more in-depth rendering that considers the historical context of the time period between emancipation and the Civil Rights Era.
We can expand our understanding of his unique design choices and signature vocabulary by contextualizing his design portfolio. An exploration of the social-cultural factors of time and place for this racially marginalized, yet successful designer is needed. We have only begun critically investigate African American landscape architects, filling in the vast dearth of African American environmental design and cultural history scholarship. This is important research, especially considering that less than one percent of practicing landscape architects in America are African American. Popular academic texts on landscape history, such as those of Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, have often neglected or misrepresented African American landscape history.