One of my partners in our architectural firm was a racist. The real deal. I’ll call him Bubba. Exploding at him (being of an Irish temperament) made no dent in his armor, so I stopped trying — after a few years. Though it was hard walking by his office with Rush Limbaugh spewing from the radio.
Bubba hated Blacks, Browns, Middle Easterners, Asians, Women, educated people, and I could go on. But first and foremost, he hated Blacks. Why the son of an immigrant shoemaker raised in New York State thought Blacks were lesser creatures, I could never figure out. In his mind, an educated Black — like, say an architect, was an oxymoron, only his vocabulary didn’t extend that far.
As one might expect, the African Americans who came to our firm didn’t stay too long.
Early on, we had a woman architect — an immigrant who fled from the Ayatolla’s Iran —she was a practicing Muslim — who Bubba was sure would never make it in the profession. “Women can’t be architects.” I could never tell whether it was her faith or her sex that upset him more. And I wasn’t too surprised when she left for the public sector. I never quite knew how talented a designer she was, but we liked each other well enough, went out to lunch on occasion, acted like fellow humans, you know, that kind of stuff. She came to my son’s funeral — she had a son herself and she understood how I was grieving.
The psychology of a racist — seen from a distance — is disgusting, but seen close up is like watching a rabid animal spin in circles, bewildered at where it finds itself, still snarling in self defense.
People in New England tsk tsk’d when it took Federal Marshals to desegregate Old Miss in 1962 — shame on those Southerners, shame! But when it came time to desegregate the Boston public schools twelve years later, all the good Irish Southies erupted. If anyone ever had needed proof of the nation’s racism, there it was in riotous living color.
I’ll admit to a prejudice — against racists. Not that hate is good for the spleen, and it’s probably something I need to work on.
I expect a majority of lay people consider architects supporting cast members for public art and monuments— and we are, as a rule. So reading recently that a group that calls itself the Society of Architectural Historians supports removing the Confederate monuments, all I could think of was ‘what took you guys so long?’
And what it brought to mind was the recent ‘deaccession’ of the Jefferson Davis statue — a waste of good marble and bronze in Richmond.
Why on earth (or in heaven) would Virginians seek a reminder of the Mississippi slave owner who dragged their state, the birthplace of eight American presidents, including Washington and Jefferson, through four bloody years of civil war? Given that Virginia lost over 32,000 men verses 8,000 or so for the Mississippi planters, and given that Virginians watched their forests, fields and industries chewed by tramping armies, if I had been a Civil War veteran from Virginia, I would have been elevating good ole Jeff Davis to sing with the angels instead of a pedestal.
“This is done not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children.”
from from Jefferson Davis farewell to the U.S. Senate, emphasis added.
The Jefferson Davis monument stood diagonally across from the Branch House, a private residence later converted to the Branch House Museum by Virginia AIA, (American Institute of Architects) of which I am a member — I was a board member when Virginia AIA bought the Branch House on Monument Avenue — talk about an odious public street. I suspect other AIA members felt discomfited by the association.
Adding further to the bad taste, the monument’s self-aggrandizing base (half encircling colonnade, et al.) was designed by one of Virginia’s best known architects — whose name is on the William C. Noland medal, to this day the highest honor an architect in Virginia can be given. It’s a nice medal with ribbon to hang around your neck, and besides, maybe Noland was ‘only following orders’…