with response by Mario Gooden & moderated by Mary McLeod
In the late 1930s, Amaza Lee Meredith (1895-1984), an African American woman from Lynchburg, Virginia, designed and built a Modern style house for herself and her female companion. Situated on the edge of the Historically Black Virginia State College, in Petersburg, VA, the modest structure, built of concrete blocks, emphasizes the horizontal in a cube-like form. A smooth white planar surface is punctuated by glass bricks, has rounded ends, and a flat roof terrace framed by curved metal coping and accessed by means of a steel ship’s ladder. In other words, the building reflects clear principles of Modern architecture. Yet these formal and aesthetic considerations typically, to this day, conjure the designs of the white European male: the slick shiny cube of a Le Corbusier dwelling or the refractive glass and steel of a Mies van der Rohe facade.
In her life and work, Amaza Lee Meredith shattered behavioral norms on multiple levels. The house she designed provides a provocative place to explore the choices she made, the influences she absorbed, and the new norms she desired to reflect. This lecture offers a reconsideration of the Modernist canon, but more importantly, provides a candid lens into the world of the emergent Black professional class of the early 20th century. Asking critical questions to enrich the discourse of race and gender identity politics, while broadening histories of social representation, this presentation illustrates the importance of mining minority histories of material culture, to enhance our appreciation of American history and life in all its complexity.