The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. In September 1915, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. This group, known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926.
The second week of February was selected to celebrate these achievements to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This event inspired schools and communities across the country to organize local celebrations, create history clubs, and host performances and lectures.
Black History Month Begins
Decades later, mayors in cities across the country began issuing yearly announcements recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s as a result of the civil rights movement and growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week would evolve into Black History Month on many college campuses. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” (Source: History.com.)
The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black health and wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc. throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.
In order to foster good health and wellness, Black people have embarked on self-determination, mutual aid, and social support initiatives to build hospitals, medical and nursing schools, and community clinics. Clinics were established by individuals, grassroots organizations, and mutual aid societies to provide spaces for Black people to counter the economic and health disparities and discrimination that are found at mainstream institutions. Initiatives to help decrease disparities have produced several outcomes, including having more diverse practitioners and representation in all segments of the medical and health programs. Even the impact of popular culture, like the TV series Doc McStuffins, cannot be dismissed.
Black Health and Wellness not only includes one’s physical body, but also emotional and mental health. Social media and podcasts have normalized talking about mental health and going to therapy. More of us understand the need to hold down, lift up, center, and fight fiercely for our beloved trans siblings and family. Black girls are doing breathwork, and there are whole yoga studios dedicated to people of color. (Source: ASALH)
BLACK LEADERS AND ICONS WITHIN CONSTRUCTION
Black Americans have contributed to the foundation and framework of how we live, work, and play, but often, those stories go unreported and unnoticed. Black History Month presents an opportunity to elevate the voices and stories of Black Americans who have shaped the construction industry and celebrate their impact. We would like to share notable Black icons in construction as well as an example of Swinerton’s partnership with minority communities.
McKissack & McKissack
McKissack is the oldest African American-owned construction company in the United States. In 1905, Moses McKissack III, an astonishing builder, joined his brother Calvin to form one of the earliest Black architectural firms in Nashville, Tennessee. Today, the firm is still active and has worked on many facilities including the National Museum of African American History and Culture along with the MLK Memorial.
H.J. Russell Construction Company
Herman J. Russell was a wealthy entrepreneur who created the nation’s largest first ever black-owned construction and real estate company. He purchased his first building in 1946 for $125. After graduating from Tuskegee, Russell performed small-scale plastering and repair services until he inherited his father’s business, then known as the Rogers Russell Plastering Company, upon his father’s death in 1957. He then took on larger projects that ranged from home building to real estate investment. Within ten years, Russell’s business portfolio had expanded to include general contracting services through H. J. Russell Construction Company. Russell owned several construction and real estate companies. Some of Russell’s better-known projects include numerous Atlanta landmarks, among them the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, and Turner Field
In his time, doors of the elevators had to be closed manually, often by dedicated operators. If the shaft was not closed, people could fall through it leading to some horrific accidents. Miles improved on this mechanism by designing a flexible belt attachment to the elevator cage, and drums positioned to indicate if the elevator has reached a floor. The belt allowed for automatic opening and closing when the elevator reached the drums on the respective floors, by means of levers and rollers. Miles was granted a patent for this mechanism in 1887, thus greatly improving the safety and efficiency of elevators.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
Norma was the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in both New York (1954) and California (1962). She was also the first Black woman to become a fellow of the American Institute of Architecture (1966 FAIA). Her many projects included working with and overseeing a design team headed by the Argentine César Pelli. Although much of the credit for a building goes to the design architect, the dogged attention to construction detail and the managing of an architectural firm may be more important. Sklarek loved big, complicated projects. Her architectural management skills ensured the successful completion of complex projects such as the Pacific Design Center in California and Terminal 1 at the Los Angeles International Airport. Black female architects continue to turn to Sklarek as an inspiration and role model.
Swinerton Partnering with the Black Community
Swinerton is strongly committed to promoting and increasing participation of small, minority, women, veteran, and disabled veteran business enterprises in all our purchasing and contract business.
Our goal to award at least 20% of subcontracting and supplier volume to these valued partners is
proudly maintained across all divisions. One of the ways we ensure we meet our company goals is by hosting Local Business Entity Contractor Outreach events for our upcoming projects.