Wallace Rayfield

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Wallace Augustus Rayfield (born March 10, 18731 in Bibb County, Georgia; died February 28, 1941 in Birmingham) was the second formally-educated practicing African American architect in the United States, preceded only by Robert Robinson Taylor. He led the architecture department at Tuskegee Institute, and maintained a professional design practice. He is responsible for numerous notable structures in Birmingham and was appointed superintending architect for the Freedmen's Aid Society and chief architect of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. He also extended his practice across the United States and overseas through the sale of mail order plans and plan books.

Early life and career

Rayfield in 1911

Rayfield's father was a railroad porter and high school teacher, and his mother a graduate of Atlanta University who worked as a maid. He grew up in Macon, Georgia and attended the Lewis School there, taking particular interest in a course on cartography. He went on to study at the Ballard Normal School, where his father taught, before moving to Washington D. C. to live with an aunt after his mother died.

Rayfield continued his studies at the preparatory school for Howard University. While there, he befriended Miss D. L. Mussey, daughter of the attorney representing the noted architectural office of A. B. Mullett and Company. Through that connection Rayfield secured a position with the firm where over two years he gained both practical experience and a strong desire to pursue a career in architecture.

After graduating from Howard in 1896, Rayfield moved to Brooklyn, New York to study at the Pratt Polytechnic Institute. He received his certificate from that program in 1898 and then continued his studies for one year at Columbia University, earning his bachelor of architecture in 1899.

While still a student at Columbia, Rayfield was recruited by Booker T. Washington to direct the Architectural and Mechanical Drawing Department at Tuskegee Institute (map) in Alabama. He began in the Fall of 1899 directing courses in mechanical and architectural drawing. He compiled and printed an Industrial Drawing Book with drafting exercises for students. Over ten years at Tuskegee he raised the program from a modest instruction in drafting to a well-respected course of architectural study. Many African-American architects began their studies at Tuskegee.

Complaining of low pay, but perhaps motivated by the treatment given to colleague Wallace Pittman, Rayfield resigned from the Institute in 1907 and opened a professional office in Birmingham. Before leaving Tuskegee he had already launched a business marketing mail-order plans nationwide. He advertised "branch offices" in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Talladega, Atlanta, Savannah, and Augusta. In the same year he married his first wife, Jennie Hutchins, a Tuskegee student from Clarksville, Tennessee.


Rayfield left Tuskegee Institute and moved to Birmingham in 1908 to focus on his young practice. He brought with him glowing letters of recommendation from Washington and secured a $40 commission on his first day in the city. He appeared in the city directory of that year at his residence at 109 Corrilla Street (now Center Place South). Later that year he constructed his own residence at 105 1st Street South in Titusville. The house was designed, financed and constructed entirely within the African American community (one of only 10 such houses in Birmingham, according to historian Phillip W. Holland). The home featured a large stained glass window and a special "architectural room" surrounded by windows in the attic level. Mr & Mrs Rayfield raised a daughter, Edith there, attending Saint Mark's Episcopal Church. Mrs Rayfield died in 1929 and was interred at Grace Hill Cemetery.

During the Depression it was impossible to keep ahead of business. On March 1, 1932 he married widow Bessie Fulwood Rogers, who was herself employed by Dr Edmund Rucker Jr. Rayfield resided with her at 328 Iota Avenue, a few blocks from his former home. Rayfield was the leader of the group of prominent Black citizens that founded the South Elyton Civic League for the improvement of the Titusville community.

In his later years, Rayfield joined the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on 6th Avenue South. He suffered declining health and died of a stroke at his home at the end of February 1941. He is interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Woodlawn.

Professional career

Rendering of Trinity Baptist Church by W. A. Rayfield & Co.

In addition to his personal office at home, Rayfield owned a series of downtown offices. The City Directory lists these as: 1717 1/2 3rd Avenue North, 402 & 404 1/2 15th Street North, the Alabama Penny Savings Bank Building (the Pythian Temple Building after 1917), and the Colored Masonic Temple. A 1911 book located his firm in the Mason Building at 1717 3rd Avenue North. According to his correspondence, he also kept offices in the Echols Building. In 1913 he was listed in partnership with Alphonso Reveron. He taught one year at Industrial High School in 1919-20.

Rayfield received most of his commissions from churches. In 1909 he won a competition to serve a four-year term as official architect of the national African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was later elected Superintending Architect for the Freedmen’s Aid Society, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also completed several residences in Birmingham and a number of school buildings.

1919 advertisement for Rayfield's church designs

While in Birmingham, Rayfield supervised the preparation of several plan books as marketing materials. These included The Southern Bungalow Book, Book of Designs: Churches, Designs for Lutheran Churches, and The Fraternal Building. He also compiled a directory of The Colored Mechanics of Birmingham, Ala. with information about numerous builders, carpenters, decorators and other tradesmen ready to serve the city's African-American clients. A collection of printing plates for these books and advertisements was found in 1993 in a barn in McCalla owned by minister Allen Durough. The discovery provided important documentation of Rayfield's practice that would otherwise have been lost. Making it his mission to gather and publicize every scrap of information about the underappreciated architect, Durough published a monograph through the University of Alabama Press in 2010.

Notable works

It is estimated that between his professional and mail-order architectural services, Rayfield was responsible for designing thousands of structures across the United States, with over 130 buildings in Birmingham alone.


A. H. Parker residence, 1907
Thomas School, 1910
16th Street Baptist Church, 1911

Elsewhere in Alabama

Outside Alabama

  • Antioch Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois
  • First Church of Christ Scientist, Charleston, West Virginia, 1915
  • Guadalupe College, Seguin, Texas, 1923
  • Haven Institute Dormitory, Meridian, Mississippi
  • Heroden Baptist Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1919
  • Independent Benevolent Order Home Office Building, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Macedonia Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, 1916
  • Marlinton Methodist Church, Marlinton, West Virginia
  • Marlinton Presbyterian Church, Marlinton, West Virginia
  • Methodist Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, Texas, 1915
  • Mount Gilead Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, 1912
  • Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, Milton, Florida
  • Mount Zion Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, 1918
  • Mount Zion Baptist Church, Pensacola, Florida
  • Public school, Paco, Texas
  • St John's Church, Dallas, Texas, 1918
  • St Paul's Episcopal Church, Batesville, Arkansas, 1924
  • Trinity Building, South Africa
  • Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina 1922


  1. This is the date Rayfield inscribed on his draft registration. Other sources give a range of dates from 1872 to May 10, 1874.


  • Hamilton, G. P. (1911) "W. A. Rayfield, B. S., Birmingham, Ala." in Beacon Lights of the Race. Memphis, E. H. Clarke & Brother, pp. 451-457
  • "Architect Dies" (March 7, 1941) Birmingham World
  • Brown, Charles A. (1972) W. A. Rayfield: Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Ala. Birmingham: Gray Printing Company
  • Dozier, Richard Kevin (1990) Tuskegee: Booker T. Washington's Construbution to the Education of Black Architects. PhD dissertations. University of Michigan.
  • McKenzie, Vinson E. (Fall 1993) "A Pioneering African-American Architect in Alabama: Wallace A. Rayfield, 1874-1941." Journal of the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art & Architecture. Vol. 13, pp. 12–14
  • Dowling, Elizabeth Meredith (2004) "Wallace Augustus Rayfield (1874–1941)" in Derek Spurlock Wilson, ed. African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945. Taylor & Francis ISBN 9780415929592
  • Dozier, Richard; Bill Springer and Allen R. Durough (February 12, 2009) "Wallace Rayfield" panel presentation. "Collective Perspectives" series. Vulcan Park and Museum.
  • Boyd, Ashley (January 31, 2010) "Work of Tuscaloosa's first black architect shines in churches." Tuscaloosa News
  • Sledge, John (August 12, 2010) "Southern Bound: An overdue look at architect Wallace Rayfield." Mobile Press-Register
  • Durough, Allan R. (2010) The Architectural Legacy of Wallace A. Rayfield: Pioneer Black Architect of Birmingham, Alabama. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press ISBN 9780817316839
  • Ward, Logan (January/February 2011) "Rediscovering Mr. Rayfield: The legacy of a pioneering African American architect is being restored by an indefatigable Southern Baptist preacher" Preservation Magazine archived August 26, 2012
  • Qualls, Shirley (June 25, 1985) National Register of Historic Places - Nomination Form National Park Service retrieved June 3, 2017