Jacksonville's early black architects

Modern Cities highlights the forgotten story of early Jacksonville's black architects. The presentation by Ennis Davis, AICP took place on February 15, 2020 at the Durkeeville Historical Society.


Born in Macon, GA in 1877, Sanford Augustus Brookings relocated to Jacksonville in 1904. Around 1916, Brookings founded his own contracting business specializing in residential construction. By 1925, he had been credited with building over 150 residential structures, including his own in Sugar Hill. Brookings was also responsible for many of the houses in Durkee Gardens.

Situated near the intersection of 8th and 13th Streets, the brick houses in Durkee Gardens were constructed between 1934 and 1940 and marketed to the city’s black middle class. Despite doing business in the era of Jim Crow, Brookings also built several residences in Nassau County’s American Beach and the white Riverside neighborhood for developer George P. Mason. To circumvent racial discrimination at city hall, Mason was a white developer who pulled permits for Brookings. After retiring in 1965, Brookings relocated to Compton, CA where he died in 1968.


James Edward Hutchins was born in Blakely, GA in 1890. After arriving in Jacksonville, Hutchins was a carpenter with the Dawkins Building and Supply Company several years before establishing his own construction company in the 1930s. One of the few local African-American contractors that also designed their buildings, Hutchins is responsible for several African American churches. Today, no where else in Florida can one see the dense concentration of large and architecturally elegant red brick, Gothic-style sanctuaries, designed by and built for a southern segregation era black community.

In addition to religious structures, Hutchins designed many residences in the College Gardens and Durkee Gardens subdivisions, as well as commercial buildings throughout the city’s African-American neighborhoods.

After World War II, Hutchins worked with the Veterans Administration to train African-American carpenters, brick masons and architects. Hutchins was also one of the owners of the Lincoln Golf and Country Club. Hutchins died in 1970. The school I attended, the FAMU School of Architecture, opened as a degree program five years later.

While we honor those who have paved the path for us today, we still have a long way to go in the fields of Architecture, Engineering, and Planning. For example, as of 2015 only 15% of licensed architects are women and only 1.6% is African American.

Increasing those numbers are critical to the future of historic black communities across the country. They say if you aren’t at the table, you’re likely the meal. Well when it comes to architecture, engineering, interior design and planning, black America is largely not at the table. These are professions that come with higher wages that are important for recycling dollars economically within neighborhoods, that also play a leading and direct role in control of what our communities will look like and resemble tomorrow. There are several reasons why black communities across the country are struggling to overcome displacement associated with the gentrification of revitalizing urban core districts. It can be argued that a large lack of influence and participation within the design community is one of them.

So in closing, I’d like to point out one important fact about the profession and the legacy early black architects like those presented in this presentation. Out of 120 colleges and universities with accredited architecture programs, 8 of them are affiliated with 7 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Of the African-American students enrolled in these 120 accredited architecture programs, 40% of them nationwide are coming out of the 7 HBCUs, five decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It is important that we continue to support these schools and programs in an effort to overcome institutionalized discriminatory practices of our past that have led to the economic challenges many underrepresented neighborhoods struggle with today. In addition, for those in the profession truly interested in hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce, these are places we should actively extend and increase recruiting efforts for future employees.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

Sources: City of Jacksonville Planning and Development Department Historic Preservation Section Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections Department Library of Congress Polk City Directories Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps State Archives of Florida United States Department of the Interior National Park Service University of Florida Smathers Libraries’ Map & Imagery Library