Philip Freelon, FAIA, is design director at Perkins+Will and architect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Miss.
Young was not addressing the black architects—very few were in the audience that day. Of course, the issues he spoke about were and are top of mind for the 2 percent of architects who are African-American. We offer the “Amen” chorus. Unfortunately, many of the points he made in 1968 still resonate today, and that is a sad state of affairs. I encourage you to put the “reaction” question to some of the 98 percent of our profession who are not black.
In the speech, Young called for “a moratorium on the study of the Negro in this country. He has been dissected and analyzed, horizontally and vertically and diagonally. Thank you, very much. … instead of studying the souls of black people (we should) be studying the souls of white people.”
I agree with Mr. Young that we—architecture as a profession–ought to take a stand on the issues he raised. Another quote from his speech: "The time has come when no longer the kooks and crackpots speak for America. The decent people have to learn to speak up, and you shouldn’t have to be the victim to feel for other people.”
As we speak the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, is scaling back the Agency’s Fair Housing enforcement. The New York Times states that this action seeks “to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects.” The AIA could and should speak with force and urgency against such efforts to re-legitimize discriminatory practices.
I use the HUD situation as an example of how architects, through the powerful voice of our Institute, might begin to exert positive influence.