THESE THREE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MEN WERE LONG TIME FRIENDS, ACTIVE SUPPORTS OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (N.A.A.C.P.), BROKE RACIAL BARRIERS, AND DESPITE PREVAILING RACIAL PREJUDICE, MASTERFULLY NAVIGATED THE BUSINESS AND SOCIAL CIRCLES OF THE DAY. PAUL R. WILLIAMS BOLDLY OPENED HIS FIRM IN 1922 AND WOULD BECOME THE FIRST BLACK MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS. HE LEARNED HOW TO DRAW UPSIDE DOWN, SO HIS WHITE CLIENTS WOULDN’T HAVE THE DISCOMFORT OF HAVING TO SIT NEXT TO HIM. HE BUILT HOUSES IN AREAS HE HIMSELF COULD NOT LIVE. AND YET HE BECAME AN EMINENT SOCIETY ARCHITECT IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. HERE ALONG WITH HIS FRIENDS THEY PAY HOMAGE TO WALTER FRANCIS WHITE, THE CIVIL RIGHT ACTIVIST AND NAACP EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, ON THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY (1934) OF THE ORGANIZATIONS FOUNDING. 20 YEARS LATER, UNDER WHITE’S LEADERSHIP, THE ORGANIZATION WOULD ACHIEVE A GREAT SUCCESS WITH THE U. S. SUPREME COURT RULING IN BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954)
PAUL R. WILLIAMS (1894-1980) TYPED LETTER SIGNED, “Paul R. Williams”, also signed by “Norman O. Houston” and “Walter A. Gordon”, 1 pg., 8.5 x 11, no date . The letter which is addressed to civil right activist and NAACP executive secretary Walter White, features brilliant hand-drawn, pen and ink artwork of a large palm tree with a cameraman filming a residential lakefront neighborhood with sailboats and hilltop houses; a calligraphic hand has added along the bottom: “Greetings to Walter White from California.” The artwork was presumably done by Williams. The letter, in full: “The greatest contribution a man can make during his sojourn on earth is Service to fellow man. For twenty-five years your life has been dedicated to this service as Secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. Over the period of years your gleaming personality, your friendly approach to the major problems of the day, your vision and outlook as to the future of the Negro as a citizen and your determination to accomplish your goals make us recognize you as our outstanding leader. We feel particularly grateful for the contribution you have made in the field of race relations through the Motion Picture Industry. The breaking up of the old traditions brings forth a new and better day. Hard work and knotty problems appear to have made you younger during the past 25 years—it is evidence of your capacity in the position you hold. We sincerely hope for a continuance of your good health and your willingness to serve mankind.” In fine condition, with a slightly rough left edge.
Paul R. Williams, known as the “architect to the stars,” was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He was a wildly successful architect decades before the Civil Rights Movement. He designed municipal buildings and private homes as well as banks, churches, hospitals, university halls, and major public buildings such as the Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles Court House. He designed public housing projects and mansions for Hollywood celebrities like Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, Anthony Quinn, Bert Lahr, Danny Thomas, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Frank Sinatra , and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In The late 1940’s he reworked the Beverly Hills Hotel, adding some buildings, redesigning others, and splashing all with the now trademark pink and green.
Norman O. Houston (1893-1981) was an American businessman and president of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, which at one time was the largest black-owned business west of the Mississippi. When the company was formed in 1925 it was very difficult for blacks in California to obtain insurance from white-owned companies at reasonable rates. As the company grew, branches were established throughout the country. In 1949 the company opened a new building designed by architect Paul R. Williams.
Walter A. Gordon (1894-1976) was the first African American to receive a doctorate of law from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school. He had an extremely long and varied career where he served as a police officer, branch president of the Berkeley NAACP (in the 1930s), lawyer, was appointed Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, and a Federal District Judge.
Walter Francis White (1893-1955) was a civil right activist who led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for a quarter of a century (1929-55). Under White’s leadership, the NAACP set up its Legal Defense Fund, which conducted numerous legal challenges to segregation and disfranchisement, and achieve many successes. Among these was the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal.