Black History: Special Delivery!!
McKissack & McKissack is the oldest black-owned architecture, construction, and engineering company in the U.S. The company was started in 1905 by brothers Moses McKissack III (l879-1952) and Calvin Lunsford McKissack (1890-1968). Their knowledge of the construction trade was passed down from their father (Gabriel Moses II) and enslaved grandfather (Moses McKissack I). Calvin and Moses III were educated at Pulaski Colored High School and attended Fisk University, a historically black college. They started the company in Pulaski, TN, and then relocated the business to Nashville, TN.
State requirements for architects changed in 1922, requiring all architects to be licensed and registered. The McKissack brothers took correspondence courses and obtained architectural degrees to meet the licensing requirements. When the brothers passed the state licensing exam in 1922, they were some of the state’s first registered architects. Some of their most well known projects were several public schools in the 1930’s and the Tennessee State University Library in 1927. McKissack & McKissack architects was awarded its largest contract in 1942, a $5-$7 million contract with the U.S. government to design and build Tuskegee Army Airfield. The airfield was the training site for the Tuskegee Airmen. The firm attend greater notoriety as a result of this project and by 1945 were licensed to work in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi.
The brothers were also active in their local communities. Moses III was the director of the National Negro Business League of America. He also was a member of President Roosevelt’s White House Conference On Housing Problems. Calvin was president of the Negro Board of Trade and also served as a trustee for Fisk University. Calvin McKissack died in 1968. Leadership of the firm then passed to the youngest son of Moses III and his wife William DeBerry McKissack and his wife Leatrice Buchanan McKissack who led the firm until 1988. Leatrice then became CEO and oversaw projects for Meharry Medical College, Howard University, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
Leatrice was awarded the National Female Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in 1990. She retired in 2002, her twin daughters Cheryl, and Deryl, both civil engineers, continued leading the company. Both were graduates of Howard University. Deryl McKissack opened an office in Washington D.C. and then expanded to Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Texas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Atlanta. Perhaps their most well known projects to date are the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial. The firm also completed improvements for the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the U.S. Treasury Building.
Cheryl McKissack opened the New York office of McKissack and McKissack. Her projects included the US Airways International Terminal at the Philadelphia International Airport, the Lincoln Financial National Football League Stadium for the Philadelphia Eagles, the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and the World Trade Center and Columbia University, both in New York City. Both Cheryl and Deryl continue to serve as CEOs of their respective offices. For more than a century and across five generations, McKissack & McKissack has grown to be a multi-million dollar company.