What do a dilapidated barn in Bessemer, a piano-tuning insurance agent and America’s second classically trained African American architect have in common?
The Alabama Public Television documentary “Finding the Cornerstone: The Wallace A. Rayfield Story” answers that question as it delves into the life and enduring work of Wallace A. Rayfield, an African American architect based in Birmingham from the 1910s throughout an era of economic growth and construction boom until the Great Depression forced an untimely end to his career.
The documentary, which is directed by Dwight Cammeron, an award-winning filmmaker and Gadsden native, will air Monday, Jan. 15, at 9 p.m.
“When I think about Wallace Rayfield’s legacy, the phrase, ‘hiding in plain sight,’ comes to mind,” said Dr. Kari Frederickson, professor at The University of Alabama.
While a successful architect of commercial structures and homes, Rayfield’s specialty was church design. He designed hundreds of black-congregation churches for locales across the South, the greater United States and as far away as Africa. Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, located at 234 North 6th Street in Gadsden, numbers among Rayfield’s designs. Many of the Southern churches enjoy an enduring legacy as hubs of organized activity during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Among the most renowned is the 16th Street Baptist Church, now designated a National Park Service site of historical significance.
For many decades, the only historical reminders of Rayfield’s success have been the buildings themselves. However, a modern-day controversy surrounds an unanticipated find of hundreds of architectural plates containing Rayfield’s original designs. This has sparked a larger question among historians and scholars, “Who deserves to be the keeper of the history of a person, of a group and of a people?”
For more information, contact Dwight Cammeron at email@example.com.
Submitted by Dwight Cammeron