5.09.2007

John A. Lankford

John A. Lankford, architect, and designer of the True Reformer Hall 1200 U Street, NW, lived and worked at this location on Q Street.

The subject of this sketch was born in Potosi, Washington County, Mo., December 4, 1874. His parents were poor, but his father, Andrew Lankford, was known throughout Washington County as an excellent farmer and miner, and a man of high integrity. His mother, Nancy Lankford, was of some of the best blood of the State, and a woman who was known in the community to possess refinement, culture and exceptional natural ability. She was a devout Christian and temperance worker.

Young Lankford spent his early life in the mines and on the farm, except when he was in the public schools of his native town, which were very meager at that time. After finishing the public schools, he left his home and went to Crystal City, Mo., to work in a plate glass factory in order to obtain enough money to pay his way to Jefferson, where he was to enter Lincoln Institute, the State College, and School of Mechanical Arts, for the Negroes in the State of Missouri. He had only been there a short time, before he received a letter from Prof. I. E. Page, President of Lincoln Institute at that time, stating that he would give him work on the school campus as one of the assistant janitors, which job would give him sufficient money to pay his board. Young Lankford had scarcely made enough money to buy his school books and comfortable clothing for a school year, but being full of energy and will power, he set out to find a way to fill his new position. He went to St. Louis and was lucky enough to meet a porter, who was running from St. Louis through Jefferson City. When he arrived at the Institution, Prof. I. E. Page gave him work as promised as the assistant janitor. Under these circumstances he began his college career; working as assistant janitor to pay his board; as an agent of the Plymouth Rock Pant Co., to procure his clothing, and a solictor for a steam laundry to get his laundry done.

In the College and Industrial work he had little difficulty in out-stripping his fellow students as his mind was ever on the alert to seek out the little, yet the important facts that distinguish the extraordinary from the ordinary personages, and at the end of six years he had finished a course in mechanical drawing; as a machinist, blacksmithing, woodturning, carpentry, engineering and a course in natural and chemical science with an enviable record. Ever anxious to be his own master, young Lankford opened a blacksmith shop after leaving college. Although his shop was in an excellent part of St. Louis, he saw that he did not have the opportunity to demonstrate the great knowledge that he had worked so hard for in college, so he decided to look for other fields.

At this time he received a letter from Dr. Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee, making him an offer. Ever ready to grasp an opportunity, Mr. Lankford accepted. He finished two trades at Tuskegee Industrial School, Tuskegee, Ala., 1896, also took a special course in Physics and Chemistry. He took a course in Architectural and Mechanical Drawing at Scranton, Pa., 1897. Mr. Lankford received a degree of Bachelor of Science at Shaw University, Raleigh, N. C., in 1898, Master of Science, Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Ga., Master of Science, Wilberforce College, 1902, Wilberforce, Ohio. He was at one time superintendent of the blacksmith department of the Foulton Cotton Mills, Atlanta, Ga. He was the head engineer of the National Ice Co., which made all the ice for the National Exposition. He was elected superintendent of the machine department and instructor of architectural and mechanical drawing of the Agricultural and Mechanical College, Normal, Ala., and was master mechanic of the Coleman Cotton Mills, Concord, N. C., in which he put over $80,000.00 worth of cotton mill machinery. He was elected superintendent of the industrial department of Shaw University, Raleigh, N. C., also instructor of natural and chemical science, Shaw, Raleigh, N. C., 1900. In 1902 The Grand United Order of True Reformers of Richmond, Va., employed him as a designer and supervising architect for the construction of True Reformers' Hall, located in Washington, D. C., which building is said to be the largest in the country designed, owned and built by Negroes.

He established an architectural and builders office on one of the principal business streets in the city of Washington some six years ago and to-day he has branch offices in thirteen different states, and at present has under construction the largest, finest, and most expensive churches, office buildings and dwellings owned by Negroes. In the State of Virginia alone, he has more than three hundred thousand dollars worth of work under way. Some of his best work in Virginia is the St. Johns A. M. E. Church parsonage, Norfolk, Va., and the overhauling and beautifying and decorating of the large St. Johns Church, where the great General Conference will be held in 1908. It is said that this parsonage is the most artistic, costly and largest in the connection. At Portsmouth, Va., he is overhauling and decorating Emanuel A. M. E. Church; in Richmond, he has under construction three, three-story flats and a twenty-six room residence, belonging to Dr. W. L. Taylor, Grand Master and President of The True Reformers bank and order. This is the largest and most costly Negro residence in the United States. He also has in Richmond, Va., the office and business building for the Southern Aid Insurance Company, and many other buildings in Virginia and throughout the country.

Mr. Lankford stands to-day as the most known and famous Negro architect and builder of the race. He is not only an architect andbuilder of National reputation, but a public spirited business man. He organized the Local Negro Business League of the District of Columbia and has been its president for the past three years. He is a life member of the National Negro Business League and at the last meeting of the League which was held at Topeka, Kan., in 1907, Mr. Lankford was elected one of the vice presidents of that great National organization. He is a past officer and prominently connected with the True Reformers, and St. Luke's organizations; the largest stock-holder and treasurer of the Columbia Benefit Association of Washington, and a director of the Colored Y. M. C. A., also a business man who has accumulated quite a deal of property, having designed and built several houses and flats in the District of Columbia for himself. He is a man of great energy, ability and personality. In 1901 he married the refined and cultured grand-daughter of Bishop H. M. Turner, in this union one daughter was born, Miss Nancy Josephine Turner Lankford.

The firm of J. A. Lankford & Bro., is located at 317 Sixth street, N. W., Washington, D. C. Mr. A. E. Lankford, his brother, is connected with the firm and is a mechanical engineer and an excellent architect.

Sources:
Paul Kelsey Williams, “John Anderson Lankford (1874-1946)” in Dreck Spurlock Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1845-1965 (New York: Routledge, 2004), 253-255.
Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington, rev. ed. (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999), 168-169.
http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/butt/butt.html

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