Arts and Entertainment


Who was the first black landscape artist?

In the 1930s, David Augustus Williston (1868–1962) became the first black landscape artist to establish his own practice. Although the date is uncertain, by 1934 he was living and practicing in Washington, D.C. Williston was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He studied at Howard University’s Normal School from 1893 to 1895 and went on to Cornell University. In 1898 he became the first black to graduate from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. Williston taught agriculture and horticulture at several black colleges, including Tuskegee Institute and Fisk University. By 1910 he was in charge of landscape planning and construction at Tuskegee. He did planting designs for The Oaks—the home of Booker T. Washington—as well as the George Washington Carver Museum and other facilities at Tuskegee. While there he established a lifelong friendship with George Washington Carver. He was also landscape architect for the homes of President John Hope of Atlanta University and U.N. Secretary General Ralph Bunche. Williston opened his business in Washington, D.C, the first African-American-owned landscaping firm in the country.

From 1900 to 1932 Williston worked almost exclusively with the leading black land-grant colleges, as landscape designer and consultant, and was virtually the only black teaching horticulture and site planning. While in Washington, he was landscape artist for five buildings at Howard University. He and architect Hilyard R. Robinson did the site planning and landscape design for the Langston Terrace housing project, the nation’s first federal housing project. Among his other landscape projects were those for Fisk University’s campus, Roberts Airfield, and the presidents’ residences at Atlanta University and The Catholic University of America.


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