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John Anderson Lankford – 1448 Q Street, N.W.

John Anderson Lankford was born on this date in 1874. He was an African American architect, attorney, blacksmith, real estate broker, professor, and author.

He was born and raised on his parents’ farm in Potosi, Missouri, one of eleven children of former slaves Philip Anderson Lankford and Nancy Ella Johnson Lankford. His paternal grandfather was Rev. Philip Andrew Lankford; his paternal line can be traced back to the 1600s in France and to 1645 in Albemarle County, Virginia.

After attending public schools in Potosi, Lankford worked in Crystal City, Missouri, in a plate glass factory. From 1889 to 1896, he attended Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University) in Jefferson City, Missouri. He worked as a janitor to earn money for his books. He also worked at the Plymouth Rock Pants Company in order to earn money for his clothes and at a steam laundry in order to get his laundry cleaned.

Lankford was invited by Booker T. Washington to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. First, between his time at Lincoln and Tuskegee, he worked in a blacksmith shop in St. Louis. To pay his board at Tuskegee, where he took chemistry and physics classes between 1896 and 1898, Lankford worked in a foundry and steam-fitting department and as an amateur photographer. Lankford received a B.S. from Shaw University in 1898, where he later taught from 1900 to 1902. Here he met his wife, Charlotte Josephine Turner Upshaw. She was the granddaughter of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner.

Following his time at Shaw, Lankford received several Masters Degrees, a law degree, and, later in life, numerous honorary degrees. Professor Lankford came to Washington, D.C. in July 1902 with a commission to design and supervise the construction of a new hall for the Grand United Order of the True Reformers. True Reformers Hall (1200 U Street, N.W.) was a stately, five-story brick building notable for its arched, 18-foot windows and ornamental frieze. The building was considered remarkable because it was financed, designed, and built entirely by African-Americans.

Lankford initially lived at 1916 11th Street, NW, but then moved to this house at 1448 Q Street, where he practiced architecture. He kept his residence here even after moving his office first to 1210 W Street and then 1115 U Street. Lankford specialized in church, fraternal, and school designs. In 1908 he was appointed supervising architect for the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, and consequently received a large number of church commissions throughout the United States and in South Africa.

He is considered the first African American architect licensed in the State of Virginia (1922) and the first registered African American architect in the District of Columbia (1924). He published two editions of Artistic Churches and Other Designs first in 1916 and then in 1924.

Lankford also promoted racial progress, founding the Washington, DC branch of the National Negro Business League.

John Anderson Lankford died in 1946 and has the distinction of being the first African-American architect in the United States with an established architectural office.

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