In 1905, two brothers, Moses Mckissack (1879-1952) and Calvin Mckissack (1890-1968) would create the first black-owned architectural and engineering firm in the United States. The two brothers, who were raised in Pulaski, TN, were inspired to go into the business based on their father and grandfather being trained builders.
They would start off building small houses, but their company took off when Moses Mckissack received the commission to build a house for the dean of architecture and engineering from Vanderbilt University. Successfully completing that job allowed him to get presented with other opportunities. One of the first major projects they received was building the Carnegie library on the campus of Fisk University. In 1922, for the first time, Tennessee began requiring builders to be licensed and registered. In order to meet the requirement, both brothers obtained architectural degree’s through a correspondence course. After passing the exam in 1922 the McKissack brothers became some of the first registered architects in Tennessee. From there they formed Mckissack & McKissack, Architects.
Other notable projects include the library at Tennessee State University (1927) and several public schools across the state. In 1942 the firm won its largest project to date receiving a government contract worth 5.7 million dollars to design and build Tuskegee Army Airfield, the training site for the Tuskegee Airmen. By 1945, the firm obtained licenses to work in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi. Not only did they operate a successful business, but they also were involved in the community. Moses served as director of the National Negro Business League of America and a stockholder in the Penny Savings Bank in Birmingham, Alabama. He was also a member of President Roosevelt’s White House Conference on Housing Problems. Calvin served as president of the Negro Board of trade and a trustee at Fisk University.
Over the years, not only has the company remained successful but they have also managed to keep the business in the family. So, five generations later the company is still striving and continues to be an industry leader. The Mckissack family is a prime example of what it means to create generational wealth in the black community.