John Saunders Chase: The Politics of a Black Architect in Postwar Houston
Murphy, John P., Jr.
1st prize winner of the Friends of Fondren Library Graduate Research Awards, 2018. This paper was originally prepared for Course HIST 587, Fall 2017: U.S. Social/Cultural History Methods, given by Professor Dr. Caleb McDaniel, Department of History.
John Saunders Chase (1925-2012) was an African American architect in Houston, Texas. As a student and architect, he broke a color line, becoming the first black graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and later to become the first black registered architect in Texas. Chase went on to establish a career of distinction and to lead an office of almost fifty employees, and was part of a group of architects responsible for the design of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. But perhaps more interesting than his architecture is his politics, as Chase was an active participant behind the scenes throughout his life, working at first as a conservative Democrat and later gaining influence in civic politics through his connections and participation in a political outfit known as The Group. In many ways, Chase's is a categorical Houston success story; in others, it lays bare the pervasive discriminations, large and small, that splinter society into unjust fragments. Chase navigated this racialized territory with a savvy compass, emerging with a complex story that deserves examination. Chase utilized the politics of respectability as a means of individual uplift for an African American in postwar Houston. Malcolm X identified the ballot or the bullet as the two means available for black advancement. Chase's story, as this essay will show, documents a third path for progress: the billfold.