Duke honors black architect with granite plaque

January 25, 2019

Duke University has taken another step to honor the African-American architect who designed its campus.

Because of the color of his skin, Julian Abele’s accomplishments went unrecognized for decades.

University Archivist Valerie Gillispie says Abele started working on the designs in the 1920s, decades before a black person would be allowed to attend Duke.

“There’s a real irony to the fact that this African-American man designed this segregated university,” Gillispie said.

In recent years, the university has worked to spotlight his long-overlooked contributions.

In 2016, it named the main quad “Abele Quad,” and inscriptions were added inside and outside Duke Chapel.

The granite plaque outside of the chapel is the newest addition.

“It’s so important ... especially for traditionally white institutions like Duke, to sort of take a look at their history and realize what the blind spots have been,” said Emily Lund, a Divinity School student. “I’m proud of Duke for realizing that and taking a serious look at its history.”

“There’s a quote that says, ‘If you seek his monument, look around.’ And that is really appropriate for Julian Abele because the way we best remember him is through the architecture he designed,” Gillispie said.

Abele lived in Philadelphia and worked for an architecture firm that was otherwise all-white. It’s not clear if he was ever able to make it down to Durham to see his work in person.

Abele was born in 1881 and died in 1950.

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