AP NEWS

Documentary on Cleveland’s pioneering black architect, Robert P. Madison, screens today, Monday

September 23, 2018

Documentary on Cleveland’s pioneering black architect, Robert P. Madison, screens today, Monday

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Aspiring architect Robert P. Madison was famously rebuffed when he applied for admission to study architecture at Western Reserve University administrator.

“I am sorry, Mr. Madison, but we will not admit you to the School of Architecture because we have never had a Negro attend this school, and I doubt that we ever will,” an administrator said.

Those and other examples of racism – and of Madison’s triumph over the obstacles he faced – are recounted in “Deeds Not Words,” an hour-long documentary that screens today at 4:30 p.m. at Shaker Square Cinema.

It’s part of the opening afternoon of the nine-day Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival, and will also be shown Monday at Shaker Square at 6 p.m.

The 2017 film, a Derek E. Morton project produced by Morton, Edward Miner and Rachel K. Ofori, takes its name from the motto of the segregated 92nd Infantry Division, the “Buffalo Soldiers,″ in which Madison served during the campaign to retake Italy from the Nazis.

Wounded in an ambush, Madison felt he had been spared for a reason, and resolved to make a difference in his life. He received an honorable discharge and embarked on his path to become an architect.

The film intersperses oral history-style interviews with voice-over narration by Christopher Mann and comments from family members including daughter Juliette Madison, and architects Sandra Madison and Kevin Madison, his niece and nephew, who have succeeded Madison in leadership of the firm Robert P. Madison International.

Among other details, the film recounts how Madison studied architecture at Harvard University under Bauhaus co-founder Walter Gropius, and became the first black registered architect in Ohio.

Madison borrowed money from friends and family to open his firm in 1954, the same year as the landmark Supreme Court decision on Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

It sets Madison’s career within the context of the Civil Rights movement, and the political change that led to the election of the first wave of black mayors in major U.S. cities, led by Carl Stokes in Cleveland in 1967.

“That’s when society really began to change - with political power,” Madison, now 95, says in the film.

The architect’s credits include the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal, a science and research building at Cleveland State University, the Fatima Family Center in Hough, and serving as the architect of record for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with lead designer I.M. Pei.

A building Madison designed in Glenville in 1962 as the first office in Ohio for black medical professionals has been renovated as an apartment building and part of the PNC Glenville Arts Campus during the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, which continues through Sept. 30.

The building has been renamed The Madison in the architect’s honor.

Today, as the film reminds viewers, only two percent of registered architects in the U.S. are black.

AP RADIO
Update hourly