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The Legacy of John Saunders Chase

The University of Texas at Austin
John S. Chase

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the late John Saunders Chase, the first African American graduate of The University of Texas at Austin and the first African American President of The Texas Exes.

Chase was a pioneering architect who broke barriers in Texas and elsewhere. He served as CEO of John S. Chase Architect Inc., a firm he founded in 1952 after graduating from UT-Austin as its first African American architecture student. He also was the first African American architect to be licensed in the state of Texas and the first to be admitted to the Texas Society of Architectsand the American Institute of Architects’ Houston (TX) chapter. His architectural imprint can be seen globally. He was commissioned to design the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia.

Born on January 23rd, 1925 in Annapolis, Maryland, he earned a B.S. degree from Hampton University and in 1948 became the first African American to enroll and graduate with a Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture in 1952.

Chase co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects(NOMA) along with 12 other African American architects at the AIA convention in Detroit in 1971. When President Jimmy Carter appointed him in 1980, he became the first African American to serve on the United States Commission on Fine Arts. Projects designed by Chase’s firm include: the George R. Brown Convention Center, in Houston, TX; the Washington Technical Institute, Links, Inc. National Headquarters, Delta Sigma Theta National Headquarters, the Harris County (TX) Astrodome Renovation, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Martin Luther King, Jr. School of Humanities at Texas Southern University.

Chase was elected to the AIA College of Fellows, was awarded the AIA Whitney M. Young Citation, and was the recipient of the NOMA Design for Excellence Award for four consecutive years. He received the commendation for Meritorious Service by the Houston (TX) Independent School District and the Honor Award for Architectural Excellence in School Design by the Texas Association of School Boards for the design of the Booker T. Washington High School.

On March 29th, 2012, Chase passed away after a long illness. He was 87. To celebrate his exceptional achievements and his pioneering determination, the Texas Exes Black Alumni Network has established the John S. Chase Legacy scholarship. The scholarship supports entering African-American freshmen who have demonstrated academic excellence, leadership abilities, and financial need. Students with majors in the School of Architecture, the School of Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences, or the College of Education are given special consideration.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.