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UWM project to document the Legacy of Wisconsin’s First Black Architect

todayFebruary 14, 2024

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A team of historians at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) is embarking on a pivotal project to document the life and achievements of Alonzo Robinson Jr., a groundbreaking architectural figure and the first Black architect to be registered in Wisconsin. Robinson’s illustrious career, extending over four decades, significantly influenced Milwaukee’s architectural scene through his designs of public buildings, churches, and projects to serve the African American community. Notably, Robinson and I share the distinction of having earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Howard University, further deepening my connection to his legacy and the importance of this documentation project.

Robinson’s notable works are Mr. Perkins Restaurant, located at Atkinson Drive and North 20th St.; the Kosciuszko Park Community Center; and the downtown Milwaukee Fire Department headquarters at 7th and Wells. In recognition of his contributions, the fire department headquarters was renamed in 2021 to honor Robinson as its designer.

Collaborative Effort and Upcoming Website

The UWM project is a collaborative effort involving the Robinson family, the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, and Docomomo Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization dedicated to modern architecture and design. This partnership aims to unveil a website this summer showcasing Robinson’s architectural achievements and life story. Justin Miller, a UWM architectural historian, highlighted Robinson’s modernist approach to design, which also remained sensitive to the scale and appearance of its surroundings. The project seeks to share these buildings and the stories they tell about African American achievement and resilience[1].

Funding and Recognition

This initiative has been made possible through a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. UWM is among 40 organizations collectively receiving $3.8 million in grant funding to support preservation. It is the largest resource in the United States dedicated to preserving historic places that embody African American cultural heritage. With over $91 million in funding, the Action Fund is the largest resource in the United States dedicated to preserving African American historic sites.

The Action Fund emphasizes the importance of these historic places as symbols of the long-standing aspirations for freedom, education, beauty, and architecture, as well as the joys of social life and community bonds within the African American experience. The grantee list for this year reflects a commitment to ensuring that all Americans can see themselves and our shared history in these preserved spaces.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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