Philip Freelon, the acclaimed African American architect, struggled with reading as a child. But while words gave him trouble, he excelled at art, math, and science. He could see images in his mind, and build them. He decided to become an architect, which would take advantage of his creativity and skill set.
He also wanted to help make the world better through his projects. To that end, he decided he would not design prisons or casinos, but schools, libraries, bus stations, and museums. He felt compelled, as he wrote himself in an Afterword, to contribute in some way to the struggle for social justice.
His commitment ultimately led to being selected as Architect of Record for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C.
Opening in 2016, the NMAAHC is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts. (You can explore the museum online here.)
The author was at NMAAHC on its opening day, and reports on being “moved and amazed,” and eager to write a book about the architect. She was able to interview him and his family, and learn about the “young artist who found his calling and used it to honor Black contributions and culture.” Sadly, he died in 2019 from ALS, but as Lyons notes, his legacy lives in on the stunning museums and spaces he designed.
The book concludes with a bibliography.
Prolific illustrator Laura Freeman uses bold colors to display the obviously well-researched sociocultural context of the time portrayed. Her artwork is clean-lined, yet remarkably expressive; she ably depicts the dreams of a young boy as well as the output of a professional adult. Freeman includes many historical touches that will make it fun for adults to peruse as well as the recommended reading audience of ages 5 and up.
Evaluation: Kids who are discouraged by difficulties in school will find Philip Freelon’s story so inspiring, and will hopefully encourage them to look for ways to express their talents and dreams.
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2020