John Saunders Chase, as both the first Black licensed architect in Texas and the first Black graduate of the University of Texas School of Architecture after the landmark Sweatt v. Painter case at the U.S. Supreme Court desegregated the university’s graduate school, remains one of the most notable UT alumni both historically and in his chosen field — though many of Chase’s buildings stand in Houston, where he relocated to start his own practice after graduation due to resistance from other architectural firms in the state, East Austin still boasts a number of his modernist-influenced designs including the landmark midcentury Phillips House.
Chase, who died in 2012 after an approximately 50-year career, has recently received more attention as both a pioneer for equality in Texas history and an important figure for midcentury-era design in his own right, with his 1959 residence described by the UT School of Architecture as the first modernist home in Houston built with the style of interior courtyard later considered a common element of the style. With this in mind, UT’s alumni magazine the Alcalde has produced an eight-minute documentary on YouTube describing not only the background of Chase’s historic licensure but the importance of his work in the larger context of American modernism:
With the year’s observance of Juneteenth arriving this weekend, Chase’s story illustrates the many obstacles that remained for African Americans to overcome in the personal and professional spheres long after emancipation — and a reminder that the timeless elegance of midcentury design belongs to everyone. Along with the essential documentary above, Chase also spoke with KUT Austin about the challenges and triumphs of his career prior to his death in 2012, and the interview is worth a listen: