June 24, 2024

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David Augustus Williston – First Trained African American Landscape Architect

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named David Augustus Williston who holds the recognition of being the first masterfully trained African American landscape architect.

David Augustus Williston was born in 1868 in the state of North Carolina, near the city of Fayetteville, son of Frank and Henrietta Williston and one of the younger of many siblings.

It was in the year 1893 that he enrolled in Howard Normal School in Washington D.C. and then, after graduation, enrolled at Cornell University. Cornell University is where David Augustus Williston became the first African American to earn a Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell’s College of Agriculture. He furthered his education with municipal engineering courses in Pennsylvania at the International Correspondence School before going into his professorship at the State College of North Carolina and then at Tuskegee Institute in 1902 as a professor of horticulture for approximately thirty years.

While at Tuskegee, David Augustus Williston, also known as “Gus”[1], was in charge of the overall layout of the grounds, arranging the campus’s atmosphere with trees, bordering areas in particular fashion as to add to the landscape beautifully, both along roads and walkways as well as surrounding buildings and their centers. Some of his landscape designs are National Historic Landmarks on the university’s campus, one of his landscape designs was The Oaks, which is the home of Booker T. Washington located on the campus and built by the students. At the location, he planted fruit trees and even a full garden behind the home while elevating the appearance of the front of the home which included fencing and several shrubs and trees, paying close attention to the type of plants that would thrive in the climate in Alabama. The Oaks was a project he worked on along with George Washington Carver, the most famous agriculturalist known in the USA who discovered the way to prevent soil depletion.

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David Augustus Williston’s landscape designs for Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, were being executed from the time of his professorship of 1902 on through 1949, even after he moved to Washington D.C.. It was in D.C. where he opened the first African American landscape architecture firm in the United States of America. He went on to make his mark designing landscapes on historically Black colleges and universities across the nation and several government housing projects, such as:

  • Lane College
  • Fisk University
  • Howard University
  • Alcorn State University
  • Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial University
  • Philander Smith College
  • Langston Terrace Housing Project


David Augustus Williston passed away in 1962. His wife’s name was Susie B. Williston, and they had a son named Thomas Williston[2]. Their home in 1940 was in Washington D.C. at 1122 Fairmont Street NW.


  1. The Tuskegee News 10 Sep 1942, Thu · Page 3
  2. Year: 1920; Census Place: Tuskegee, Macon, Alabama; Roll: T625_30; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 124