Monday, April 1, 5 p.m.
The University of Texas — Box Courtyard, Goldsmith Hall
This is the speech President Fenves gave during the opening reception for the exhibit “Chasing Perfection: The Legacy of Architect John S. Chase”:
Thank you, Dean Addington.
In May of last year, I had the privilege of speaking at the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. I was there to help present the late John Chase with the Heman Sweatt Legacy Award — the highest honor the symposium confers.
In preparing for that speech, I did a lot of research on John. I explored his history. I went through lists of the projects he worked on and the buildings he designed. And I was amazed, time and again, at the number of firsts he achieved — the first licensed African American architect in the state of Texas. The first African American graduate of the UT School of Architecture. The first African American President of the Texas Exes. And one of the first African American students to enroll at UT.
John Chase created opportunity where there once was none. He overcame bigotry and segregation to build a business and a life for himself and his family. And he set an example that others could follow and learn from. But there was more to John than just his accomplishments. There was his unique spirit, his drive and his unimpeachable sense of purpose.
John enrolled for classes at the UT School of Architecture in 1950, in person at Gregory Gym, only two days after Sweatt v. Painter was settled by the Supreme Court. He jumped at the opportunity to get the graduate education he deserved, knowing full well there would be hardships to overcome and prejudices to face and transcend.
After John graduated from UT, he moved to Houston and looked for work. Over and over again, he applied, interviewed, and was turned down because of the color of his skin. So, then he did what he had always done — moved forward. He started his own business.
Of that decision, John Chase once said, “I thought to myself, if no one will hire you, you’re going to take that state examination, pass it and hire yourself.”
Hire yourself … those two words say so much about John Chase. They show his sense of purpose, his resilience, and his ability to transform adversity into self-made success. John always knew what he was capable of … but he also understood how to make sure the rest of the world knew it too.
His flourishing architectural firm was a testament to his ambition and his convictions — leading vital projects for a wide range of institutions across the nation. And his firm welcomed employees from all backgrounds and walks of life, creating critical opportunities for African American architects, engineers, and draftsmen in Texas.
And then, in addition to everything else, there was John’s singular vision as an architect. The exhibition we celebrate tonight recognizes his craft … his art … his life’s work. It shows the way that he looked at the world and the extraordinary spaces he designed for people to live, work, pray, join together, and thrive in.
I’d like to thank Dean Addington and the School of Architecture for hosting this exhibit and creating new models and renderings of John Chase’s work for the occasion.
I want to thank Leonard Moore and the Department of Diversity and Community Engagement for co-sponsoring this reception, and for continuing to preserve and honor John Chase’s legacy on our campus.
I’d like to recognize the Houston Public Library, which organized this exhibition in Houston last spring before it came to Austin.
And I’ll finish by saying thank you to the members of the Chase family for their support, and for being here with us … to celebrate all that John meant to this university, our state, and our nation. Let’s give the Chase family and all those who made tonight’s event possible a big round of applause.