National Association of Heavy Equipment Training Services, NAHETS Blog

African American Construction Heritage

Posted by Taylor Morris on July 26, 2007

Black History encompasses many recognizable people, events, and accomplishments. Martin Luther King…Michael Jordan…Rosa Parks…the list goes on; however, there is a significant heritage to black history that takes a back seat to many of these popular and more-exposed subjects. That heritage is construction.

Harry C. Alford, co-founder and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and NNPA columnist, believes that “one of the richest legacies of African descendants is construction.” The tie to construction extends back to pyramid building in ancient Egypt. Even slavery dealt with construction, as many of the slaves brought over helped build major cities and territories in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

Certain African Americans rose to the top of their trades. One example is Frank Williams, who built spiral staircases so well that the wealthy would fly him to Australia, Japan, and other countries to construct spiral staircases in their mansions. Others were considered masters of drywall, masonry, and other construction specialties.

As the skills and professions of African-Americans in the construction industry progressed however, opposition also increased. Often times, African-American workers performed exceptionally for a lower price than their competitors, mainly white workers at the time. As a result, unions formed and made competition difficult. These unions triggered the Davis-Bacon Act, which prevented discrimination in rate of pay, implementing uniform pay for all workers. As a result, the price competition stagnated, and African Americans could no longer work for a cheaper price. It wasn’t long before white workers became dominant in the field, despite the skill and talent of the African American workers.

Despite these events, today there are a few African-American construction companies that have withstood the storms. The founders of these companies emphasized education to their children, and today the generations are reaping those benefits. Once again, African-Americans are excelling in construction, and not just in craftsmanship, but in construction management, architecture, urban development, and other areas of emphasis.

In relation to this topic, NAHETS is especially devoted to carry on this tradition, not only among African Americans, but among any and all ethnic groups interested in becoming heavy equipment operators. All are crucial members of the construction industry, and NAHETS provides opportunities for all to fulfill their aspirations of becoming heavy equipment operators.


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