Amaza Lee Meredith: Teacher, Artist, and Architect

 Amaza Lee Meredith was the daughter of an interracial couple in the Jim Crow era of Lynchburg history

Amaza Lee Meredith was the daughter of an interracial couple in the Jim Crow era of Lynchburg history

by Hunter Simms, Lynchburg Museum volunteer

 

Impactful and praiseworthy is the life of Amaza Lee Meredith. She was born in small-town Lynchburg with aspirations and accomplishments—alive and posthumously, that extended beyond the boundaries of a small-town and influenced fields including education, art, and architecture. Meredith was the daughter of Samuel Meredith who was white and Emma Kenney who was black. Due to race, Meredith and Kenney were required to ride in separate railcars on the way to their wedding in Washington DC. Their interracial marriage would cause controversy and affect Samuel’s business, subsequently costing Samuel his life as he committed suicide in 1915. This heartbreaking event did not stop Amaza.

Graduating at the top of her class from Jackson Street High School (demolished in 1970), the same year her father died, showcased her resilience. Amaza would enroll at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, now Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia and receive a teaching certificate. Over the next few years she would use her education to educate others as she taught in Botetourt County and in Lynchburg at what was Dunbar High School at the time. Unsatisfied, Meredith furthered her education and credentials by earning a degree in teaching, along with a bachelor’s and master’s in art education from Columbia University. This was a time in which Amaza’s professional focus shifted toward the arts.

 Jackson Street School, demolished in 1970

Jackson Street School, demolished in 1970

Meredith would teach art at her alma matter, Virginia State University for five years before eventually being named department chair. She would remain department chair until she retired 23 years later in 1958. She was not only a teacher of art, but a creator as well. She traveled the east coast, from New York to North Carolina exhibiting her artwork. As she evolved, her interests did as well. Perhaps her next move was predictable considering her father’s craftsmanship background.

Amaza would delve into architecture and interior design. She was paving the way for aspiring African American female artists and architects.

Her most notable structure in which she also resided was Azurest South, built in 1939, in the southern Chesterfield area. Lauded for its international appeal, more today than when it was erected; its curvature, lines, and window layout were foreign to the American eye but elegant nonetheless. Standing the test of time, it illustrated her precociousness. Although it was her most popular design, it wasn’t her only project. She and her sister Maude Terry worked together to create a prideful vacation destination for black Americans. As segregation still had a stronghold on the status quo, Maude and Amaza eluded the rigidity of the system and challenged it with the opposite; leisure. Middle class blacks from all professions vacationed to what was known as “Azurest North” in Sag Harbor, NY and still do to this day—some having called it home for decades.

 Azurest South, one of Meredith's most notable designs

Azurest South, one of Meredith's most notable designs

 Azurest South 

Azurest South 

Meredith would continue to contribute to the arts over the next few decades. After her death in 1984, her dream of building an “Alumni House” would be realized. After willing half of her home, Azurest South to VSU, the university would officially designate it as the Alumni House for the VSU Alumni Association in 1986.