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The Native American slave who became a master architect

You folks, especially those in the Lower Southeast, will find this article fascinating. It is the story of a REAL American hero. He never sent men to their death in battle. He never staged a political demonstration. After the Civil War, he WAS elected to the Alabama legislature against his will, but rarely attended its sessions, because he thought his first duty was rebuilding the devastated South. He never did magic tricks with accumulated money after fame came his way, but immediately invested it into structures ­­and buildings that would bring economic growth, benefiting all people. His bridges spanned every major river from South Carolina to Mississippi.

Chattahoochee River covered bridge in Eufaula, Alabama. Built by Horace King in 1838–39 and demolished in 1924.

Without a day of formal education, he became one of the most innovative architect-engineers of his time. His structures involving box frame, lattice truss and membrane design are the basis of all aircraft designs today. He independently developed an understanding of the branch of mathematics, known as integral equations (calculus) in order to design and build those amazing curved stairways at the Alabama State Capitol. Even today, structural engineers can’t figure out how he was able to design them so precisely without formal education in physics, calculus and structural dynamics. Oh, there is one other thing . . . this man was a slave until he bought his freedom at the age of 39.

Horace King was rejected as an icon for the Civil Rights Movement because his heritage was mostly Pee Dee – Creek (Native American) and because he designed bridges, the frames of warships and buildings for the Confederacy. Nevertheless, if any 19th century American epitomized the great dream of Dr. Martin Luther King of a world where all races live and work in harmony, it was Architect Horace King.

There is a dirty little secret that mid-20th century racists never knew. MANY White Citizens Councils in Alabama and Georgia met in buildings designed and built by Horace King. Bet Horace was up in heaven, rolling on the floor, laughing.

To learn more about this Great Man.

Stop the jabbering, get outside and build something!

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Maybe I asked you this before but I cannot find the response. Did King author any books on hydrology or is that another Horace King? Thanks a lot.

    • Marianne, I am not aware that he authored any books. He had no formal education, because it was illegal in the Carolinas for a slave to be educated. However, he was obviously a brilliant man, since he was a self-taught architect-engineer.




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