McKissack & McKissack is the oldest minority-owned architecture and engineering firm in the United States, with more than five generations of family leadership. Today the company is a female- and minority-owned company specializing in architecture and construction.
Moses McKissack III was born in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1879, and began his career in architecture in 1890 when a Pulaski architect hired him to draw, design and assist in his construction business. McKissack’s skill in the trade earned him a reputation as an excellent craftsman, and from 1895 to 1905, he built houses in Decatur, Ala., as well as in Mount Pleasant and Columbia, Tenn.
In 1905, Moses III, along with his brother Calvin McKissack, opened the first McKissack firm in Nashville and built a residence for the dean of architecture and engineering at Vanderbilt University. One of the firm’s first design projects was the Carnegie Library at Fisk University.
By 1922, the firm’s projects were located across the South, most of them African-American educational and religious facilities and churches. The McKissack brothers went on to design the Tennessee State University Memorial Library, Capers Memorial CME Church and Pearl High School, among others.
The McKissack firm was awarded a $5.7 million federal contract in 1942 to design and build the 99th Pursuit Squadron Airbase in Tuskegee, Ala., which housed an African-American combat air unit. This contract was the largest federal contract at that time ever won by an African-American company.
In 1968, William DeBerry McKissack, the youngest son of Moses III, became president of the firm, nurturing his daughters, Andrea, Cheryl and Deryl, in the fields of architecture and engineering. Upon William’s retirement in 1975, his wife, Leatrice, assumed the position of chief executive officer of the McKissack firm.
Despite having minimal architecture experience, within a year’s time Leatrice led the firm’s design plans for buildings and renovations on the campuses of Fisk University, Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College. The firm earned contracts outside of Nashville, including a $50 million renovation project for Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Deryl McKissack opened McKissack & McKissack’s Washington, D.C., office in 1990, and is the fifth generation of her family to carry on the family tradition. In 2002, McKissack & McKissack expanded to Chicago, and reached the West Coast by opening an office in Los Angeles in 2008.
McKissack & McKissack now employs more than 150 professionals and is managing more than $15 billion in projects.