SAH’s Commitment to Racial Justice

Jun 4, 2020 by The Officers of the Society of Architectural Historians

The Society of Architectural Historians mourns the death of George Floyd and the many people of color who have been murdered by police and those sworn to uphold the law.   

Three of the SAH’s newly-established Affiliate Groups (Asian American Diasporic Architectural History, Minority Scholars, and Race and Architectural History) have composed a statement that expresses their pain, anger, scholarly insights, and determination to lead us toward a more just future. We publish their statement with this one written by the officers and executive director of SAH.

pull quoteAs a Society committed to inclusivity, diversity, and respect for all, we share the anguish and frustration of many at the systemic inequalities, institutionalized racism, and long history of injustice that led to these deaths.

As a Society committed to the highest standards of debate and critique, we stand in solidarity with the peaceful protesters in cities throughout the United States who collectively advance the cause of justice and by their actions help keep democracy alive. We admire their courage in standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a pandemic and before militarized police lines.

As a Society whose membership, reach, and inquiry is global, we are heartened and humbled by the expressions of solidarity with the struggles of people in the United States by people around the world. 

As historians, many of us study the past in order to help understand the present and change the future. The murders of African Americans by police, like the disproportionate deaths in communities of color attributable to COVID-19, remind us that our past has profound implications for our present. Buildings, cities, and landscapes carry the formidable weight of North American history: slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and redlining lie behind the inequities in housing, education, economic opportunity, and political power that define too many lives today.

Our discipline, with its long-standing engagements with the social and political history of architecture, cities, and landscapes, has much to contribute to a broadened understanding of these histories.

Many SAH members occupy positions of extraordinary social and professional privilege. As architectural historians we can do better at voicing the ways that histories of place affect black communities, and how the built environment has contributed to inequality. We can and should educate people outside of the academy and our professions about these histories. And SAH’s diverse membership should examine the ways that the wealth individuals and institutions enjoy today was, like many buildings in this country, built at the expense of black lives and black liberty.

With the endorsement of the SAH Board, SAH will do more going forward to include scholars of color at all levels and to plan programs, initiatives, and publications that will shed light on race and the history of the built environment. A diversity of voices and opportunities will add depth of understanding in our Society and push pedagogy forward in ways that have been critically lacking in the past. Like many disciplines in the humanities, the founders of our field were primarily interested in a canon of works by “great white men.” In some ways, the Society has replicated these biases in its leadership and intellectual focus over the years and this has added to the systemic racism found in the United States. Now is the time to actively work to correct these longstanding prejudicial practices. We vow to examine the organizational and procedural structures of the Society to ensure that we can dismantle this system and best support the careers of all our members. 

Please know that we, the officers of the SAH, are eager to hear your thoughts, suggestions, questions, and concerns. SAH would welcome suggestions from the membership and others on how to implement the mandate laid out in this statement.


The Officers of the Society of Architectural Historians

Victoria Young, President
Patricia Morton, 1st Vice President
Carla Yanni, 2nd Vice President
Michael Gibson, Treasurer
Kathryn O’Rourke, Secretary
Pauline Saliga, Executive Director