Amaza Lee Meredith
DJ Name: Amazing Lee
We’re back again this week with another story to continue the celebration of Pride Month! Amaza Lee Meredith AKA DJ Amazing Lee was an architect, educator, artist and Spotify stan from Virginia (oh hey home state of Emmy and Camille!) who established the art department at what was Virginia State College for Negroes, but is now Virginia State University. Amaza Lee was prohibited from receiving formal training as a professional architect because she was a Black woman, but she put her skills to work anyways and designed a nationally recognized home called Azurest South where she resided for the rest of her life with her partner, Edna Mode, dahling. If you know, you know. JK. Her name was Edna Meade Colson. Amaza Lee is one of the nation’s first documented Black female architects and also Historic Shuffler #48.
Before heading to the blueprints at her drawing table day after day, DJ Amazing Lee shuffled up the following tunes to inspire her vision:
Amaza Lee Meredith was born on August 14, 1895 in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Lynchburg, Virginia. She was the eldest daughter of Emma P. Kennedy, who was Black, and Samuel P. Meredith, who was white. Virginia wasn’t quite for lovers yet because its laws banned interracial marriage so Samuel and Emma rode in segregated railroad cars all the way to Washington, D.C. to legally marry. Samuel was a well-respected carpenter in Lynchburg who, after their controversial marriage, lost a lot of business and sadly took his own life in 1915. It wasn’t until many decades after Samuel’s passing that interracial marriage was finally legalized in Virginia. In June of 1967, the Supreme Court declared laws against interracial marriages unconstitutional in the Loving v. Virginia case.
The same year of Samuel’s passing, Amaza graduated at the top of her class from Jackson Street High School. DJ Amazing Lee went on to attend Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (AKA today’s VSU) where she received her teaching certificate. She taught math at Dunbar High School for six years. She then packed her bags and moved to Brooklyn (where she wasn’t neighbors with Emmy) in 1926 and enrolled in the Teacher’s College at Columbia University. She studied fine arts and received her bachelor’s degree with honors (holla!) in 1930, then her master’s in 1934. With two degrees in hand, Amaza Lee said her goodbye to the bright lights of the big city and hello again to her home state of Virginia.
Amaza Lee accepted a gig at her alma mater, Virginia State University, where a year later she founded the fine arts department and was appointed chair in 1935. It was here at VSU that she said (VS)I love(U)to her partner, Dr. Edna Meade Colson. Colson was a key player in implementing a graduate program that would offer courses to Black students at Virginia State University and also became one of the first women to register to vote after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Casual. Together, Amaza Lee and Edna Meade were two well-respected members of VSU’s faculty. Talk about a power couple. The two lovers were lifelong partners and are (Spoiler alert! They’ve both passed away!) buried next to each other at Eastview Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia.
In her free time, Amaza amazed people by displaying her art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, as well as galleries in New York and North Carolina. She also took up interior design, knitting pillows with “live laugh love” and “nothing to wine about here” on them for her and Edna’s living room. LOL, just kidding! Amaza was certainly not one for tackiness, and others coveted her design skills too: she was asked to coordinate color schemes for campus buildings. And though she had no training in architecture, she started fiddling around with building things. She tinkered with her Lincoln Logs, and in 1939 she even completed building her own home! Forget pursuing an architectural degree, just play with Lincoln Logs — you heard it here first, people!
Anyway, Amaza built her home adjacent to VSU, and she named it “Azurest South.” Again, Amaza amazed people with her self-taught architecture prowess, and some called it “one of the most advanced residential designs in the state in its day” and “a bold investigation of the International Style.” Though Amaza never officially put “architect” on her resume, she was one of few Black working architects and even fewer Black female architects. Amaza continued on as something of a freelance architect, designing homes for friends in Virginia, Texas and Long Island. Amaza and her sister Maude got to work in Sag Harbor, Long Island, on designing homes within the area’s wealthy white population.
The two sisters co-managed Azurest Syndicate Inc. which brokered sales and financed mortgages for the subdivision which worked against discriminatory practices that otherwise prevented people of color from financing property. They created a vacation home getaway enclave called “Azurest North” for middle-class Black families to relax in and enjoy. Amaza herself designed at least two residences. She also served as an archivist for the Azurest Syndicate because she believed that the legacy of the subdivision would be significant: “In this way a complete history of the Syndicate will be recorded. I have the feeling that the organization is making history and none of it should be lost. (I fear some already is lost).” Shoutout to Amaza for all the primary sources. #historytalk
In 1958, Amaza retired from teaching, but she continued to design and paint buildings during her sort of retirement years. Amaza passed away in 1984, but her designs lived on: she willed half of her home, Azurest South, to VSU, which designated it as its Alumni House for the VSU Alumni Association in 1986.