Walter Thomas Bailey was an American architect from Kewanee, Illinois. He was the first African American graduate with a bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the first licensed African-American architect in the state of Illinois. He worked at the Tuskegee Institute, and practiced in both Memphis and Chicago.
Bailey was born January 11, 1882 in Kewanee, Illinois, where he attended Kewanee High School. He enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1900. Bailey was the first African-American graduate of the University of Illinois’ School of Architecture with a bachelor of science in architectural engineering. He earned that degree in 1904 and was granted an honorary master’s degree in architecture from the university in 1910.
Bailey was the first licensed African-American architect in the state of Illinois. After graduating, he worked briefly for a small architectural firm owned by Harry Eckland in his hometown of Kewanee.
In 1905, he was appointed as the head of the Mechanical Industries Department at the Tuskegee Institute. While at Tuskegee, Bailey designed several campus buildings including White Hall (1908), and a girl’s dormitory. He remained at Tuskegee until 1916 when he moved to Memphis and opened a practice on Beale Street. After Bailey’s move to Memphis he began the first of multiple commissions for the Knights of Pythias. He designed the Mosaic State Temple Building and the Pythian Theater Building, both in Little Rock in 1922.
Aside from the Knights of Pythias Temple in Chicago Bailey had few major commissions during the 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression greatly decreased business for Bailey and many other black entrepreneurs in the area. Bailey’s last known major project was the Chicago Landmark art moderne First Church of Deliverance in 1939. Walter T. Bailey died on February 21, 1941 from pneumonia and complications caused by heart disease.
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