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Cecil Alexander (b. 1918)
Cecil Alexander is an Atlanta architect and civic leader.
Cecil Abraham Alexander Jr. was born in Atlanta on March 14, 1918, the only son of prosperous Jewish parents, Julia Moses and Cecil A. Alexander. The family lived in the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta. His father was the owner of J. M. & J. C. Alexander's Hardware in Atlanta, which is reputed to have been the model for Scarlett O'Hara's store in the novel Gone With the Wind (1936).
After obtaining a commercial pilot's license, Alexander interrupted his studies to enlist in the navy with the aim of becoming an aviator.
During fifteen months of service, Alexander flew a total of sixty missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice. As a decorated veteran returning to the states, he had a bright future ahead of him. In 1946 he enrolled in the graduate architecture program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he studied with Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school, which was a major influence on the development of modern architecture. After earning his degree, Alexander worked in New York City as an architect. Soon he and his wife returned home to Atlanta, where he began what would be a long and distinguished career in what was rapidly becoming the economic heart of the South.
Fighting for Equality
As his practice thrived, he also became an active participant in the civic and political life of Atlanta during the 1950s. He was appointed by Mayor William B. Hartsfield to chair the Citizen's Advisory Committee for Urban Renewal. Assembling the most powerful business, civic, and religious leaders from the black and white communities, the committee launched a program to eliminate slum housing and replace it with low-income public housing.
With Hartsfield's retirement in 1961, businessman Ivan Allen Jr. defeated Lester Maddox to win the mayor's office. Progressive and reform-minded, Allen tapped Alexander to head a variety of programs designed to move the still-segregated city toward racial equality.
Alexander became a prominent face of the campaign against segregation, appearing frequently on television and in newspaper headlines. As chair of the Allen administration's Housing Resources Committee, he mobilized the construction of more than 22,000 low-income housing units to replace slums throughout the city. He guided the Committee to Mediate Racial Unrest and formed the Atlanta Black Jewish Coalition with civil rights leader (and later U.S. congressman) John Lewis. He was also one of the organizers of a dinner to honor Martin Luther King Jr. after King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
After his wife was killed by a drunk driver in 1983, Alexander launched a program to educate young people about the dangers of drinking and driving. He also campaigned for tougher laws to combat drunk driving. In 1985 he married Helen Eisemann.
Architectural Career and Leadership
In 1948 Alexander and Bernard Rothschild
The firm merged in 1958 with Finch Barnes and Paschal to form FABRAP. As principal with FABRAP, Alexander worked on such high-profile projects as the corporate headquarters for the Coca-Cola Company (1970, 1979, 1981), Southern Bell
Following his retirement from full-time architectural practice with FABRAP in 1985, Alexander collaborated with architect John Portman, a relationship that continued through the 1996 Olympic Games. He also continued to campaign for racial equality. One of his goals was to replace Georgia's 1956 state flag and its prominent Confederate symbolism. As Atlanta prepared to host the 1996 Olympics,
Alexander has received the America Institute of Architects' Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for improving race relations, the Ivan Allen Award for community service, and the Yale Medal for distinguished alumni.
The novelist Pat Conroy has said that Alexander was the model for the character of Colonel Hudspeth in The Great Santini (1976).
Ivan Allen and Paul Hemphill, Mayor: Notes on the Sixties (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971).
Harold H. Martin, Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events: Years of Change and Challenge, 1940-1976, vol. 3 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987).
Randy Southerland, Acworth
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.