Trailblazing architect Joseph Middlebrooks, dynamic Anna Wyche had lives well-lived

·7 min read

One of the things that I have always felt obligated to do as a journalist — a Black journalist — is to tell the story of my people. Very often, that involves writing an obituary, telling the community about the contributions of the deceased. It is not always an easy task. Not because their stories are unworthy, but rather, because I feel so inadequate.

Today I want to share the stories of two lives well-lived. They are Joseph Middlebrooks and Anna Augusta McCleskey Wyche.

First African American registered licensed architect in Florida

Joseph Middlebrooks was born Dec. 31, 1941, a few weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which hurled America into World War II. It was also a time of heightened Jim Crow-ism and in Shellman, Georgia, the small rural town where Middlebrooks was born to Albert and Maurene Middlebrooks, the future offered little to smart young Blacks like Middlebrooks. Neither did the tiny, rural town of Pahokee, Florida, where his family later moved.

Even so, Middlebrooks, the second of seven siblings, excelled and graduated first in his class of 1959 from Lakeshore High School in Belle Glade. In 1960, he enlisted in the United States Air Force and served until 1964. He later enrolled in Howard University, pledged the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and graduated in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

An undated photo of, from left, Joseph Middlebrooks and Dr. Samuel H. McClendon of then-Florida Memorial College in Opa-locka.
An undated photo of, from left, Joseph Middlebrooks and Dr. Samuel H. McClendon of then-Florida Memorial College in Opa-locka.

In 1970, he earned a master’s degrees in architecture and city planning from Yale. His degrees afforded him a dual appointment to the University of Miami Center for Urban Studies and the Department of Architecture. He later was named Distinguished Professor of Architecture, an honor given to highly regarded professors who are leaders in their fields of study.

Middlebrooks went about his work quietly, never shining the spotlight on himself, and became the first African American registered licensed architect in Florida. He later created his own firm, Joseph Middlebrooks and Associates, Inc. For his dedication to his profession, Middlebrooks received awards and recognitions, including the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year, the Miami Herald Pacesetters Award and a commendation plaque from the city of Opa-locka for outstanding design of a state-owned multi-service center in the city.

One of Middlebrooks’ many passions was to help the betterment of people, especially people of color. Thus, as an urban planner, he played a major role in creating a master plan for upgrading several long-neglected historical Black areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He participated in numerous public programs and retired in 2011 as a professor of architecture and planning.

Today, Middlebrooks’ life work can be found in the University of Miami Archives, which includes much of his research documents, administrative files, plaques, awards, drafts, development plans, architectural drawings, urban and development reports, to name a few. The collection is open for research at the University of Miami.

Middlebrooks died on Nov 25. He was the father of two sons, Edwin Jabari Middlebrooks and Jameel Brandon Middlebrooks, and the grandfather of two, Jayden Jeanette and Jordyn Ann Middlebrooks.

Anna Augusta McCleskey Wyche.
Anna Augusta McCleskey Wyche.

Pastor’s wife remembered as ‘mother to our community’

As impressive as her name is, I am sure not enough people knew Anna Wyche or what she did to make the lives of others in our community better.

First, and foremost, Anna was a pastor’s wife. In every way. She was truly a woman of faith, and, in her mind and actions, her foremost duty was to help her husband the Rev. Dr. Freeman Wyche, Sr., now pastor emeritus of the Liberty City Church of Christ, minister to the people and community he was called to serve. And she was a mother — not just to her own children, but to any child who needed a comforting hug or an encouraging word.

Dewey Knight III remembers Anna as a “mother to our community.”

“She lived in the church’s parsonage, right across the street from the Liberty Square Housing Project. Many of the young girls living in the project looked up to her and were blessed to have her,” Knight said. “She was a lady of such quality, such dignity, whose home always had an open door to those in need. She treated the young people who came to her door with love and respect, and all the young girls who knew her wanted to be just like her.”

Knight, and the Wyche’s son Kermit, played football together at Northwestern High School. “She was just like a mother to the students at the school. We loved her for her willingness to lead by example. Some of the youngsters at Northwestern came from some of the toughest situations and she was always there for them. She was really a mother of our community,” he said.

Anna Wyche was born in Tyner, Tennessee, a small community just northeast of Chattanooga. She was the oldest of seven children born to William Miles and Mary Elizabeth Burnette McClesky. She attended local schools and graduated second in her class in 1955 from Booker T. Washington School in East Chattanooga. In September that same year Anna and Freeman Wyche, then a dashing young airman in the U.S. Air Force, were married in her parents’ living room.

Anna adjusted to life as a military wife and lived in England, where her husband was stationed, in the early years of their marriage. Their family grew (they were the parents of six children, three of whom died shortly after birth: twins JoAnn and ZoeAnn, and Augustus). Aside from England, the Wyches lived in several states, including New York, California and Texas, before settling in South Florida after Freeman Wyche was discharged from the Air Force.

In addition to being a military and minister’s wife, in her lifetime Anna had also been a firefighter’s wife and a pioneer during desegregation serving in many “first Black” positions. Yet, it had always been Anna’s dream to finish college. She had put her goals on hold when her husband was called into the ministry. But when she was in her mid-40’s, Anna went back to school and earned an associate of arts degree from Miami Dade Community College. Later, she earned a bachelor’s of science degree from Barry University.

She was 50 years old by then, and she hit the ground running.

During her professional career, Anna was an adjunct counselor at Miami Dade College. She retired in 2000 after a 17-year career as an advisor to the High School College Assistance Program (CAP) for Miami-Dade County Public Schools at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. She was a member of the Alpha Delta Chapter of the Phi Delta Kappa Sorority, Inc., where she served as its basileus for four years. She also served as a regional advisor for the Kappa Omicron Tau (KOT) College guidance group for young women desiring to become teachers.

In addition, she has been a den mother for Cub Scouts, a mentor for Take Stock in Children, PTA/PTSA president for elementary, middle, and high schools and an Easter Seals volunteer.

She was also the coordinator for Southwestern Christian College (an HBCU school) for the National Dinner Day Banquet for South Florida for more than 30 years. She served as the National Chairwoman for the Bowser Women’s Scholarship for Southwestern Christian College and she coordinated several fundraisers including, Women in White – Men in Black, The Fall Festival, and the Penny King and Queen program that awarded scholarship to Southwestern Christian College.

Anna loved the Lord and her church. For decades, she purchased gifts for every member of the Liberty City Church of Christ and distributed them on holidays, birthdays and at family gatherings.

Anna also loved people. Her favorite greeting was, “Howdy! I’m glad to be here!” She died peacefully at home on Jan. 6, with her family by her side. She was 84.

In addition to Freeman, her husband of 66 years, Anna is survived by sons Freeman II (Alicia) and Kermit (Bridgette), and daughter Zoe T. Madison (Davie); six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Bea L. Hines can be reached at bea.hines@gmail.com
Bea L. Hines can be reached at bea.hines@gmail.com
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