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Herbert DeCosta, Jr.

Architect and building contractor Herbert Alexander DeCosta, Jr. was born on March 17, 1923 in Charleston, South Carolina to Herbert A. DeCosta, Sr. and Julia Craft DeCosta. DeCosta’s interest in architecture began when he was thirteen years old while working for the family construction business which was founded in 1899 by his grandfather Benjamin DeCosta. He graduated high school from the Avery Institute in Charleston in 1940 and went on to receive his B.A. degree from Iowa State College in architectural engineering in 1944.

Prior to joining the family business in 1947, DeCosta worked as an architectural engineer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, now known as NASA). He returned to the DeCosta Company as Vice President and became President, serving there until his retirement in 1989. Under his leadership, the company undertook major renovation projects to preserve the historical landscape of Charleston and other areas. One of his most notable projects was the restoration of the Herndon Mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. This mansion was owned by one of the wealthiest African American men in America, Alonzo Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company.

The H.A. DeCosta Company was named one of the top 100 black businesses in the nation by Black Enterprise magazine in 1979. Upon his retirement in 1989, DeCosta continued to be active in the field of preservation as a restoration consultant and project manager.

DeCosta’s work has been featured in various magazines and newspapers across the country. He has received various awards and recognitions for his contribution to Charleston, including South Carolina’s Governor’s Award and the Frances R. Edmunds Award for Historic Preservation. DeCosta passed away on December 28, 2008.

Accession Number

A2007.041

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/2/2007

Last Name

DeCosta

Maker Category
Middle Name

Alexander

Schools

Avery Normal Institute

Immaculate Conception School

Iowa State University

First Name

Herbert

Birth City, State, Country

Charleston

HM ID

DEC02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe, South Africa

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

South Carolina

Birth Date

3/17/1923

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charleston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken, Fish

Death Date

12/28/2008

Short Description

Construction chief executive and architect Herbert DeCosta, Jr. (1923 - 2008 ) joined his family's business in 1947, a construction company that was in existence from 1899.

Employment

National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics

Langley Field

H.A. DeCosta Company

Favorite Color

Beige

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Herbert DeCosta, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his maternal great-grandparents' escape from slavery

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his maternal great-grandparents' life as freemen

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. talks about his maternal relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his maternal ancestors

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls his father's contracting business

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers the Avery Normal Institute in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his experiences at the Avery Normal Institute

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls the music curriculum at the Avery Normal Institute

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his decision to attend the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his college housing, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his college housing, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls his upbringing in a wealthy family

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls his influences at the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls his early career

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. recalls joining his father's construction business

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his construction projects, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his construction projects, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his construction projects, pt. 3

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his renovation work throughout the South

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers the Citizens Committee of Charleston County

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his civil rights activities

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers the assassinations of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. talks about his organizational involvement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his daughters

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. talks about his marriage

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. talks about selling his construction company

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his advice to future generations

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Herbert DeCosta, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

4$5

DATitle
Herbert DeCosta, Jr. describes his maternal great-grandparents' escape from slavery
Herbert DeCosta, Jr. remembers his construction projects, pt. 1
Transcript
Well, they were both born slaves in Macon, Georgia. And decided, they were still young, and I believe they were married in Macon, I'm not sure, but anyway, they had decided that they, no I don't think they were married, they wanted to get married and have children, but under the law at that time, the children would be slaves, you see. So they didn't want their children born as slaves so they decided that they would escape, and Ellen [Ellen Craft] was a seamstress and William [William Craft] was a carpenter and so, and she decided to disguise herself as a white gentleman. You see, she was very fair and she looked like a white person, so that's what she disguised herself as. And she had, they bought a top hat, then she had her arm in a sling and wore dark glasses, and then a bandage around her mouth because see she couldn't speak in, you know, good English, and she didn't want to be asked questions you see, so that was the reason for the bandage around the mouth so she would not have to talk. So they decided and, of course, William to be her slave, and they were supposed to be going, now they told their owners that they were going to visit their relatives and friends on Christmas Day on some nearby plantation. See, slaves, as I understand it, were permitted to visit relatives and friends on Christmas, so then, so that morning they left and boarded a train, and they ended up in Baltimore [Maryland]. Now Baltimore was the last stop before Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], which was, you know, in a free state, so the officials were very careful, you know, about slaves traveling into freed states. So then they asked for all kind of identification and they almost got caught. So it was Christmas Eve and they said, somebody told them, they said, "I traveled with them, or with him, this gentleman all the way from Macon, Georgia, and he's all right, it's Christmas Eve, just let them go on," and so that's how they got past the customs in Baltimore, and then they ended up in Philadelphia, and they lived in someone's farmhouse, and then they were taught to read and write, but things were sort of, hot you might say, so to speak, in Philadelphia, so they thought they better move on to Boston [Massachusetts]. So some friends helped them to get to Boston and while in Boston, William opened a carpenter shop or cabinet shop and Ellen continued to sew.$You had some information about buildings that you worked on early on (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah. It was my early days here [at H.A. DeCosta Company]. One, we built the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance [North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company] building, corner of Coming [Street] and Cannon Street. I designed that and built that. And that was designed to take care of adding a second story if they wanted to, but they, the Clemmons [ph.] family just sold it the other day, I see, and the father died, and the two boys inherited, of course they're not boys, they are grown men, and they decided to sell the building 'cause they got a good price for it so they sold that. And then rebuilt an educational building on Johns Island [South Carolina] for the Methodist church. See Johns Island back in those days was really kind of rural see. There wasn't any Kiawah [Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina] down there, or one on the other end, and nothing like that. It was just a sort of rural country place, and they built this building to take care of the people so they'd have some place to go up for recreation, and you know, have meetings and programs and things of that type. So that's what we built. And then we also remodeled the Carolina Savings Bank, and that was one of the banks, one of the big banks in Charleston [South Carolina]. We remodeled that. Put in new counters, a new safety deposit vault, and did things, that type of thing. Then I remember I did the drawings for the vault and then also built a parish house for our church. One of the first things we did.$$And this was St. Mark's Church [St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina]?$$Yes.$$So you worked with your father [Herbert DeCosta, Sr.] and you become president in what year (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Nineteen--$$Nineteen sixty [1960]?$$Sixty [1960]. I think that's what it was.$$And tell me what happened after that.$$Well--$$Did you become more into undertaking more major renovation projects?$$Well, we did major renovations, you know, when he was, that was the main thing that he was interested in, you see. See then, I'm looking at this little sheet that had--(pause) we did a lot of work for a storage house and foundation. See that's the foremost preservation society in the city, and we knew a lot of people who were members of that. So when they organized about sixty years ago, we did a lot of their work. See we did 61 Laurens Street, 82 Anson Street. These were all houses that we did before the foundation and then we also did a house at 25 East Battery [Street], and that was the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Drayton [Emily Beatty Drayton and Charles H. Drayton, Jr.]. He was a very wealthy northerner, who married a Charleston girl, and we, they had this big house that we renovated for them. Course it used to be a planter's townhouse and he had a house in the country and then they had beautiful townhouses. It was a beautiful townhouse that he lived in, and we, and it was someplace and we restored this, and then they also had in the back a place for servants or guests 'cause that was a two-story residence. And whether they used that, I mean, 'cause I didn't see any other places on the property that slaves could live 'cause this was, they built this place just before the Civil War see. So that must have been their house but that was a nice house, and then there was a little land, we restored a small kitchen building. It was behind that house you see.