More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Desoto Jackson (Brick Mason)

I started bricklaying at Booker T. Washington. Matter of fact, I wanted to be a bricklayer. . . . I saw a mantlepiece out of bricks and I saw a tile music box on the mantlepiece and I looked at that and I said, "I want to be a bricklayer." I was a little boy. . . . [I was] about 11. I went to Booker T. Washington, and the instructor there that taught masonry was Maurice Martinez. I guess like all other kids, I wanted to be a bricklayer but I didn't want to put forth the time in school to study. He got to me, "You don't have no daddy; your momma is doing the best she can; you're going to push a broom and swing a mop all of your days." I said, "No, I'm going to be a bricklayer and I'm going to be a good one," and from that moment . . . I was late in my junior year at Booker T. I really didn't know that much about brick work and I was just about ready to graduate. When I did finish my mother said she'd get me a job, and at the time we were living in the projects, and my little brother said, "You're not going to be a bricklayer, you're going to be a brick presser; you're just leaning up against the bricks!" But I prayed hard to become a bricklayer, and a good one, and I think He answered my prayers 'cause when the bricklayers saw me out of work, they'd know there wasn't no work in the city.

Mr. Martinez would tell me, "Son, once you learn this, ain't nobody can take it away from you." I stayed at school till my senior year night after night, and my mom used to say, "Boy, you are coming home too late at night!" I said, "I got a whole lot of catching up to do!" 'Cause I had messed around my first three years, so I worked hard my senior year and the principal used to tell us, "Lock up when you leave." I used to stay at school till nine or ten o'clock at night working. Building things. We had a fireplace and chimney that stayed in that masonry room for years after we had left. All kind of different patterns in it.

If your daddy wasn't a bricklayer, you wasn't going to be a bricklayer. [The union president] told me you had to be born a bricklayer. I said, "I want to be a bricklayer." He said, "Well, you go out in the field and you learn it, if you learn it you come back and join as a journeyman." I said, "If I come back,—you had to have vouchers—you'll accept me?" He said, "Yeah."

I take pride in work. I enjoy people saying, "Oh, that's beautiful, oh you're good at what you do." . . . I enjoy my work. I enjoy the challenge. I love to do things that other people have trouble doing. I've always said, "If you have two pieces of work, put me on the one and put someone on another one and see who finishes first and who is going to be the best." And I know I'm going to finish first and I know I'm going to be the best. If I don't finish, first it's going to fall down.

[One skill of a good bricklayer is] picking out different material that you use. You might have bricks and all of them look alike, but I tell them there is a time and a place for each one of them. You can be building a corner and if you got a chipped brick you don't take that chipped brick and put it to the wall where you can see it. If you got a head, you don't put that chipped brick out on the corner. They got bricklayers that will pick it up and put it there. Every one of the bricks has got a place. Don't put no chipped bricks out there when you don't have to! Then they'll take the good bricks and turn it into the hole! That don't make sense. That shows that you don't care about your work.

Desoto Jackson was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.