Black History: Special Delivery!!
Robert Robinson Taylor (1858 – 1942) is recognized as the first academically trained Black architect in the U.S. Taylor grew up in North Carolina, where he worked for his father (Henry Taylor) as a carpenter and foreman. Henry Taylor was a successful builder. Robert Taylor’s mother was Emilie Taylor. Both Henry Taylor and Emilie Taylor were reported to be of mixed race.
Robert Taylor graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The final project he completed for his bachelor’s degree in Architecture was “Design for a Soldier’s Home.” The project examined suggested a design to provide housing for aging civil war veterans. He graduated from MIT in 1892 at the top of his class with a bachelor of science degree in architecture. Taylor was the first black person to graduate from MIT with an architectural degree.
Following graduation, Booker T. Washington recruited Taylor to work at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a historically black college (HBCU). At Tuskegee, Taylor served as an architect and oversaw the construction of forty-five buildings on the campus. Taylor also designed buildings that were built on the campus by outside construction firms. He also served as director of the mechanical industries department and as a general superintendent of industries before serving as the vice principal in 1925. He would also periodically serve as principal. Taylor did leave Tuskegee briefly in 1892 to work for a firm in Cleveland. However, Booker T. Washington convinced him to return after a few years. Taylor also designed other buildings in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Taylor also traveled to Africa in 1929 to oversee plans to establish the Booker T. Washington Agricultural Institute in Kakata, Monrovia, Liberia. Taylor retired in 1935.
Taylor’s favorite building on Tuskegee’s campus was the chapel, which was constructed entirely with student labor and student-made bricks. During his retirement, Taylor frequently returned to Tuskegee. Taylor died unexpectedly on December 1942 while attending a service at Tuskegee Chapel. A U.S. postage stamp was commissioned in Taylor’s honor in 2015. Taylor and his wife Nellie had three sons and two daughters. Taylor is buried in Pine Forest Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.