Robert Robinson Taylor

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Robert Robinson Taylor
Born (1868-06-08)June 8, 1868
Died 1942

Robert Robinson Taylor (June 8, 1868 – 1942) was an American architect; by some accounts the first accredited African-American architect.

Taylor enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1888, the first African American student at MIT, and was associated with Tuskegee University once called Tuskegee Institute, designing most of the buildings on campus completed prior to 1932, and even serving as second-in-command to Tuskegee's founder and first President, Dr. Booker T. Washington. He died while attending services at the Tuskegee Chapel, a building he considered his finest achievement.

The Robert Taylor Homes were named for his son.

Early life[edit]

He was born on June 8, 1868 in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1888 he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In June 1890 and again in September 1891, he was recommended for the Loring Scholarship, which he held for two consecutive academic years: 1890-1891 and 1891-1892. During his course of study at MIT, Taylor talked in person on more than one occasion with Booker T. Washington. What Washington had in mind was for Taylor to develop the industrial program at Tuskegee and to plan and direct the construction of new buildings for the campus. At the MIT faculty meeting on May 26, 1892, Taylor was one of 12 students in Course IV recommended for the degree in architecture. The class of 1892 was the largest on record since MIT's founding. After graduation Taylor did not head directly to Tuskegee. Robert Taylor finally accepted the Tuskegee offer in the fall or winter of 1892.


Taylor's first building project on the Tuskegee University campus was the Science Hall (Thrasher Hall) completed in 1893. The new Science Hall was constructed entirely by students, using bricks made also by students under Taylor's supervision. The project epitomized Washington's philosophy of instilling in Tuskegee students, the descendants of former enslaved Africans, the value and dignity of physical labor and it provided an example to the world of the capabilities of African Americans in the building trades, and it underscored the larger potential of the manual training curricula being developed at Tuskegee.

A number of other buildings followed, including the original Tuskegee Chapel, erected between 1895 and 1898. After the Chapel came The Oaks, built in 1899, home of the Tuskegee University president.

From 1899 to 1902 Taylor returned to Cleveland, Ohio to work on his own and for the architectural firm of Charles W. Hopkinson. Following his return to Tuskegee from Cleveland in 1902, he served as architect and director of "mechanical industries" until his retirement in the mid-1930s.

To develop a sound curriculum at Tuskegee, both Washington and Taylor looked to MIT as a model. Taylor's own admiration for MIT as a model for Tuskegee's development was conveyed in a speech that he delivered at MIT in 1911.

Taylor cited examples to the 1911 US Congress in a paper to illustrate the kinds of rigorous ideas, approaches, and methods that Tuskegee had adopted from MIT and successfully applied within the context of a black educational institution.

Taylor also designed buildings that were not at Tuskegee. These include Carnegie libraries at Wiley University in Marshall TX and at Livingston College in Salisbury NC. With his later partner, the black architect Louis H. Persley, he did large buildings at Selma University in Selma, AL, and the Colored Masonic Temple, which is also an office building and entertainment venue, in Birmingham AL.[1]

Throughout his life, Taylor retained a deep respect for MIT. In 1942, less than a decade after his retirement from Tuskegee, he wrote to the secretary of his MIT class indicating that he had just been released from treatment for an unspecified illness at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Thanks to a kind Providence and skillful physicians," he said, "I am much better now."(62) Not long afterwards—on December 13, 1942—he died suddenly while attending services in the Tuskegee Chapel, the building that he considered his most outstanding achievement as an architect.[2]

Robert Taylor also served for a period as vice-principal of Tuskegee, beginning in 1925. In 1929, under the joint sponsorship of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, the Liberian government, and Firestone Rubber, he went to Kakata, Liberia to lay out architectural plans and devise a program in industrial training for the proposed Booker Washington Institute – "the Tuskegee of Africa." Robert Taylor served on the Mississippi Valley Flood Relief Commission, appointed by President Herbert Hoover, and was chairman of the Tuskegee chapter of the American Red Cross. Following his retirement to his native Wilmington, North Carolina in 1935. The governor of North Carolina appointed Taylor to the board of trustees of what is now Fayetteville State University.


The housing project in Chicago, Robert Taylor Homes, was named after his son, Robert Rochon Taylor, a civic leader, communist and former Chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Taylor's great granddaughter, Valerie Jarrett, is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.


  • Huntington Hall (1900)
  • Emery dormitories 4 buildings (1900)
  • Dorothy Hall (1901)
  • Women's Trades Building (1901)
  • Carnegie Library (1901)
  • Administration Building (1902–03)
  • Rockefeller Hall (1903)
  • Men's residence Hall (1904)
  • Douglass Hall (1904)
  • Collis P. Huntington Memorial Building academic building(1904–05)
  • Tantum Hall (1907)
  • Milbank Agriculture Building (1909)
  • Tompkins Hall, dining facility (1910)
  • White Hall, women's dormitory (1910)
  • John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital (1913)
  • Laundry, now The George Washington Carver Museum (1915)
  • James Hall (1921)
  • Sage Hall (1927)
  • Wilcox Trade Buildings, architecture buildings (1928)
  • Logan Hall, old gym (1931)
  • Armstrong Science Building (1932)
  • Hollis Burke Frissell Library (1932)


External links[edit]