Robert Robinson Taylor

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Robert Robinson Taylor
Robert R Taylor c1906.jpg
Born(1868-06-08)June 8, 1868
DiedDecember 13, 1942(1942-12-13) (aged 74)
EducationMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Spouse(s)Beatrice Rochon Taylor
Nellie Chestnut Taylor
Parent(s)Henry Taylor
Emily Still
RelativesRobert Rochon Taylor(son)
Valerie Jarrett (granddaughter)

Robert Robinson Taylor (June 8, 1868 – December 13, 1942) was an American architect and educator. Taylor was the first African-American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the first accredited African-American architect when he graduated in 1892.[1]. He was an early and influential member of the Tuskegee Institute faculty.

A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Taylor remained in architectural practice in the American South for over forty years. He designed many of the early buildings of the Tuskegee Institute, and at several other Historically black colleges and universities. As second-in-command to Booker T. Washington, the Tuskegee Institute's founder, Taylor was instrumental in both campus planning and inventing the school's industrial curriculum.

Early life[edit]

Robert Robinson Taylor was born on June 8, 1868, in Wilmington, North Carolina.[1][2] His father, Henry Taylor, worked as a carpenter and businessman, born into slavery but freed in 1847 by his father and owner Angus Taylor. His mother, Emily Still, was the daughter of freedmen even prior to the Civil War.[1] He left home for MIT in 1888, where he studied architecture.[1] 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, he talked in person on more than one occasion with Booker T. Washington.[2] 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.[2] At the MIT faculty meeting on May 26, 1892, Taylor was one of twelve students in Course IV recommended for the degree in architecture.[2] The class of 1892 was the largest on record since MIT's founding.[2] After graduation Taylor did not head directly to Tuskegee. He finally accepted the Tuskegee offer in the fall or winter of 1892.[2]


Taylor's first building project on the Tuskegee University campus was the Science Hall (Thrasher Hall) completed in 1893.[1][2] The new Science Hall was constructed entirely by students, using bricks made also by students under Taylor's supervision.[2] 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.[2] A number of other buildings followed, including the original Tuskegee Chapel, erected between 1895 and 1898.[1][2] After the Chapel came The Oaks, built in 1899, home of the Tuskegee University president.[1][2]

From 1899 to 1902, he returned to Cleveland, Ohio, to work on his own and for the architectural firm of Charles W. Hopkinson.[1][2] Upon his return to Tuskegee from Cleveland in 1902, he was architect and director of "mechanical industries" until his retirement in the mid-1930s.[2] To develop a sound curriculum at Tuskegee, both Washington and Taylor drew inspiration from MIT as a model.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

Taylor also designed buildings that were not at Tuskegee. These include Carnegie libraries at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. With his later partner, the black architect Louis H. Persley, he did large buildings at Selma University in Selma, Alabama, and the Colored Masonic Temple[3], which is also an office building and entertainment venue, in Birmingham, Alabama.[1][4]

He served for a period as vice-principal of Tuskegee, beginning in 1925.[2] 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."[1][2] 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.[2]

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.[2] Moreover, 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.[2] "Thanks to a kind Providence and skillful physicians," he said, "I am much better now."[2]

Personal life[edit]

In 1898, he married Beatrice Rochon Taylor.[1] They had four children.[1] Beatrice's younger sister was teacher and pharmacist Etnah Rochon Boutte.[5] After she died in 1906, he remarried in 1912 to Nellie Chestnut Taylor.[1] They had one child, Robert Rochon Taylor, who became a housing advocate in Chicago.[1]


He died on December 13, 1942, while attending services in the Tuskegee Chapel, the building that he considered his most outstanding achievement as an architect.[6] He was buried at the Pine Forest Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.[1]


The Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science at Tuskegee University is named for Taylor. The housing project in Chicago, Robert Taylor Homes, was named after his son, Robert Rochon Taylor, a civic leader and former Chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority.

The US Postal Service has a postage stamp with his likeness.[7]

His great-granddaughter, Valerie Jarrett, was a Senior Advisor to Former President Barack Obama.


  • Huntington Hall (1900)
  • Emery dormitories 4 buildings (1900)
  • Dorothy Hall (1901) Tuskegee Institute
  • 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)
  • Prince Hall Masonic Temple (1924)[8]
  • Sage Hall (1927)
  • Wilcox Trade Buildings, architecture buildings (1928)
  • Logan Hall, old gym (1931)
  • Armstrong Science Building (1932)
  • Hollis Burke Frissell Library (1932)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Ellen Weiss, Robert Robinson Taylor, Encyclopedia of Alabama
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Williams, Clarence G. (13 January 1998). "From 'Tech' to Tuskegee: The Life of Robert Robinson Taylor, 1868-1942". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on July 2, 2019. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Weiss, Ellen (2011). Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington. Montgomery: NewSouth Books. pp. 114–115, 141–144. ISBN 978-1-58838-248-1.
  5. ^ "Mrs. Kate Rochon Dead" The New York Age (April 12, 1924): 2. via
  6. ^ Robert Robinson Taylor: Institute Archives & Special Collections. MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections
  7. ^
  8. ^

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