PLAN 67: Article
Robert Robinson Taylor

The Nation’s First Black Architect

Robert Robinson Taylor, the first professionally-educated black architect in the US (MIT Class of 1892), was born in Wilmington NC in 1868. He went to Boston in 1888 to study at MIT, receiving his degree in 1892. During that period, he met Booker T. Washington, the prominent black educator and race leader from Tuskegee, Alabama, who had founded Tuskegee Institute in 1881. Started as a teacher training school, it became within a couple of decades one of the best-known African-American schools in the nation.

Taylor arrived at Tuskegee in 1892 and with the exception of a brief period from 1899-1902, his entire career was spent there. He served as instructor in architectural drawing and as architect to the institution and eventually as the director of "mechanical industries" (sometimes referred to simply as "industries" or as "industrial training") until his retirement in the mid-1930s. He built several buildings on campus and elsewhere and was noted as a strong promoter of other African-American architects.

In 1994, a Robert R. Talyor Professorship was created by MIT to honor the life and work of Taylor. The first holder of the position is Marcus Aurelius Thompson, an internationally acclaimed violist and chamber music player. Trained at the Juilliard School of Music, he made his New York solo recital debut in 1968 at Carnegie Recital Hall. In addition to his active performance schedule, Professor Thompson has made important teaching and administration contributions to MIT's Music Section.

(This piece is based in part on an article by Clarence G. Williams. See also: Ellen Weiss, ‘Robert R. Taylor of Tuskegee: An Early Black American Architect’, ARRIS: Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, 2 (1991): 3-19.)

Posted May 2007