north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 
 

 
 
 

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     Born in Wilmington to Henry and Emilie Taylor in 1868, Robert Robinson Taylor attended Williston School and Gregory Normal Institute before graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1888 as the first black architecture student. His father, a successful contractor and builder, taught him the basics of construction and encouraged him to attend MIT. Taylor’s grades were above average and he earned honors in several courses. He was one of twelve students who graduated in 1892 with a degree in architecture.

     While a student, Taylor met Booker T. Washington and developed a friendship that drew him to Tuskegee where he dedicated most of his life to designing buildings for the campus (ten total) and teaching architecture classes, being associated with the campus from 1893 to 1933. Taylor personally designed and oversaw construction of 45 buildings on the campus and drew plans for many others before his retirement in the mid 1930’s. He considered the chapel on campus, completed in 1898, to be his crowning achievement. In addition to his responsibilities at Tuskegee, Taylor traveled to Liberia to design buildings for Washington’s institute in that country. Throughout his career, he designed homes, churches, and buildings for a variety of institutions throughout the country. For his work, he received many honors and appointments, including an honorary doctorate from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and appointments to positions in civic, educational, business and professional organizations.

     Taylor returned to Wilmington in retirement and lived at 313 McRae Street although he remained involved at Tuskegee. He died while attending services in his chapel at Tuskegee on December 7, 1942. His remains were returned to Wilmington and interred at Pine Forest Cemetery. After Taylor’s death, a recently completed local housing initiative, called New Brooklyn Homes, was renamed in his honor. The housing project was the first of its kind in Wilmington, meant for African American tenancy. Robert Taylor Homes were demolished by the city in early 2005 and will be replaced by another low income housing initiative. A massive Chicago public housing project, completed in 1962, was also named for him.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 12—sketch by William S. Powell
William Reaves, Strength Through Struggle: The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950 (1998)
Dreck S. Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945 (2004)
Clarence G. Williams, “From 'Tech' to Tuskegee: The Life of Robert Robinson Taylor, 1868-1942,” Blacks at MIT History Project, online at
http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/blacks-at-mit/taylor.html      
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north carolina highway historical marker program


Robert R. Taylor, ca. 1890.

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources