Robert Robinson Taylor is recognized as the first Black student to attend the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with becoming its first Black graduate. Taylor is also regarded as the nation’s first Black architect, and his likeness has appeared on a Black Heritage Forever stamp.
Born June 8, 1868 in Wilmington, N.C., Taylor’s father was a slave later freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. His mother was born to freed slaves before the Civil War took place. In 1888, Taylor entered MIT to study architecture and won a pair of scholarships. During his tenure at at the school, Taylor made contact with Booker T. Washington, who hired the young student to lead architectural development at the Tuskegee Institute.
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After graduating in 1892, Taylor headed to Tuskegee and oversaw the development of many of the campus buildings that are still standing today. For nearly 40 years, Taylor was the lead architect on campus and helped develop architectural coursework for the school. Taylor stepped down from his position in 1933, and was appointed to the board of trustees at what is now Fayetteville State University. Taylor suffered a fatal heart attack in 1942 while attending church service at Tuskegee Chapel, a building which he designed. It was the first building in the county to have electricity.
Taylor was 78.
Former senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett is the great-granddaughter of Taylor and she was present at the ceremony five years ago when the U.S. Postal Service officially released Taylor’s stamp.
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