Wilmington’s Robert R. Taylor, Pioneer Black Architect

A sketch that was part of Taylor’s MIT thesis. Image from the MIT Museum.

On June 8, 1868, architect Robert R. Taylor was born in Wilmington.

Taylor learned construction from his father Henry, the son of a white slave owner and a black mother, and a successful builder.

Taylor as a student at MIT. Image from the MIT Museum.

Taylor worked for his father until entering MIT in 1888, where he was the school’s first black architecture student. While at MIT, Taylor met Booker T. Washington. Their friendship drew him to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he went to work after graduating in 1892.

At Tuskegee, Taylor designed and oversaw the construction of 45 campus buildings and drew up plans for many others. The campus chapel, completed in 1898, is considered to be his crowning achievement. He continued to work at Tuskegee as architect and director of “mechanical industries” until his retirement to Wilmington in 1935, except for a brief three-year stint in Cleveland around the turn of the 20th century.

Two highlights of Taylor’s career are his 1929 trip to Liberia to plan the “the Tuskegee of Africa,” and his appointment to the Mississippi Valley Flood Relief Commission by President Herbert Hoover.

Taylor remained active in North Carolina’s civic and religious life until his death in 1942. He is buried at Pine Forest Cemetery in Wilmington.

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