Robert R. Taylor, the first professionally educated African-American architect in the 1900s, still in the news today

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington (NewSouth Books), by Ellen Weiss, was featured in The New York Times Friday, January 13, 2012. The book interweaves the life of the first academically trained African-American architect with his life’s work—the campus of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

Here’s a look at what The New York Times had to say about the book. Enjoy!

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Robert R. Taylor, the first professionally educated African-American architect, ran a kind of design-build program. From 1892 to 1932, he drafted plans for expanding the Tuskegee Institute campus and then supervised students who fabricated and installed bricks, millwork, roofing, wiring and plumbing.

The trainees learned “unobtrusivebuildings survive at Tuskegee confidence and self-reliance,” Taylor’s boss, Booker T. Washington, wrote in 1904.

Dozens of Taylor’s buildings survive at Tuskegee, in Alabama, and the architectural historian Ellen Weiss has written the first monograph about him, Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington (NewSouth Books).

“I feel I know him,” she said in a recent telephone interview. She pored through hundreds of pages of his correspondence, drawings and photos, mostly at Tuskegee and the Library of Congress.

Robert R. Taylor in 1906. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Taylor was descended from slaves and plantation owners in North Carolina. White friends who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology apparently suggested that he apply there. He became the architecture school’s first black graduate.

At Tuskegee, girls from the cooking classes fed construction crews for Taylor’s projects, ranging from grain silos to a chapel with a 105-foot steeple. The works appeared in magazines alongside designs by firms like McKim, Mead & White. Construction financing often came from white New Yorkers, including the railroad heiress Arabella Huntington and the politician Seth Low.

Taylor favored Doric and Ionic porches on the facades, perhaps consciously adapting plantation architectural traditions into symbols of black independence. “Columns — they’re emblems of power and authority,” Ms. Weiss said.

He endured racism without mentioning it much in his letters, and he remained calm when the Ku Klux Klan paraded at Tuskegee. Family members described him as “courtly and elegant, always formally dressed,” Ms. Weiss writes. (Among his descendants are the corporate executive Ann Dibble Jordan and the presidential adviser Valerie Bowman Jarrett.)

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Read the full article at The New York Times.

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