Tuskegee Honors MIT’s First Black Alum

by Jill Hecht Maxwell on August 13, 2010 · 0 comments

in In the News, Remember When...

Robert R. Taylor in his student days.

Tuskegee University has named its new school of architecture for MIT’s first African-American graduate. Until last month the architecture department was part of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Physical Sciences at Tuskegee; now it’s the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture. Outgoing Tuskegee president Dr. Benjamin F. Payton made the change his last official act.

Robert R. Taylor graduated from MIT in 1892. That same year, at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, the newly minted brass ratter (OK, this was pre-brass rat) set up an architecture program at the Alabama school. “It was very much based on the positive experiences he had at MIT. In spirit, it is very closely aligned with us here,” says Mark Jarzombek PhD ’86, a professor of the history and theory of architecture and the associate dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning.

Taylor is considered the first professionally educated black architect in America. He was also the only African-American student at MIT at the time he was enrolled. “It’s difficult for us to imagine today what it was like back then,” says Jarzombek. “It speaks to his courage and talent, and also a particular type of personality that saw a need for leadership.”

Though Taylor broke down barriers, only about 1.5 percent of today’s American architects are black. (Ted Landsmark, CEO of the Boston Architectural College delivered this great lecture on race in architecture education and practice in 2007. “MIT is viewed as a leader in the field of architectural education,” he said, “but you’re also taking on an entire profession which has elected to a very large extent to ignore these issues completely.” ) At MIT, a fellowship and a non-profit educational foundation bearing Taylor’s name are both aimed at bringing more underrepresented minorities into the profession.

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