The U.S. Postal Service issued a new stamp collection on Feb. 12, honoring Robert Robinson Taylor, believed to have been both the first African-American graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the nation’s first academically trained black architect. Taylor is the 38th honoree of the Post Service’s Black Heritage stamp series.
Taylor’s great granddaughter, White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett joined Postmaster General Megan Brennan in dedicating the stamp at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. The event coincided with the opening of the museum’s “Freedom Around the Corner: Black America from the Civil War to Civil Rights” exhibit.
Born in 1868 as the son of a slave in Wilmington, N.C., Taylor worked as a construction foreman before studying architecture at MIT. After graduating in 1892, Taylor took a teaching position at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Ala. He then began designing and supervising the construction of dozens of new campus buildings.
Taylor left Tuskegee in 1899 to work and study new building methods in Cleveland, but continued his work designing buildings for the school, including the Tuskegee Chapel that he regarded as his masterpiece. When he returned three years later, he was given the title “director of mechanical industries.” He continued to design new buildings and oversaw the department of mechanical industries, which included 22 divisions that trained harness makers, tinsmiths, wheelwrights, tailors, plumbers, steamfitters, and other skilled artisans.
Later in his career, Taylor’s designs expanded beyond the Tuskegee campus as well, with an academic building at Selma University in Selma, Ala.; a mixed-use building in Birmingham, Ala., and libraries in North Carolina and Texas. In 1929, he traveled to Liberia to help design and establish the Booker T. Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute, for which he earned a honorary doctorate from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He died in 1942 at the age of 74 while attending a church service at the Tuskegee Chapel.
Taylor joins the ranks of Martin Luther King, Jr.; Harriet Tubman; Thurgood Marshall; Patricia Roberts Harris; Ella Fitzgerald; and many other African-American leaders in the Black Heritage stamp collection.