Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee

An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington

Ellen Weiss

Foreword by Henry Gates

Title Details

Pages: 304

Trim size: 8.500in x 10.000in



Pub Date: 09/01/2011

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8248-1

List Price: $45.00


NewSouth Books

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee

An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington

Ellen Weiss

Foreword by Henry Gates

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

Winner of the Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians Award of Excellence

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee 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. In this richly illustrated architectural history, the author delves into such questions of how a black boy born in North Carolina shortly after the Civil War could earn a professional architecture degree at MIT, and how he then used his design and administrative skills to further Booker T. Washington’s agenda of community solidarity and, in defiance of strengthening Jim Crow, the public expression of racial pride and progress. The book also considers such issues as architectural education for African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, the white donors who funded Tuskegee’s buildings, other Tuskegee architects, and Taylor’s buildings elsewhere. Individual narratives of Taylor’s Tuskegee buildings conclude the volume.

Weiss, a retired professor of architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans, places Taylor's work in the broader context of architectural trends of the period and provides a thorough inventory of his campus work. This well-researched and extensively illustrated work is must reading for those seeking insights into the emergence of African American professionals at the beginning of the 20th century.

—Ted Landsmark, ArchitectureBoston

Weiss is a thorough researcher and a graceful writer who nicely balances Taylor’s personal and professional lives.

—John Sledge, Mobile Register

Ellen Weiss breaks important new ground in her remarkable monograph on Robert R. Taylor. This volume is by far the most detailed account we have of an African American architect. Weiss vividly conveys the immense challenges faced by black architects and professionals of every kind, especially during the rise of Jim Crow and how Taylor’s perseverance overcame odds that must often have seemed insurmountable at times. Along the way we get myriad insights on architectural education, architect-client relationships, and the development of a major institution of higher learning. Let us hope that this pioneering study inspires other scholars to pursue a realm of architectural and cultural history that has been, until now, sorely neglected.

—Richard Longstreth, Director of Historic Preservation, George Washington University

Scholars of architecture as well as of American history, specifically race relations, will find much to occupy their interest in this important book.

—Julie Eakin, ForeWord Reviews

The history of the buildings and Washington's hopes and plans for the campus makes for compelling reading.

—Library Journal

Ellen Weiss’s elegantly written book is a lucid study of Robert R. Taylor’s work for the educator Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute from 1892 to 1932. Coupled with Washington’s aesthetic activism, Taylor's architectural vision created an identity for the Tuskegee campus that appeared to transcend the oppression of the Jim Crow era and transform a modest normal school into an expression of Washington’s profound belief in a future of racial parity. Weiss deftly interweaves the story of the Tuskegee campus with an examination of Taylor's pedagogy and the plight of black architects in the early twentieth century.

—Gary Van Zante, Curator of Architecture and Design, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Architectural historian Ellen Weiss has painstakingly developed a long-overdue and well-documented historical account of Robert R. Taylor, a true American architectural pioneer. She skillfully traces his leadership in the design and evolution of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. Her book provides a wealth of little-known factual information about Taylor and a scholarly historical analysis of his many contributions in architectural education and professional practice. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in architecture and a certain reference for every architecture student.

—Richard K. Dozier, Dean, Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science at Tuskegee University

Riveting and meticulously researched.

—Holly Nadler, Vineyard Gazette

Taylor was America's first professionally trained African American architect, yet Weiss's book is his first full-length biography. This is a contribution long overdue. Aimed primarily at an audience of architects, architecture lovers, and preservationists, Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee carefully roots Taylor in his place and time. It also adds an important footnote to Wilmington [NC] history and to our understanding of the Jim Crow era.

—Ben Steelman, Star News

An engaging social history of the people as well as the buildings of the early 20th century in the South. The reader will gain an appreciation for both the challenges and the achievements of African American professionals through this compelling document, written in language easily accessible to the layperson.

—Brooks Robards, Martha's Vineyard Times


Award of Excellence, Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians

About the Author/Editor

ELLEN WEISS is the author of North Kingstown, Rhode Island (Providence 1978) and City in the Woods: the Life and Design of an American Camp Meeting on Martha’s Vineyard (Oxford 1987 and Northeastern 1998). The latter investigates a unique American community form with architectural and planning inventions that spread across the country in subsequent examples. Her preoccupation with communities built to utopian impulses fuels her current work on Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and its principal designer, Robert R. Taylor. Weiss studied at Oberlin College, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Illinois. She has taught architectural and planning history at several universities and is Professor Emerita at the Tulane University School of Architecture. She has served on the boards of the Society of Architectural Historians, the Vernacular Architecture Forum, and the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians.