Robert Rochon Taylor (1899–1957)

Image Ownership: Public Domain




Robert Rochon Taylor was an architect and early housing
activist in Chicago, Illinois
who became Chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority in 1942.  He is the son of Robert Robinson Taylor who
was the first African American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (1892) and the first black professor of architecture at Tuskegee University in Alabama.  Robert Rochon Taylor is the grandfather of
Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to President Barack Obama.  

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1899, Taylor
originally studied architecture at Washington, D.C.‘s Howard
University

(1916-1919).  Before transferring to the University of Illinois,
for three years Taylor gained valuable
experience running a sawmill designed by his father in Opelika, Alabama.  After his graduation in 1925 with a Bachelor
of Science in business administration, Taylor
moved to Chicago
where he initially devoted less time to architecture and became more involved
in the real estate and insurance business. 
In 1928, Taylor became the secretary and
general manager of Liberty Life Insurance Company of America
and helped design the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments (the first housing complex
in Chicago’s
South Side built for middle class African Americans).

By the early 1930s Taylor
worked with a group of local black business leaders to who form the Illinois
Federal Savings and Loan Association, one of only two savings and loan institutions
that provided mortgages to would-be black homeowners on Chicago’s South Side. Because of his work and
growing prominence as a black business leader, Taylor was appointed vice chairman of the
Chicago Housing Authority in 1935 and later chairman in 1939.  Robert Taylor believed in safe and affordable
housing for Chicagoans and along with other city officials of the era, sought
to remove slums from the South Side black community known as the Black Belt.  Taylor was a
proponent of scattering public housing throughout Chicago which many civil rights advocates
called for to promote residential integration in this racially divided
city. 

Taylor
remained the Chair of the Chicago Housing Authority until 1950 when a dispute
with the Chicago City Council over future sites for public housing prompted his
resignation.  Taylor opposed the City Council’s efforts to
limit black occupancy in public housing projects to all-black neighborhoods and
resigned when it became evident that city leaders were intent on preserving
racial segregation.

Robert Rochon Taylor died in Chicago on March 1, 1957.  Two years later the massive South Side Public
Housing Project that was initiated that year was named the Robert Rochon
Taylor Homes
.  Given his support for scattered site public
housing, Robert Rochon Taylor probably would have opposed the project named in
his honor. 

Source:

D. Bradford Hunt, Blueprints for Disaster (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009); Michelle Cottle, "The Woman to See," thenewrepublic.com, August 27, 2008; Clarence G. Williams, "From 'Tech' to Tuskegee: The Life of Robert Robinson Taylor, 1868-1942," http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/blacks-at-mit/taylor.html.