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MIT celebrates stamp honoring its first black graduate

Officials unveiled the US Postal Service's Robert Robinson Taylor stamp.
Officials unveiled the US Postal Service's Robert Robinson Taylor stamp.(John Blanding/Globe Staff)

CAMBRIDGE — For some black students at MIT, the unveiling of a new postage stamp Wednesday had a meaning much larger than the 1-inch square that will grace envelopes.

The stamp honors Robert Robinson Taylor, who in 1892 became the first black graduate of MIT and later an architect and professor at what is now Tuskegee University.

Black students said they came to pay respect to Taylor, who paved the way for them more than a century ago.

“I wouldn’t be graduating from MIT if it wasn’t for Robert Robinson Taylor,” senior Kevin Baptista said at the ceremony in the Stratton Student Center.

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Baptista and a classmate, Dwyane George, said some racial tensions still exist on campus, but they don’t compare to what Taylor must have experienced less than 30 years after the Civil War.

The stamp is part of the US Postal Service’s Black Heritage Stamp Series, and Taylor is the 38th honoree. Others include Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson. The photo on the stamp, which has been in circulation since February, was taken when Taylor was about 23 years old at MIT.

He was born in 1868 in Wilmington, N.C., and learned construction from his father, a former slave, before coming to Boston in 1888.

Denise Simmons, a Cambridge city councilor, spoke at the ceremony about the importance of paying respect to marginalized populations that create tectonic shifts in society.

“We rewrite history by putting them right in the center of history, where they should be,” Simmons said.

“I wouldn’t be graduating from MIT if it wasn’t for Robert Robinson Taylor,” said senior Kevin Baptista.
“I wouldn’t be graduating from MIT if it wasn’t for Robert Robinson Taylor,” said senior Kevin Baptista. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.