Baylor University to erect two statues in honor of first black graduates

The full, unedited report includes key findings on University’s historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy, as acknowledged in June 2020, and recommendations for consideration by Board of Regents

University announces plans to erect statues of Baylor’s first Black graduates, Rev. Robert Gilbert, B.A. ’67, and Mrs. Barbara Walker, B.A. ’67, in front of Tidwell Bible Building

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-709-5959
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WACO, Texas (March 23, 2021) – Baylor University today released the full independent and unedited report of the 26-member Commission on Historic Campus Representations, which was charged by the Baylor Board of Regents with independently reviewing and evaluating the historical record and context of the University and its early leaders solely related to slavery and the Confederacy. The Commission’s report outlines recommendations for consideration by the Board regarding communicating the complete history of the University and its evaluation of all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of the campus within this historical context.

The institution will continue to be known as Baylor University, while the statue of namesake Judge R.E.B. Baylor will maintain its current location on Founders Mall. The report is publicly available at www.baylor.edu/diversity/commission.

Baylor also announced plans today to erect statues in recognition of trailblazing graduates Rev. Robert Gilbert, B.A. ’67, and Mrs. Barbara Walker, B.A. ’67, in front of Tidwell Bible Building, commemorating the two friends’ mutual standing as Baylor’s first Black graduates who helped integrate the University.

Historical Findings, Recommendations of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations

The Commission on Historic Campus Representations – comprised of 26 diverse individuals representing Baylor alumni, Regents, faculty, students and staff – was established as part of a unanimously passed resolution on racial healing and justice by the Board of the Regents on June 25, 2020, that acknowledged the University’s historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy.

After officially accepting the Commission’s final report at its February meeting, the Board charged the University Administration with developing a proposed action plan regarding the recommendations, all of which will be evaluated and considered thoroughly, as feasible and in accordance with existing Board policies and procedures.

“Today we find ourselves, as a Christian community and an institution of higher learning, with an important opportunity as we give consideration to the thoughtful observations and recommendations found within the final, independent report of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations,” said Board Chair Mark Rountree, B.B.A. ’86, M.T.A. ’87, of Dallas. “I join my fellow Regents and President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., in sincere appreciation for the 26-member Commission’s tireless and noble work on behalf of the University and under the extraordinary leadership of co-chairs Regent Alicia D.H. Monroe, M.D., Dean of Music Gary Mortenson, D.M.A, and Associate Athletics Director Walter Abercrombie, B.S. ’82, M.S.Ed. ’92. This 90-plus-page document — being the result of a prayerful, scholarly and collaborative approach over an intensive, five-month period of time — is truly a gift to Baylor University.

“As we begin our important work in response to the Commission’s report, let me state that we are proud of the name of Baylor University. As you will read in the Commission’s report, Judge Baylor was not a perfect man. As a slaveholder, he engaged in a practice we know to be sinful and abhorrent. We do not justify or downplay the evil of slavery. With our University, Judge Baylor established the foundation for hundreds of thousands of students — which now include all races and creeds — to receive a unique educational experience that combines academic excellence and a Christian commitment. We will continue to recognize Judge Baylor for the founding of Baylor University, just as we commit to presenting a more complete history of the University,” Rountree said.

“The resulting actions the Board and University ultimately will take will be guided solely by our Christian mission, anchored singularly in the Gospel’s pattern for redemption and reconciliation, and directed at fostering an environment through which racial equality is inextricably linked to our mission and in which students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of color know they are valued and loved throughout the Baylor community,” Rountree added.

Key Historical Findings

Over the summer and fall, the Commission carried out its work, reviewing the complete historical record and context of the University and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy.

Ahead of the release of the Commission’s full report, the University held three public Baylor Conversation Series events via Zoom – “Perspectives on Our History.” Similar to the historical study undertaken by the Commission, the first two panel discussions featured distinguished experts, who provided context about slavery in the United States, in Texas and among Texas Baptists during the time of Baylor’s founding in the mid-1800s. The final panel was moderated by President Livingstone and featured Chair Rountree and the Commission’s co-chairs, who discussed the process, historical findings and the framework for the Commission’s recommendations.

Several key historical facts that previously have not been acknowledged formed the basis for the Commission’s recommendations:

  • Baylor’s founders and early leaders, including trustees and presidents, were slaveholders. Several continued to justify and support slavery even after the Civil War. The records of the enslaved and their descendants are difficult to find. The Commission references these as the “unknown enslaved.”
  • Judge R.E.B. Baylor, the University’s namesake, was a slaveholder. Enslaved persons formed a significant portion of his wealth in 1860. He did not serve in the Confederate army, but he did continue serving as a judge in Texas during the Civil War.
  • In 1843, founders William Tryon and James Huckins were slaveowners while serving as employees of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. After tensions between Baptists in the north and south over slavery reached an impasse, the Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845, and Tryon and Huckins were appointed by the Domestic Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1846. Huckins left Texas in 1859 and was appointed a chaplain in the Confederate army in 1863.
  • Rufus Burleson was a slaveholder and enlisted in the Confederate army, serving as a chaplain. As president of Baylor (1851-1861) and subsequently Waco University, he encouraged faculty and male students over 18 to join the fight against what he called “Abolition despotism.” He was a prominent supporter of the “Lost Cause” movement following the war.

Recommendation Major Themes

In addition to proposing a plan for documenting and communicating the complete history of Baylor, the Commission was charged with evaluating all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of campus in reference to the original intentions behind their physical location, placement and naming and provide observations for consideration. The Commission’s recommendations on many of the historic representations provide multiple options for resolving the University’s connection to slavery and the lack of historical context or narrative to tell the complete history of Baylor.

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Source: Baylor University