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Baylor to erect statues of university's first Black graduates, releases full commissioned report on ties to slavery

Posted at 1:56 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 23:33:35-04

WACO, TX — Baylor University has released the full independent and unedited report of the 26-member Commission on Historic Campus Representations.

Baylor said the university will erect statues in recognition of Baylor's first Black graduates.

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 commission 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."

Baylor said the full, unedited report includes key findings on the university's historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy, as acknowledged in June 2020, and recommendations for consideration by Board of Regents.

The full report can be found HERE.

The Commission on Historic Campus Representations was comprised of 26 diverse individuals representing Baylor alumni, Regents, faculty, students and staff and 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.

Baylor said 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.”

Baylor said 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.

In addition to proposing a plan for documenting and communicating the complete history of the university, Baylor said 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," the university said.

The major themes arising from the Commission's recommendations include:

  • While acknowledging the intent of the installation of monuments in Founders Mall, including the statue of Judge Baylor, was in celebration of the vision of the founders and first trustees to establish a Christian institution, the full history about these individuals is absent and should be told. No recommendation was made to remove the statue of Judge Baylor.
  • Others who contributed to the successful founding of the University, including the unknown enslaved, are not memorialized in any way, and it is recommended by the Commission that this be rectified with a new installation.
  • Burleson Quadrangle, a prominent gathering place for the Baylor Family, should be renamed and a more inclusive name be given to the space. The monument to Rufus Burleson should be relocated to a less prominent location on campus.
  • The University should create an intentional honoring of people of color who have contributed to Baylor's history with statues or other installations on campus.
  • Markers and displays at the historic sites at Independence (the initial Baylor campus) should be updated to incorporate the full history of the University. In addition, Baylor's Line Camp experience should incorporate more complete information about Baylor's founders and early leaders when students are visiting the Independence site.
  • The University Mace should be retired and, if needed, a new mace fashioned in a way that reflects the rich diversity of Baylor.

Baylor announced today plans 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, "where they, like today's students, took classes in history and religion as part of Baylor’s undergraduate core curriculum and also walked along the street where the Judge Baylor statue is located."

The statues of Gilbert and Walker will commemorate the two friends’ mutual standing as Baylor’s first Black graduates who helped integrate Baylor.

"The late Rev. Gilbert and Barbara Walker are deserving of additional and more prominent recognition for not only their place in Baylor University’s history, but also their lasting impact on who we are today and who we chose to be as an institution of higher learning in the future," President Livingstone said.

"The presence of two new statues honoring people of color on the Baylor campus will contribute to a more complete telling of the Baylor story and honors all who contributed to the institution’s success across the ages. The new outdoor statues also will create a highly visible, welcoming and affirming message that all members of the Baylor Family are valued in fulfillment of the University’s Christian mission."

The University expects to review sculptors and initiate design proposals in early summer and select a final sculptor in early fall.

"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," said Board Chair Mark Rountree, B.B.A. '86, M.T.A. '87, of Dallas.