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Baylor University to release commissioned report on ties to slavery by end of the month

Administration to create action plan on recommendations from Historical Commission
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Posted at 8:35 AM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 15:25:41-05

WACO, TX  — Baylor University will release a report commissioned by the Board of Reagents on its historical ties to slavery and how it reflects campus.

The information includes an evaluation of all aspects of campus, including statues and monuments, and their context to slavery and racial injustice.

Before the release of the report, the university is having a conversation. One that hits close to home and will discuss slavery in Texas and among Texas Baptist, which will cover the Commission's historical findings and a framework for its recommendations.

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A 2020 Board of Regents Resolution on Racial Healing and Justice stated "a number of University leaders and prominent individuals connected to the institution supported Confederate causes and engaged in the fight to preserve the institution of slavery both during and following the Civil War, including some serving as members of the Confederacy's armed forces."

In a press release, Baylor University announced the three-part conversation series "Perspectives on History" will culminate with an outline on the Commission's work on Campus Historic Representations related to Baylor's History and the framework for the Commission's recommendations.

"This Baylor Conversation Series event is the first step in understanding the historical context of Baylor’s founding and early years and will provide a foundation for two additional conversations – one on slavery in Texas and in Baptist life, and another on slavery around the time of Baylor’s founding in 1845," President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., said. "This historical study is similar to one undertaken by members of Baylor’s Commission on Historic Campus Representations as part of a commitment to forthrightly and fully present Baylor’s history and to foster an environment of racial equality in which all students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Baylor know they are valued and loved throughout the reaches of the Baylor Family."

Moderated by Ronald Angelo Johnson, Ph.D., Ralph and Bessia Mae Lynn in the Department of History at Baylor, the first of the three-part series took place Tuesday night. Johnson was joined by a panel of experts from Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, and Rice University to provide insight into slavery in America.

The second event will take place on Tuesday, March 9, which Dr. Johnson will again moderate on slavery in Texas and among Texas Baptists.

The final of the three-part conversation series will occur on March 16, when President Livingstone will outline the Commission's work related to Baylor's history and the framework for the Commission's recommendations. According to a press release, the Commission's report will be released publicly by the end of March.

On Tuesday, 25 News reached out to Baylor's Office of Media and Public Relations via email to inquire about setting up an interview with either President Livingstone or Board Chair Rountree regarding the timeline ahead of the report's release. In an email, a university spokesperson responded, saying they will not be doing any commission-related media until the report's release at the end of the month.

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Baylor University Campus

The Commission was established in June 2020, through the Board of the Reagents resolution. In that resolution, the Board acknowledged the University’s historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy.

We understand and acknowledge a number of the Baptist leaders and their congregants who began moving into Texas in the 1830s, primarily from the southern half of the United States, owned enslaved persons and held racial views common in that era. These early Baptists eventually included Baylor’s three founders – Judge R.E.B. Baylor, Rev.
Baylor University Board of Regents Resolution on Racial Healing and Justice - June 25, 2020

Comprised of 26 members including regents, faculty members and students from the university the Commission was given the task to “provide guidance on representing Baylor’s history as the University continues working to foster an environment through which racial equality is inextricably linked to its mission..”

The Commission's work was guided by four specific charges:

1. Review the complete historical record and context of the University and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.

2. Propose a plan for documenting and communicating the complete history of Baylor and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.

3. Evaluate all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of campus within this complete historical context and in reference to the original intentions behind their physical location, placement and naming and provide observations for consideration.

4. Prepare a final report to be provided to the Board of Regents and the President no later than Dec. 20, 2020.

The Commission's work was guided by four specific charges:

1. Review the complete historical record and context of the University and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.

2. Propose a plan for documenting and communicating the complete history of Baylor and its founders and early leaders, including historical connections to slavery and racial injustice.

3. Evaluate all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of campus within this complete historical context and in reference to the original intentions behind their physical location, placement and naming and provide observations for consideration.

4. Prepare a final report to be provided to the Board of Regents and the President no later than Dec. 20, 2020.
Baylor University Board of Regents Resolution on Racial Healing and Justice - June 25, 2020

In February, the Board of Regents officially accepted the Commission's final report, passing a resolution that thanks to the Commission's members and task the University Administration to develop a proposed action plan regarding the Commission's recommendations. According to a February press release, the Administration will provide a briefing for Board consideration and action before implementing any recommendation.

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In February, student Sammy Onilenla led a protest at the Judge Baylor statue, advocating for the figure to be taken down to promote racial healing. “Seeing these schools around Texas stand up to their confederate past does give me hope.” Onilenla explained via FaceTime.

Until those recommendations and plans of action are announced, one is left to speculate on what that future holds for aspects of campus students. In February, student Sammy Onilenla led a protest at the Judge Baylor statue, advocating for the figure to be taken down to promote racial healing.

“I don’t believe Judge Baylor should be there because as students it’s a reminder of the institution being founded on racism,” Onilenla said. “He was a slaver. They can have someone else there.”

Onilenla said he believes the statue should be taken and moved somewhere off-campus. When asked about the anticipated release of the Historical Commission’s report, Onilenla said at first he thought he wasn’t going to be happy with the final product. Still, he’s appreciative of the Commission’s work and believes there’s a lot in it he’ll agree with.

In the coming weeks, he plans to keep up with the “Perspectives on History” conversation series but isn’t expecting the university to remove the Judge Baylor statute.

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In February, students at Baylor University advocated for the removal of the Judge Baylor statue to promote racial healing.

“I know it’s not going to happen soon,” he said. “I know it’s not going to happen before graduate. But hopefully, it’ll happen in the next 10 or 20 years.”

For now, Onilenla said the fact questions are being asked and, in some instances, heard at institutions of higher learning across the state is something positive he can take away, at least for the short term.

“I mean even University of Texas is having the problem,” Onilenla explained. “Seeing these schools around Texas stand up to their confederate past does give me hope.”

In walk across campus to the Judge Baylor statue, you’ll find not every student is aware of the upcoming release of the Historical Commissions report.

“At least these historical things are getting addressed,” Baylor student Tyler Kingston said.

And among those who are, you’ll find different opinions on the Judge Baylor statue.

“I think it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Baylor student Jenna Guerra said. “But I also think that it's part of our history and it brings light to how far we’ve come as a country.”

But in what is perhaps symbolic of the family-like atmosphere at Baylor, you can tell students care about how these issues impact their fellow students.

“Everyone’s super close, it’s the environment we have,” Guerra said. “When group has a problem, it affects us all.”

“I think because Baylor is so different than a lot of state institutions," Baylor student Kamri Alexander said. "It feels way more like a family.”

According to Alexander, right now, the family is asking themselves what’s the best way to move forward

“As an African American it does affect me walking past the statue, but I don’t expect Baylor to change what was done in the past,” Alexander said. “We understand that they can’t change what this university was at one point. We know Judge Baylor had slaves and racism was deeply embedded here.”

Alexander said whether to take down monuments or statues like Judge Baylor is challenging to answer.

“It is a hard question, because then you start asking should we change the name?” she asked. “I don’t have hope they’ll take the statue down, but also there’s a lot of other things our University would that would be way more meaningful than taking down Judge Baylor.”

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Baylor student Kamri Alexander said whether to take down monuments or statues like Judge Baylor is challenging to answer. “It is a hard question, because then you start asking should we change the name?”

Asked if she believes the way Baylor is addressing its past might serve as an example for other universities, Alexander said it might.

“At the end of the day, it seems like people understand we’re all looking at this ugly past together.” People standing up for what’s right is something a lot of African Americans don’t get to see firsthand, and I can say for now I’ve had a good experience, I’ve seen that.”

The second "Perspectives on our History" conversation will cover Slavery in Texas and Among Texas Baptist, The event will take place Tuesday, March 9, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm CT, via Zoom.

  • Mekla Audain, Ph.D., Associate Professor of 19th-century U.S. history and African American history, The College of New Jersey
  • Michael E. Williams, Ph.D., Professor of History, Dallas Baptist University
  • Bill J. Leonard, Ph.D, Founding Dean and Professor of Divinity Emeritus, Wake Forest University School of Divinity

The third and final "Perspective on our History" event will take place Tuesday, March 16, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm CT via Zoom. President Livingstone will outline the work of the Commission as it relates to Baylor and speak on the framework for the Commission's recommendations. you can follow the series, and attend them when they happen here.