Michael Heiskell: A BU pioneer as Baylor Law’s first black graduate
In 1970, Michael Heiskell was one of just five black students attending Baylor. By the time he finished his undergraduate degree just two years later, that number had grown to nearly 100 — thanks in part to Heiskell’s own efforts.
A mover and shaker, the Fort Worth native worked diligently during his time at Baylor to make the campus a place where black students could not only get an education, but also get involved in campus life. Heiskell (pictured center, above) was the first president of Agiza Funika (“Blacks Involved” in Swahili), a social-service club designed to give black students a social outlet while getting them involved in campus and community life. Heiskell was also president of the political science club Pi Sigma Alpha and a member of both Student Foundation and Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society.
Heiskell strongly believed that the American system was capable of change — and he has worked diligently over the past 50 years to create that change. He consistently worked with Agiza Funika to raise money for needy families in the Waco community, and even took trips to cities across Texas to recruit black students to Baylor. He used his involvement and voice to fight the subtle discrimination that still existed on campus.
“Once I got there [to Baylor], it was a unique experience,” he recalled recently. “I was pleasantly surprised at how they welcomed me. I did have a few rough patches here and there, but I was also undergirded by the spirit of my family, pushing me to do the things that people normally don’t do. Persistence counts. Stay persistent and good things will happen.”
And persist he did. When Heiskell started Baylor Law School in 1972, he was the only black student, and when he graduated in 1974, he became the first black Baylor Law School graduate — paving the way not only for future black students at Baylor University, but also at Baylor Law School.
After earning his law degree, Heiskell went on to serve as an assistant district attorney in Galveston County and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Since 1984, he has worked as a trial lawyer in Fort Worth. He has received a host of honors over the years, including “Lawyer of the Year” from the Tarrant County Black Bar Association and the Presidential Award of Excellence from the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. In 2015, he was inducted into the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Hall of Fame.
Sic ’em, Michael Heiskell!
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