Baylor dedicates statues honoring first Black graduates outside Tidwell
Tuesday was a historic day on Baylor’s campus, as the university unveiled and dedicated statues of Rev. Robert Gilbert (BA ’67) and Barbara Walker (BA ’67) — Baylor’s first two Black graduates.
The statues now stand outside Tidwell Bible Building, where Gilbert (history) and Walker (sociology) took classes in their academic majors. The honor recognizes the pair for the trails they blazed in helping integrate Baylor more than a century after its founding.
“Today, the landscape of Baylor University’s campus is changing,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said at yesterday’s dedication. “Rev. Gilbert and Mrs. Walker were two young people who endured racism, threats and injustice before, during and after their time at Baylor. I am so thankful they did not give up or surrender to hate. Through their perseverance in the face of tremendous adversity and injustice, they paved the way for Baylor to grow into a multicultural, welcoming place for thousands of new students each and every year.”
Gilbert came to Baylor as a transfer student from Paul Quinn College, initially looking to get his law degree in order to change the injustices around him. After graduation, he spent three years as the first African-American teacher at a Waco-area middle school before realizing a call to ministry. Despite severe health challenges, Gilbert pastored at churches throughout Waco and the surrounding area, and was well known as a local civil rights leader. He passed away in 1992 at age 50.
Walker also transferred to Baylor from Paul Quinn, excelling academically from an early age and finding her fit at Baylor in the field of social work. She later earned a master’s degree in social work from Florida State, then spent more than 30 years as a licensed clinical social worker, including leading the state of California’s Department of Mental Health’s inpatient and outpatient mental health programs for many years — like Gilbert, seeing her life’s work as a calling and ministry. She retired in 2001, but has remained connected to Baylor, often returning to speak to students.
“In memorializing my father, Rev. Robert Gilbert, and the living legend Mrs. Barbara Walker, the university has said, by way of this act, that it chooses to be a university that remembers history rightly, to be forward-thinking and to be scrupulous in seeking out tangible ways to reimagine responsibility for the future,” said Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert (BA ’96), Rev. Gilbert’s son. “That it intends to live into a grander moral vision that would make her worthy of bearing the imprimatur Christian university.”
“My mother was a brilliant woman, born in 1908, when there were very few opportunities for African-Americans to do anything,” said Walker. “I always felt an obligation that I needed to make my mother’s dream come true and get an education. From the time I was a little girl, it was always in my heart that I was going to college… Baylor opened up a way for me to graduate in 1967, and I feel like we both graduated from Baylor.”
The Gilbert/Walker statues are a direct outgrowth of Baylor’s Commission on Historic Campus Representations, which in 2020-21 studied the history of the university and its early leaders relative to slavery and the Confederacy and offered recommendations that led to a plan to more fully tell the history of Baylor and its early leaders on campus.
Sic ’em, Rev. Gilbert and Mrs. Walker!