The artist’s finalists for the first black graduate statues will be announced later this week
By Omar Islam and Clay Thompson | Interns
The finalists for Baylor’s first black graduate statues will be identified Friday after the research was announced in July. The statues will be part of an initiative to address Baylor’s historic connection to slavery and Confederation.
According to the Baylor Public Relations timeline, the provisional contract with the chosen artist will be concluded in October or November.
Malcolm Foley, the president’s special advisor on fairness and campus engagement, said he believes this is a step in the right direction for Baylor and shows his commitment to building a fair and equitable culture at Baylor.
“To see resources being devoted to it, not just empty words, it tells me that it is in fact an institutional priority”, said Foley. “In particular, honor the graduates and professors of color who have passed through this campus. They [Gilbert and Walker] as pioneers, especially at Baylor, they deserve this recognition. And it will also physically indicate to the students who come to Baylor that you have a place here.
The two went on to become the first two black students to graduate from Baylor after integration in 1963. Gilbert earned a bachelor’s degree in history, while Walker graduated in sociology. The statues will be placed in front of the Tidwell Bible Building, where the two students took lessons.
Although Gilbert and Walker completed their undergraduate studies on the same day, their experiences in the years before and after graduation were very different.
Gilbert and Walker were both quoted in an interview with Baylor Magazine in 2017. Gilbert said that when he started his studies in the summer of 1965, he felt the victim of recurring racist interactions. In one story in particular, he recounted experiencing racial micro-attacks from his very first teacher. In addition, Gilbert suffered from crippling arthritis, which required him to use a wheelchair and wear crutches.
Despite these setbacks, Gilbert graduated from Baylor in 1967, befriending many faculty members and students along the way. He pastored three churches and a prominent civil rights leader in Waco before passing away in 1992.
Walker, meanwhile, was a student at Paul Quinn College in Dallas. She met a white professor who “took her under his wing,” she said in a recent interview. The same teacher recommended that she be transferred to Baylor, where she ended up in November 1963.
She was happier there than Gilbert, noting that you “had friends or people ignored you.” She said Baylor did not contain the hostility other schools harbored during the integration period.
After graduating, Walker earned a master’s degree in social work from Florida State University and spent three decades as a licensed clinical social worker. Even after his retirement, Walker maintained his connection to Baylor by continuing to speak at campus events.
Regarding the newly announced statues, Walker noted two important impacts the statues will have: They were “good for two things – the legacy for my own family and for people of color.”
“It’s good to recognize that times have changed and I’m happy to see this playing a positive role in the lives of the students,” Walker said. “Baylor has become a role model for managing the past and race relations – on how a Christian institution should lead the way and set an example for other universities. “
Foley said he was optimistic about Baylor’s future, as well as the changes and directions it is heading in.
“We will look forward to continued ways not only to alter physical representations on campus, but also to invest in student life and activities,” he said. “All of those things that really affect the lives of faculty, staff and students on campus, because the goal is to build this just and fair culture, not just to change a particular face on campus.”