Baylor releases historic commission report

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer, Video by George Schroeder | Broadcast Reporter

The long-awaited report written by the Commission on Historic Campus Representations was released to the public Tuesday afternoon. Baylor also announced it will create a monument recreating the likeness of Rev. Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker, Baylor’s first Black graduates.

The recommendations the commission made when examining Baylor’s historic connections to the Confederacy and slavery include: removing the statue of Rufus C. Burleson from Burleson Quadrangle and moving it to a less prominent location and creating a monument in honor of the “unknown enslaved” who were likely “instrumental in constructing the original campus where Baylor began its journey.” Other recommendations were also made, which can be read in the full report.

Chair of the Board of Regents Mark Rountree wrote in an email sent out to the Baylor family the removal of the Judge Baylor statue was not one of the recommendations made by the diverse 26-member group.

“As we begin our important work in response to the Commission’s report, let me again state that we are proud of the name of Baylor University,” Rountree wrote. “Our institution will continue to be known as Baylor University. And like the name of our institution, the statue of our namesake and founder, Judge R.E.B. Baylor, will maintain its current location and presence on our campus.”

Rountree wrote it is important to remember that the charge of the commission was to focus on the untold story of Baylor’s early history.

“The Commission’s work should not be viewed as a complete history of Baylor, particularly as it does not consider the historic implications of other racial and ethnic groups, nor should it be viewed as a biographical treatise on the University’s founders and early leaders or as a discourse on the history of slavery and its impact on our state or University,” Rountree wrote. “To read and evaluate the report as such would not only result in a limited and skewed portrait of the University’s founders and early leaders, but would also diminish the integrity, validity and potential impact of the Commission’s important work.”

President Linda Livingstone said the commission’s work is a way to acknowledge the university’s dark parts of history and use them to move forward in terms of healing and redemption and reconciliation.

“We really see this as an important step forward and important representation of our witnesses as a Christian university, and building a really good foundation not just about the past, but building on that for a really strong future that is welcoming to all members of our community,” Livingstone said. “We look forward to people’s responses to the commission report and to conversations that will happen after everyone’s had a chance to read and reflect.”

Rountree also suggested in the email to watch the Conversation Series: Perspectives on Our History before diving into the report in order to understand the full history and context around the commission’s work.

The report begins by giving a brief historical context of the time period when Baylor was founded. It said slavery was “woven into the cultural and economic fabric of the Republic of Texas.”

“Given this historical context, it is not surprising that Baylor University and prominent individuals connected to the University had ties to slavery,” the report stated. “All three of Baylor’s primary founders were slave owners, 11 of Baylor’s first 15 members of the Board of Trustees were slave owners, and Baylor’s first four presidents were slave owners.”

In general, on Founders Mall, the commission recommended erecting a new monument to honor the “unknown enslaved” who were responsible for building Baylor’s campus in Independence. The Centennial Time Capsule Monument is made of stones from the Independence campus, drawing a connection to the antebellum era.

The Commission found that Judge R.E.B. Baylor, the university’s namesake and co-founder, was a slaveholder and supported the Confederacy. Census documents showed he owned 33 slaves in 1860, and they made up a significant portion of his wealth.

Judge Baylor did not serve in the Confederate army, but he did serve as a judge in Texas during the Civil War, where he sentenced multiple slaves to death.

The report stated the commission was concerned about the implied words on the statue, “He exemplified in his life the motto of Baylor University Pro Ecclesia/Pro Texana.”

“Judge Baylor was pro church—but it was a church that supported slavery and unjust treatment to men, women, and children based on the color of their skin,” the report stated. “There is no evidence in God’s word supporting injustice and inhumane treatment of Black persons; therefore, to preserve the honor and credibility of Baylor University’s commitment to the Christian faith, this statement must be removed or further explained.”

According to the report, the two other co-founders of Baylor, William Tryon and James Huckins, were also slave owners. They both were members of the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1843 until they were condemned by a northern newspaper for being slaveholders. They left in 1845 to join the Southern Baptist Convention. Huckins was also a chaplain for the Confederate Army.

The commission requested that the whole context be added to Tryon and Huckins’ memorials and even possibly combining them into one monument to make space for the “unknown enslaved” monument on one side of Judge Baylor.

The report also suggested significant change at Burleson Quadrangle, which contains many historical markers and a statue of Rufus C. Burleson himself, a former president of Baylor. Burleson owned one slave, whom he referred to as “legal chattel.”

In addition to owning a slave, Burleson was an advocate for the Confederacy. Burleson highly encouraged students to fight in the Confederate army. He was enlisted as a private in Col. Joseph W. Speight’s Fifteenth Texas Infantry Regiment and was later appointed as a chaplain for the Confederate Army.

After the war, Burleson was a prominent promoter of the “Lost Cause,” the effort to honor the memory of the antebellum and Confederate heroes.

The commission recommended changing the name of the Burleson Quadrangle to something more welcoming to all students, such as the Baylor Family Quadrangle, University Quadrangle, Reconciliation Quadrangle or something similar to help create new Baylor University traditions.

They also recommended moving the Burleson statue to a less prominent location on campus or to the Mayborn Museum. The Burleson statue was erected in the Jim Crow Law era and was recognized as a Confederate memorial by former Baylor president Samuel Palmer Brooks.

Whatever the administration decides to do about the Burleson statue, the report said the full context of Burleson as a man must be added.

In the Burleson Quadrangle, there are many historical markers put up by the Texas Historic Commission. The report suggested Baylor to work with the Texas Historical Commission on updated historical markers to tell the full history in the Burleson Quadrangle and the “whole truth” of the Burleson legacy.

The report also suggested using the Burleson Quadrangle to introduce new traditions that show Baylor is committed to be welcoming, diverse and Christ-centered.

There were many other recommendations, including:

  • A commemorative tile walkway on Founders Mall
  • Relocating the bells, currently in the Burleson Quadrangle
  • Adding historical context to the Baylor website
  • Consider the possibility of renaming Carroll Library
  • Retiring the Mace, a golden sword given by Andrew Jackson and two walking canes; one owned by Burleson and the other by Sam Houston. The Mace is currently used in Commencement processions
  • Removing Judge Baylor’s likeness from the honorary Founders Medal
  • Adding QR codes or technology to historical areas on campus to link to report and updated website

Rountree said he appreciated that the majority of the commission’s recommendations were additive rather than subtractive, making the focus to elevate Baylor.

Rountree also noted that the way the commission shared the history of the founders was in the spirit of the Gospel message of redemption and reconciliation.

“The Commission’s evaluation of this part of our founders and early leaders’ lives is done not to humiliate them, but to humanize them,” Rountree said. “I think by helping us more fully understand their humanity, which includes their flaws, their failures, and yes, these grievous sins, we are now better able to see and recognize how God, through his mercy and providence … accomplished through them despite their failures and their frailties.”

Livingstone said it is too early in the process to give specific details about how and what recommendations the administration will implement, but it will be an ongoing process over the next few months and even years.

“If you look at those recommendations, there’s a lot of them that have to do with Founder’s Mall … and a lot of them that have to do with Burleson Quadrangle,” Livingstone said. “So I think that at least initially, we will really try to look holistically at the recommendations.”

Livingstone said there is more racial healing to come at Baylor beyond the commission report. She said one goal is to build a welcoming and engaging culture for everyone on campus.

“It’s a wide variety of things that impacts students, impacts faculty and impacts staff that we’ve got to continue to work on in the months and years ahead,” Livingstone said. “This is an ongoing process. It’s not something that you check a list, and you’ve done it and you get to move on. It’s something we know is an effort we have to be engaged in really continuously into the future.”