Finalists for artist of first Black graduates statues to be announced later this week

Statues outside of Tidwell Bible Building will recognize Baylor's first black graduates. Grace Fortier | Photographer

By Omar Islam and Clay Thompson | Interns

Finalists for Baylor’s first Black graduates statues will be identified on Friday after the search was announced in July. The statues will be part of an initiative to address Baylor’s historical connection to slavery and the Confederacy.

According to the timeline from Baylor Public Relations, the tentative contract with the chosen artist will be made in October or November.

Malcolm Foley, special advisor to the president for Equity and Campus Engagement, said he believed this was a step in the right direction for Baylor and showed a commitment to building a just and equitable culture at Baylor.

“To see resources being put behind it, not just kind of lip service, that indicates to me that this is actually an institutional priority,” Foley said. “Particularly honoring the graduates and faculty of color who’ve come through this campus. They [Gilbert and Walker] as trailblazers, especially at Baylor, they are worthy of that recognition. And it will also physically indicate to students who come to Baylor that you have a place here.”

The two subsequently became the first two Black students to graduate at Baylor following integration in 1963. Gilbert graduated with a bachelor’s in history, while Walker completed her sociology degree. The statues will be placed in front of the Tidwell Bible Building, where both students took classes.

Although both Gilbert and Walker completed their undergraduate education on the same day, their experiences in the years up to and following graduation were vastly different.

Gilbert and Walker were both quoted in a Baylor Magazine interview in 2017. Gilbert said that when he began his studies in the summer of 1965, he felt victimized through recurring racist interactions. In one particular story, he recounted experiencing racial microaggressions from his very first professor. Additionally, Gilbert suffered from crippling arthritis, requiring him to utilize a wheelchair and wear crutches.

Despite these setbacks, Gilbert completed his degree at Baylor in 1967, befriending numerous faculty members and students along the way. He became pastor of three churches and a prominent civil rights leader of Waco before passing away in 1992.

Walker, on the other hand, was a student at Paul Quinn College in Dallas. She met a white professor who “took her under his wing,” according to her in a recent interview. That same professor recommended her to transfer to Baylor, where she found herself by November 1963.

She found herself to be happier there than Gilbert was, noting that you “either had friends or had people ignore you.” She said Baylor did not contain the hostility that other schools harbored during the integration period.

Following her graduation, 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 her retirement, Walker has maintained her connection with Baylor by continuing to speak at campus events.

On the subject of 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 am glad to see that it is playing a positive part in the lives of students,” Walker said. “Baylor has become a role model of dealing with the past and having to deal with race relations — on how a Christian institution should lead the way and set an example for other universities to follow.”

Foley said he was hopeful about the future of Baylor, as well as the changes and directions its heading in.

“We’ll be looking forward to kind of continuing ways to not only shift the physical representations on campus, but also to invest in student life and student activities,” he said. “All these things that actually affect the lives of faculty, staff and students on campus because the goal is to build that just and equitable culture, not just change a particular face on campus.”