Artist for statues of first Black graduates chosen, to be announced Thursday

Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker, class of '67, were Baylor's first Black graduates. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

By Ana Ruiz Brictson | Staff Writer

President Linda Livingstone is scheduled to announce the artist for Baylor’s first Black graduates statue on Feb. 3.

In 1967, Barbara Walker and Robert Gilbert became the first Black students to graduate from Baylor. On March 23, 2021, Baylor announced its plans to create a historical representation
of them.

According to Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications and chief marketing officer, the artist was selected a week after four finalists were interviewed on Nov. 31 and Dec. 1.

Cook said that in addition to members of the Campus Experience Project team, Barbara Walker and members of Robert Gilbert’s family were invited to help conduct the interviews.

Additionally, the Campus Experience Project team brought in Dr. Heidi J. Hornik, chair and professor of art and art history, to review, interview and give her expertise.

“All of the artists were very, very qualified,” Hornik said. “I felt like the selection was very difficult. They each presented their work, and they also did moquettes or small models of how they envisioned the work, should they be given the decisions.”

Cook said Baylor received a tremendous number of responses from artists across
the country.

“These are sculptors who have worked with other institutions of higher education, who have works in museums and even a statuary hall at the U.S. Capitol,” Cook said. “We could not have been more pleased with the interest of sculptors across the country in this important for Baylor.”

The project is expected to have a process of around 18 to 24 months. According to Cook, this process includes the sculptor working with the families of the graduates and sculpting the statue, after which the statue will undergo the bounding process to be cast and bronzed before being delivered to the front of Tidwell
Bible Building.

“I am so proud that we are showing our community, showing visitors, showing anyone who comes into that space of the strides that we have made as a community toward inclusion, toward diversity,” Dr. Ronald Angelo Johnson, associate professor of history, said. “I think statues represent that the roads to equality and inclusion are not easy, but they are so necessary. And the strides that we make, and the successes that are made, should be celebrated, and I think these statues go a long way to do that.”

Johnson’s office is located in Tidwell Bible Building, and he said he looks forward to walking past the representations of Walker and Gilbert every day. As the only African American in the department of history, Johnson said he takes great courage and inspiration from the first Black graduates of Baylor.

“I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be the only African American male and the only African Americans you know [are] these two very isolated students, within a sea of White American students, many of who had never gone to school with an African American student,” Johnson said. “I take great inspiration from them as I navigate the spaces around Baylor.”

Cook said the project has been a little delayed because of COVID-19, dealing with schedules and flying families and finalists in. Cook said the team is excited to announce who received the commission, given the importance of this project to the campus community.