Baylor, Waco community gather to celebrate unveiling of first Black graduate statues

The statues of Baylor's first Black graduates, Barbara Walker (left) and Robert Gilbert (right), were revealed Tuesday. Grace Everett | Photographer

By Sydney Matthews | Staff Writer

On Tuesday, members of the Walker and Gilbert family, alumni, faculty, staff, students and others from the Waco community gathered at the steps of Tidwell Bible Building for the unveiling of the statues honoring Baylor’s first Black graduates in 1967, Rev. Robert L. Gilbert and Mrs. Barbara A. Walker.

The ceremony included speeches from Barbara Walker, Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert — Robert Gilbert’s son — President Linda Livingstone and sculptor Benjamin Victor. Within their speeches, the speakers addressed the historical moment for Baylor’s campus and recognizing the struggle that both Black graduates had to endure to reach graduation.

“Rev. Gilbert and Mrs. Walker were two young people who endured racism, threats and injustice before, during and after their time at Baylor,” Livingstone said in her speech. “I am so thankful that 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.”

Kenyatta was in attendance to commemorate his father who passed away in 1992. During his speech, he honored his father’s legacy and shared a few words he believed his father would have said if he was able to see the statue himself.

“If he were physically present today, I believe he would say to each of you, ‘Don’t give up on life. Strive to build beloved communities. Accept no excuse for not being the person God created you to be, and remember to make your life count since your days on this earth are numbered,'” Kenyatta said during the ceremony.

Robert Gilbert's son, Kenyatta, and Barbara Walker answering questions asked by the media. Grace Everett | Photographer
Robert Gilbert’s son, Kenyatta, and Barbara Walker answered questions asked after the unveiling. Grace Everett | Photographer

Barbara Walker said she is dedicating her statue to her mother. Without her, she said none of this would have been possible and that her mother always encouraged her to achieve her goals. Walker also recognized how important this moment is for Baylor students.

“So many of [the students] were from the Deep South, instead of acting out, their way of handling it was just to act like I wasn’t here. There were so many of them that did not have that attitude and now there is an opportunity for all who come after me to see it and have the statue here,” Walker said. “I think that having the statue here as a memory is just a great thing. It will not be forgotten, and I think that it will inspire people of all colors to continue their education and fight for diversity and fight to really include everyone.”

Students across Baylor’s campus were able to join the ceremony to watch history unfold. Some walking between classes stopped to watch the event and witness the unveiling of the statues first-hand.

One of the students that decided to stop and watch was Raleigh, N.C., sophomore Jonah Thole. He said he was happy he was able to see such a historical moment happen on Baylor’s campus.

These statues will serve as a reminder of an important moment in history every day students step into Tidwell, Thole said.

Waco Mayor Dillon Meek said he is now recognizing April 4 to be “Rev. Gilbert and Mrs. Walker Day” for the city of Waco. Serving as another way to recognize their success and reflect on their contribution to Baylor and the city of Waco’s history.

  • Barbara Walker dedicating her statue to her late mother. Grace Everett | Photographer