‘Monuments have performative power’: Baylor unveils statues in honor of first Black graduates

Published: Apr. 4, 2023 at 6:00 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Baylor University is recognizing two trailblazers who forever re-shaped the face of the university by unveiling a pair of statues in honor of the first Black man and Black woman to earn a BU degree back in 1967.

Hundreds of Baylor students, faculty and community members took to the Tidwell Bible Building on Tuesday for the unveiling ceremony.

At the ceremony, sculptor Benjamin Victor explained that he consulted with family members to determine the perfect outfit, age and facial expression for his two designs.

“The time that they spent on campus must’ve been hard,” Victor said.

The first statue is in honor of Rev. Robert Gilbert, who was the first male black graduate from Baylor in 1967. After graduation, he served as a prominent pastor and civil rights leader in Waco up until his death in 1993.

”Monuments have performative power,” Gilbert’s son Kenyatta Gilbert said. “They say something about what we humans value and deem worthy of remembering.”

The second statue is in honor of Barbara Walker who is still alive today and is Baylor’s first female Black graduate.

After earning her B.A. in sociology in 1967, she spent 32 years working with California’s Department of Mental Health, helping patients transition back into their communities.

”Very early in life I felt an obligation,” Walker said. “I felt like somehow I needed to make my mother’s dreams come true and get an education.”

The unveiling ceremony coincided with the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed – 55 years ago.

“Less than a year after our own civil rights trail blazers walked across the commencement stage a leading figure in the civil rights movement was killed,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said.

At the ceremony the City of Waco also proclaimed April 4, 2023 Barbara Walker and Rev. Robert Gilbert Day.