Baylor University has recently dedicated statues honoring its first Black graduates, the late Rev. Robert L. Gilbert, and Barbara A. Walker.
The bronze statues – created by renowned sculptor Benjamin Victor – were placed on the walkway to the Tidwell Bible Building. On Jun. 2, 1967, Gilbert and Walker became the first Black students to attain undergraduate degrees from Baylor.
Gilbert – also the first Black student in Baylor’s graduate religion program – went on to become an educator, pastor, and civil rights leader. He was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Waco Conference of Christians and Jews in 1992. And in 2020, Baylor established the Robert L. Gilbert Scholar in Religion Graduate Stipend.
Walker would go on to serve the public as well, spending 32 years in California’s Department of Mental Health helping patients get assistance to transition back into jobs and the community. In 2017, Walker was given Baylor’s Medal of Service for Contributions to the Professions, Christian Ministry.
“Baylor University is to be commended today for this recognition of two sainted, pioneering African American bearers of human dignity and intelligence,” said Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert, professor of homiletics at Howard University and son of Robert and Elwayne Gilbert. “In memorializing my father, Rev. Robert Gilbert, and the living legend Mrs. Barbara Walker, the University has said, by way of this act, that it chooses to be a university that remembers history rightly, to be forward-thinking and to be scrupulous in seeking out tangible ways to reimagine responsibility for the future. That it intends to live into a grander moral vision that would make her worthy of bearing the imprimatur Christian university.”
Walker dedicated her statue to her mother, who had always dreamed of going to college.
“If it weren’t for her, I would have never had the opportunity to go to Baylor,” Walker said. “I always felt an obligation that I need to make my mother’s dream come true and get an education. From the time I was a little girl, it was always in my heart that I was going to college. Baylor opened up a way for me to graduate in 1967, and I feel like we both graduated from Baylor.”
During the ceremony, Waco Mayor Pro Tem Josh Borderud also declared Apr. 4, 2023, to be Rev. Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker Day in Waco.