Ad Unitatem: Toward Unity

February 8, 2022
Ad Unitatem: Toward Unity

Message from the Special Advisor to the President, Malcolm B. Foley, Ph.D.

When Black historian Carter Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in 1926, he did so with the hope that it would eventually no longer be necessary. He hoped that education about Black history would become so mainstream that a week would become redundant. In the midst of the lynching era, when Black men and women were killed by mobs, Woodson courageously fought for education as one of many remedies for the violence. As a result, Negro History Week was to call attention to the numerous contributions that Black men and women had made and continued to make to American society, especially their role in liberating themselves from slavery as members of the Union Army. Woodson was convinced that the time was best spent not necessarily honoring particular individuals, but rather learning the history of a people.

As we begin Black History Month, we have that responsibility. Woodson surprisingly said, “This crusade [for Negro History Week] is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.” While education does not entirely eradicate violence, it is a profound tool that can bring us together. But that can only happen if we recognize that we share the responsibilities of educating ourselves and one another.

Such a project is only possible in a truly integrated environment, and it is notable that, racially, Baylor was not integrated until 1963. Even then, however, that integration was in name only. True integration requires not only presence, but influence. It is not merely the presence of multiple races and ethnicities that will make us an integrated and just university. Rather, it requires the substantive participation, valuing and elevation of people who have been historically excluded. To our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni, know that you have a real hand in shaping what it means to be a Baylor Bear.

This month, as we remember and honor the Black men and women who have done this work at Baylor and today, I have the honor of presenting to you some words from Baylor’s first Black female graduate, Mrs. Barbara Walker, BA ’67, who with the Rev. Robert Gilbert, BA ’67, Baylor’s first Black male graduate, will soon be recognized with a statue in front of Tidwell Bible Building on Baylor’s campus.

Q: Why choose Baylor when you did?

I believe God actually did the choosing for me to come from a small African-American town in Oklahoma to Waco to an all-Black college and have a professor there who recognized something in me that I did not see at the time. I had to have had a divine hand guiding me for all the pieces to fit together. And the fact that this was the year Baylor chose to open its doors to African Americans, coinciding with what was transpiring in my life. So I definitely give God all the credit for me coming to Baylor.

Q: What is your fondest Baylor memory?

Having Barbara Blair as my first roommate, then Carol Steckline and Virginia Gray as roommate and suitemate after Barbara left. They played a major role in my adjusting to Baylor.

Q: What was a difficulty that you faced at Baylor? How did you overcome it?

Probably the biggest difficulty for me was one professor in the Math department. I don't know that it had the resolution I preferred, since I ended up changing my major because of it. It affected me deep in my soul. I never knew that Baylor had hired an African-American professor and that she was there while I attended Baylor. Had I known, my career choice might have been different. But my second choice may have been a better fit, for God opened so many doors. I do believe that things happen for a reason when you are God’s child.

Q: If you could tell the Baylor community one thing, what would it be?

It is great to witness the efforts that this administration is making to correct some of Baylor’s past historical mistakes. But if you really want to help, get to know true African-American history and culture and understand how things came to be as they are. I recommend the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. People of every race should read it. It is also on CD. And Hulu is featuring a documentary, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which is excellent. Ms. Morrison was the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in literature. Familiarize yourself with her works. These are two great beginnings.

Q: What is it like to consider having a statue of yourself on Baylor’s campus?

This question was more difficult to answer for me. I really had not thought about it, except that I am humbled for such a tribute. It means a lot to me because of the legacy it leaves for my family. I would like for future Baylor students to know something about me — that I was willing to do something so many would not, especially during the turbulent time of that day. I want them to know that there have always been good people of all races willing to do what was right regarding the question of integration. And Baylor has been part of the good.

Continuous Improvement

Baylor University continues to implement a variety of initiatives designed to create a more equitable and compassionate campus. It’s a demonstration of the University’s commitment to making continuous improvements in all areas of Baylor’s operations and institutional programming as we bring a Christian voice to the table among the nation’s leading universities as a preeminent Christian research university.

During the observance of Black History Month throughout February, Baylor is offering a variety of opportunities to gather in celebration and fellowship as well as resources to use to learn more about Black history, including the following:

  • The Life and Legacy of Important African Americans in Texas from February 1-28 at Mayborn Museum Complex.
  • Black History Month Speaker Series featuring Dr. Christopher Cameron at 3:30 p.m. on February 10 in Foster 143/144, presented by the Department of History and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.
  • Neighbor Night at 6 p.m. on February 22 in the Bobo Spiritual Life Center, sponsored by Better Together BU.
  • Audacious Hope: Trials and Triumphs of Black Fatherhood Across Generations at 6:30 p.m. on February 24 at the Garland School of Social Work, sponsored by the Baylor University Center for Church and Community Impact.
  • Black Women’s Conference at 12 p.m. on February 26 in the Bill Daniel Student Center, sponsored by the Baylor University Department of Multicultural Affairs.