Fifty years ago, Barbara Walker and Rev. Robert Gilbert graduated from Baylor University as the first African Americans.
Since, many have followed in their footsteps and set firsts for the African American community at Baylor. These trailblazers and their family members gathered on Baylor’s campus to be honored for their bravery and commitment to making a difference. From the first black graduates to the first black cheerleader, the Black Alumni Network recognized 11 pioneers who exemplified boldness. The honorees encouraged black audience members not settle with injustice but to engage in the mission of integration and inclusion like they have since 1968.
BARBARA WALKER, First Black Female Graduate in 1968: “I give all credit to my Lord and savior. I am a firm believer that if he had not opened every door that was opened, I would have never been here . . . I love Baylor. I know that Baylor has its problems . . . But Baylor gave me an opportunity that I will never forget.”
REV. ROBERT GILBERT, First Black Male Graduate in 1968 (represented by his family): “He opened doors but did not leave those doors closed, allowing you and me and others to enter those doors and for that we give thanks . . . My dad was a wise and compassionate man who refused to cooperate with injustice. He suffered boasting in his weaknesses knowing God was establishing a mighty work in him. My father was well acquainted with suffering . . . Dad knew God. He knew a God that would not let him give up on himself.”
JOHN WESTBROOK, First Black Athlete (represented by his family): “People say ‘you hit rock bottom’ but I think that one of the firmest foundations you could build on is rock. So there’s nothing that can take flight without bending first. There’s not a bird in this world that could take flight without bending their knees. I think he used Baylor as a springboard to elevate him to his purpose and to his journey as a minister of the people and as a minister of the faith.”
REV. JOSEPH PARKER, First Black Truett Seminary Graduate: “In my last semester of law school, I gave into my calling and I have been running in ministry and law since 1982 . . . I drove back and forth. I was doing law. I was pastoring. I was driving back and forth four days a week from Austin to Waco. It was what I would refer to as a pioneering experience. I was coming off of an expressed vision of what Truett was going to offer, and I was excited about the potential of being involved in something new. And so I came. It was a great experience. I didn’t have racial issues. I grew up in a segregated context, and I knew what racial issues were. But I didn’t have any of that . . . I didn’t know I was the first one until after I graduated.”
DR. ALICIA MONROE, First Black Female Regent: “The reason I chose to serve was because I believe I was called to serve, and because Baylor University holds fast publicly to its Christian roots. There is an opportunity for us not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk.”
MARILYN HARDY, First Black Sorority Founder: “When I didn’t get accepted because I was African American, my sister and I, instead of getting angry, we started Zeta. I was visiting campus about four years ago and a friend who I went to school with came up to me and said ‘I just want you to know that when you and your sister went through rush, it was all of our intentions to make you a part of the organization.’ But they had to rely on their alumni and it was the alumni making the decision. She apologized to me for that and that meant something special to me.”
DIRRELL JONES, First Black Fraternity Founder: “Be pragmatic. Surround yourself with people who are strong in areas you aren’t . . . I don’t get to see my brothers a lot but when we get together it’s like coming home. No matter how many years go by, when you get together you are family.”
TOMMY BOWMAN, First Black Scholarship Athlete: “Carroll Dawson and Menefee recruited me, but God chose me . . . I was blessed. When I look back on these 50 something years, I see God’s providential fingerprints all over my life. The first place John Westbrook took me when I got to Baylor University was to some place over in South Waco, to somebody named Robert Gilbert’s house. I was thinking, who is this guy? This guy doesn’t play basketball. This guy is not even an athlete. But John thought it was important that he introduce me to Robert Gilbert. That was in 1966 . . . (Speaking to students in the audience) While you’re here, develop your relationships. Your relationships with people will open many doors for you, to places you never thought you could go.”
DR. VIVIENNE MALONE-MAYES, First Black Professor (represented by her daughter Patsy Malone-Wheeler): “My mom was a very remarkable woman. Even today when I start talking about her, it still brings me to tears. Tears of joy. My mom’s journey at Baylor started in 1966. But way before that journey, she had some other obstacles to overcome. One of the first obstacles to overcome was trying to get into Baylor. When she applied, she was rejected . . . Even after she was rejected admission to Baylor, she came back. She went to the University of Texas, received her PhD, came back to Baylor and applied for employment and was granted the job.”
GAYLE BEVERLY-WILLIS, MD, First Black Cheerleader “The tryout was in chapel, if you can believe that. And then from there the students voted . . . And I won. I didn’t expect to, to be honest with you. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why not’?”
MICHAEL HEISKELL, First Black Law School Graduate: “Once I got there, it was a unique experience. I was pleasantly surprised at how they welcomed me. I did have a few rough patches here and there, but I was also undergirded by the spirit of my family, pushing me to do the things that people normally don’t do. Persistence counts. Stay persistent and good things will happen.”