Acknowledging Our Past
In June 2020, the Baylor University Board of Regents announced its unanimous approval of the “Resolution on Racial Healing and Justice,” acknowledging Baylor’s historical connections to slavery and the Confederacy and establishing the Commission on Historic Campus Representations. Working in a thorough, prayerful and efficient manner, the Commission’s 26 members faithfully fulfilled their charge to review the historical record and context of the University and its early leaders, and to evaluate and offer guidance regarding all statues, monuments, buildings and other aspects of the campus within this context. The Commission delivered its final report to the Board chair and Baylor president in December 2020.
The members of the Commission represented the diversity of the Baylor Family, including individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and from the ranks of Baylor’s student body, faculty, staff, alumni and regents.
The report contains the following historical findings:
- Baylor founders and many early leaders, including trustees and presidents, were slaveholders. Several continued to justify and support slavery after the Civil War. The records of the enslaved and their descendants are difficult to find. The Commission references these persons as the “unknown enslaved.”
- Judge R.E.B. Baylor, the University’s namesake, was a slaveholder. Enslaved persons formed a significant portion of his wealth in 1860. He did not serve in the Confederate Army, but he did continue serving as a judge in Texas during the Civil War, upholding the state’s laws regarding slavery. Writings connected to Judge Baylor’s service on the Union Baptist Association’s committee on recommendations to the churches regarding their duties during the Civil War and his statements to family members following the war indicate support for the Confederacy and a bias against emancipated slaves.
- In 1843, Northern newspapers condemned William Tryon and James Huckins for being slaveholders while serving as employees of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. After tensions between Baptists in the North and South over slavery reached an impasse, the Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845, and Tryon and Huckins were appointed by the Domestic Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1846. Huckins, who had also been accused by a church member of beating a female slave in 1844, left Texas in 1859 and was appointed a chaplain in the Confederate Army in 1863.
- Rufus Burleson was a slaveholder and enlisted in the Confederate Army, serving as a chaplain. As president of Baylor and subsequently Waco University, he encouraged faculty and male students over 18 to join the fight against what he called “Abolition despotism.” He was a prominent supporter of the “Lost Cause” movement following the war.
Recommendations and next steps:
Among the 34 recommendations found in the Commission’s report concerning historic representations — many of which provide multiple options for resolving the connection to slavery and the lack of well-rounded historical context — are the following:
- While acknowledging the intent of the installation of monuments in Founders Mall, including the statue of Judge Baylor, was in celebration of the vision of the founders and first trustees to establish a Christian institution, the full history about these individuals is absent and should be told. The Commission recommended adding historical context to the statue of Judge Baylor and markers of Huckins and Tryon.
- Others who contributed to the successful founding of the University, including the unknown enslaved, are not memorialized in any way, and it is recommended by the Commission that this be rectified with a new installation.
- Burleson Quadrangle should be renamed, with a more inclusive name given to the space.
- The monument to Rufus Burleson should be relocated to a less prominent location on campus.
- The University should create an intentional honoring of people of color who have contributed to Baylor’s history with statues or other installations on campus.
- Markers and displays at the historic sites at Independence should be updated to incorporate the full history of the University. In addition, Baylor’s Line Camp experience should incorporate more complete information about Baylor’s founders and early leaders when students are visiting the Independence site.
- The University has established a campus experience project team to evaluate the Commission’s recommendations for consideration by the Board of Regents.
To read the full report of the Commission, visit baylor.edu/diversity/commission.