First black graduate recalls past at BU

Feb. 11, 2004

By Lindsey Gomez, reporter

In the 1960s it almost was unheard of for a black student, even one who grew up only a few blocks away, to attend Baylor.

Yet, Robert Gilbert, who called Waco's South Ninth Street home, didn't let this barrier stop him.

In 1967, he received a degree in history and became Baylor's first black graduate.

LaRue Dorsey, Gilbert's sister, still remembers the day her brother graduated and how proud her family was for him to persevere even with discrimination around every corner.

'He had trouble in classes with professors and students who couldn't adjust to him,' Dorsey said. 'He was called a lot of ugly names and given the silent treatment.'

Dorsey said Gilbert would be happy to see how Baylor has evolved.

'Baylor hasn't always been as it is now,' Dorsey said. 'When I was a kid, we use to try to walk on campus and people would throw rocks at us.'

Despite the discrimination, by 1964, Gilbert found himself sitting in Baylor's classrooms. Encouraged the previous school year to attend Baylor by one of his professors at Paul Quinn University, Gilbert spent the remainder of his three years at Baylor.

Gilbert's wife, Elwaine, said he was involved in the civil rights movement and strived for success.

'He saw opportunities here at Baylor to break barriers,' she said.

After graduation, Gilbert taught in Waco, and from 1978 to 1989 he was a pastor at Carver Baptist Church.

He also had a radio ministry from 1989 until his death in 1992.

Gilbert, who had a small frame and stood at only 5'6', was called 'little giant' by family members because, as Dorsey said, ' he was small, aggressive, humble and very positive.'

Dorsey said her parents valued education, and that she and her four siblings all received a college degree.

Gilbert passed on the importance of education to his own children. His daughter, Evangelin Slaughter, and one of his sons, Kenyatta Gilbert, graduated from Baylor. Gilbert's other son, Jaja, owns a barber shop in Houston.

Gilbert also wrote two books. No Excuses Accepted is about his childhood and how people can succeed despite handicaps, and When Your Days are Numbered is about teaching people how to die with dignity.

Gilbert died at the age of 50 and was the first black person to have a funeral held in Waco Hall.

'He had done a lot of work for 50,' Dorsey said. 'You never like to see anybody pass away, but in his case I felt like it was a blessing because he suffered so long.'

In 1980, Gilbert was named Citizen of Texas and in 1992 he received the Outstanding Humanitarian award.