Baylor University regents have allocated $6.3 million for construction of a Memorial to Enslaved Persons to be located on Founders Mall at the Waco, Texas, campus.
Erecting such a memorial was among recommended actions in the final report of a Commission on Historic Campus Representations in 2021. The monument will recognize the enslaved men and women who were instrumental in building Baylor’s original campus in Independence, Texas.
Previously, the university had released preliminary drawings of the planned memorial, to be constructed of limestone, inspired by the material used on the original campus, in three sections:
- An outer ring with stacked stones leaving intentional voids representing both the unknown enslaved and gaps in Baylor’s history. This ring also will include a cascading water feature.
- A smaller inner ring with a ground-level map of East Central Texas, including Washington and McLennan counties — home to Independence and Waco, respectively. Shaded areas on the map will depict the enslaved population density around 1860.
- An amphitheater-style Resonance Garden for students and visitors to reflect on the information presented in the memorial.
Founders Mall is a large outdoor space between several key buildings on campus. Other changes have been made there in the past two years, reflecting the knowledge that 11 of the 15 men constituting Baylor University’s first board of trustees were owners of enslaved people.
These changes have included adaptations to monuments to the founders, including the school’s namesake, Judge R.E.B. Baylor, and co-founders James Huckins and William Tryon.
Although trustees declined to change the school’s name — even though Judge Baylor was a slaveholder — the commission took particular issue with a prominent statue of Rufus Burleson previously located on what was called Burleson Quadrangle.
“Burleson’s beliefs supporting the dehumanization, unjust treatment and degradation of Black people and his demonstrated commitment to the institution of slavery and the Confederate Army’s role in the Civil War — in addition to his support, leadership and involvement in the ‘Lost Cause’ movement following the Civil War — fail to align with Baylor’s Christian commitment,” the commission reported.
In summer 2022, the Burleson statue was removed. Because it was physically unstable and in poor condition, it was sent away for restoration. In 2023, the statue of Burleson was placed in the courtyard behind Burleson Hall, a building named in honor of his wife.
Last spring, the university dedicated new statues honoring Robert Gilbert and Barbara Walker, who on June 2, 1967, became the first Black students to earn undergraduate degrees from Baylor.
Groundbreaking for the Memorial to Enslaved Persons is scheduled for February 2024 during Black History Month with construction expected to begin shortly thereafter.