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Mifflin W. Gibbs
On this date in 1823, Mifflin Gibbs was born. He was a Black entrepreneur, lawyer, and abolitionist.
From Philadelphia, Mifflin Wister Gibbs was born free and attended grade school until his father died in 1831. To help his mother and three siblings, he drove a doctors carriage prior to becoming a carpenter’s apprentice at the age of sixteen. Throughout this time in his life he was a member of the Philomathean Institute, a Colored men’s literacy society and he was active in the Underground Railroad.
In 1849, Gibbs was involved enough in the abolition movement to accompany Frederick Douglass on a speaking tour in western New York. A year later he relocated to San Francisco, where racial prejudice forced him to abandon carpentry. With money saved as a shoe shiner, Gibbs opened a successful imported clothing store and soon rose to prominence. In 1854, he became a delegate to that state’s Negro Convention and over the next three years he served as editor of the Mirror of the Times, an abolitionist newspaper.
Seeking to make money from the discovery of gold, in 1858 he left for British Columbia. He returned briefly to marry Maria A. Alexander. While in Canada he acquired a small fortune in real estate and other trades, became director of the Queen Charlotte Island Coal Company, and in 1866 and 1867 was twice elected to the Victoria Common Council. In 1869, he came back to America to study law at Oberlin College and opened his own practice in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Gibbs was appointed county attorney in 1873 and elected municipal court judge of Little Rock later the same year, thereby becoming the first African-American Judge in America. Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him registrar of the United States lands in 1877 a position he held for two years. An active Republican, Gibbs returned to Little Rock remaining active in the business and the civil rights movement. He published his autobiography Shadow and Light in 1902, which contains an introduction written by his friend and colleague Booker T. Washington.
All during his diverse career, he advocated the creation of a strong skilled African-American middle class through acquisition of property and independent control of agriculture and industry. Mifflin Gibbs died on July 11, 1915.
Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, University if Illinois Press