Photograph

C.M. Bell, photographer. Gibbs, Judge M.W. , 1901. [between February and December 1903] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016700276/.

The Gibbs brothers of Philadelphia have a special place in the history of the Colored Conventions Movement. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, brother of conventions delegate Rev. Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, was born in Philadelphia on April 17, 1823.1  Mifflin did not acquire the classic education of his brothers but that did not stop him from being an effective advocate for reform. After beginning his early profession career as a carpenter, and attending the 1848 Pennsylvania State Convention of Colored Citizens, the next convention he attends is the 1855 California State Convention of Colored Citizens as a new resident of California living in San Francisco.2 Although Gibbs became an increasingly influential Colored Conventions activist and attended the 1856 California State Convention, the sting of Californian racism and disenfranchisement pushed him away and he emigrated to British Columbia in 1858.3 Shortly after, he briefly returns stateside to marry Oberlin College graduate Maria Alexander. While in British Columbia, Gibbs engages the world of industry and utilizes his community building skills honed within convention culture in British Columbia.

After the Civil War, like many other African American expats, he returns to the U.S. with new found hope in a new future. His family by the late 1860s moved to Oberlin, where four of his children received a bulk of their formal secondary and college educations.4 After his own foray studying law at Oberlin, Gibbs contemplates a new move. A potential location was Florida, where his brother Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs was the first Black cabinet member in the states’ history as Secretary of State. Ultimately, he did not move there; instead he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to build his law career.5 By 1873, he assumed “the office of Municipal Judge of the City of Little Rock to which he had been elected.”6 After a host of political patronage positions, at age 74, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Judge Gibbs as United States Consul at Tamatave, Madagascar. After four years, his successor was not only his former clerk, it was his future son-in-law William Henry Hunt, who married his daughter Ida Alexander Gibbs. After a long life of service and business dealings, Judge Gibbs died in Little Rock on July 14, 1915 at the age of 92.7

Sources:

1. C. Kilian, (2007, November 10) Mifflin Wistar Gibbs (1823-1915). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gibbs-mifflin-wistar-1823-1915/ 

2. State Convention of Colored Citizens of Pennsylvania (1848 : Harrisburg, PA), “Minutes of the State Convention of Colored Citizens of Pennsylvania, Convened at Harrisburg, December 13-14, 1848.,” ColoredConventions.org, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/241.

First State Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of California (1855 : Sacramento, CA), “Proceedings of the First State Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of California. Held at Sacramento Nov. 20th 21st, and 22d, in the Colored Methodist Chuch [sic].,” ColoredConventions.org, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/265.

3. Second Annual Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of California (1856 : Sacramento, CA), “Proceedings of the Second Annual Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of California, Held in the City of Sacramento, Dec. 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, 1856.,” ColoredConventions.org, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/266. 

Carter G. Woodson, “THE GIBBS FAMILY.” Negro History Bulletin 11, no. 1 (1947): 4-6. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44174731.

4. Addendum to the “Catalogue and Record of Colored Students”, 1862-1899, Oberlin College Archives. http://www2.oberlin.edu/archive/oresources/minority/addendum_record.html

5. Woodson, “THE GIBBS FAMILY, 4-6. 

6. Ibid. 

7. C. Kilian, (2007, November 10) Mifflin Wistar Gibbs (1823-1915). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/gibbs-mifflin-wistar-1823-1915/