This Day in History: 1823-04-17

Widely accomplished “renaissance man” Mifflin Wistar Gibbs is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By his early 20s he was an activist in the abolition movement, sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass and helping in the Underground Railroad. Black intellectual ferment of the era gave him a superb education outside the classroom, and he became a powerful writer. In 1850 he migrated to San Francisco, California; he was soon a successful merchant, the founder of a black newspaper, Mirror of the Times, and a leading member of the city’s black community. Later moving to Victoria, British Columbia, Gibbs again prospered, first as a merchant, then as a property developer, contractor, and elected politician. Upon returning to the United States, Gibbs studied law in Oberlin, Ohio, then settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, soon becoming the first black elected municipal judge in the United States. He was later appointed U.S. consul in Tamatave, Madagascar. Upon returning to Little Rock, Gibbs launched Capital City Savings Bank, became a partner in the Little Rock Electric Light Company, gained control of several pieces of local real estate, and supported various philanthropic causes. He published an autobiography, Shadow and Light, in 1902, with an introduction by Booker T. Washington. Learn more.