Continuing with this week on Black Explorers, I am highlighting the accomplishments of George W. Gibbs Jr.
George Washington Gibbs, Jr. (November 7, 1916 – November 7, 2000), a sailor in the United States Navy, became the first African American to set foot on the continent of Antarctica, on the Antarctic Peninsula as a member of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition, also known as the United States Antarctic Service Expedition (1939–1941) on January 14, 1940. Gibbs served as a gunner in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After 24 years service in the U.S. Navy, Gibbs retired in 1959 as a chief petty officer. Gibbs then attended the University of Minnesota, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. Gibbs worked in the personnel department of IBM at Rochester, Minnesota from 1963 to 1982.
George Gibbs was a civil rights leader who integrated the Elks Club at Rochester and several service clubs. In 1966 Gibbs helped organize the Rochester Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was also a civic leader who was president of the Rochester Kiwanis and the Rochester chapter of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association and was involved in several charitable organizations.
Gibbs Point on the Antarctic Peninsula was named for George W. Gibbs, Jr. on September 2, 2009. The Rochester, Minnesota school board named a new elementary school, dedicated on October 11, 2009, the George W. Gibbs Jr. Elementary School.
George W. Gibbs, Jr. was born in Jacksonville, Florida on November 7, 1916. He moved to Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brooklyn Technical School.Gibbs later received his General Education Diploma (GED).
After brief work in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Gibbs enlisted in the U.S. Navy from Macon, Georgia in 1935.He re-enlisted when his four-year period of enlistment expired. During his time in the Navy, Gibbs married Joyce Powell on September 26, 1953 in Portsmouth, Virginia. The Gibbs’s had a daughter, Leilani R. (Gibbs) Henry and a son, E. Anthony “Tony.
Gibbs was encouraged to apply for an assignment with the United States Antarctic Service. The U.S. Congress established the service to support Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s third polar expedition (1939–1941) intended “to consolidate previous American exploration and to examine more closely the land in the Pacific sector.” Gibbs was among forty U.S. Navy men chosen from 2,000 Navy applicants for a job with the expedition. Gibbs served as a Mess Attendant 1st Class aboard the lead expedition ship, U.S.S. Bear, but also worked as a cook and performed other tasks with the expedition. By the end of the expedition, Gibbs was an Officer’s Cook 3rd Class.
Gibbs helped to establish West Base (Little America III), near the Bay of Whales, and East Base on Stonington Island, Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. He twice made round trips between the United States and Antarctica.
During the expedition, Gibbs helped catch Adelie penguins for the Smithsonian Institution.This was dangerous work because the men had to work from a rowboat in fog with a non-working radio. Only the sounding of the ship’s horn gave the men bearings to find their way back to the ship. During World War II, Gibbs served in combat in the Pacific.He was a gunner on the U.S.S. Atlanta.
Gibbs remained in the U.S. Navy until 1959 when he retired as a chief petty officer. Among other awards, Gibbs received the Navy Good Conduct Medal and the silver United States Antarctic Expedition Medal.
After Gibbs retired from the Navy, he moved to Minneapolis, graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1963 with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Education. The Gibbs family then moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where Gibbs worked in the personnel department at IBM for 18 years. He also was housing administrator and international assignment representative for IBM. Gibbs then founded his own employment company, Technical Career Placement, Inc., which he operated until 1999.
Gibbs became a civil rights leader and helped organize the Rochester, Minnesota Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He worked for civil rights in Rochester and on a national basis.Later, the Rochester, Minnesota branch of the NAACP presented Gibbs with the George Gibbs Humanitarianism Award. Gibbs’s daughter, who plans to publish a book about her father, has said that he was very persuasive, noting that only about 50 of the 350 members of the local NAACP chapter were black. Gibbs also worked with the Minnesota-North Dakota NAACP Conference.
In 1974, Gibbs was denied membership in the Rochester Elks Club, which made headlines and eventually led to breaking the color barrier at that club, an accomplishment also made by Gibbs at service clubs in Rochester.
George W. Gibbs, Jr. died on his 84th birthday, November 7, 2000.
Gibbs Point, a rock point on the Antarctic Peninsula, the most northern area of Antarctica, was named for African American Antarctic explorer, George W. Gibbs, Jr. on September 2, 2009. On that date, the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (U.S. Board on Geographic Names) confirmed the place name in Antarctica for Gibbs as the first black explorer to set foot on the continent. Gibbs Point is a rock point forming the northwest entrance to Gaul Cove, on the northeast of Horseshoe Island, Marguerite Bay, Antarctic Peninsula (67°48’22”S, 067°09’38”W).
Rochester Minnesota’s West Soldiers Field Drive was renamed in honor of Gibbs in 2002.
***Information courtesy of Wikipedia.org, Blackpast.org***