Courts And Community: First African-American City Judge In America

Nov 11, 2019

The first African-American municipal judge in America was from Arkansas. Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was elected a city judge in Little Rock in 1873. He was also a businessman, attorney, and active in the civil rights movement. Gibbs Elementary in Little Rock is named after him.

Gibbs was born in 1823 in Philadelphia into a free black family. As a young adult, he became active in the abolitionist movement and worked with Frederick Douglass.

He headed to California during the Gold Rush but left for Canada due to racial discrimination and a lack of civil rights. He returned to the United States in 1871, settling in Little Rock. He became president of one of the earliest black-owned banks in Arkansas.

Gibbs was a prominent figure in local, state, and national Republican politics. He received three presidential appointments: Registrar of the United States Lands Office, Receiver of Public Moneys, and U.S. Consul to Madagascar.

In 1902, he published his autobiography, Shadow and Light, which contains an introduction written by his friend and colleague Booker T. Washington. He died in 1915 at his house on Chester Street in Little Rock. He was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2016.