The present Gibbs Elementary building opened in 1953 (with extensive renovations in 1987/88). The school was named for Mifflin Wistar Gibbs (1823-1915), a noted anti-slavery lecturer, lawyer and author. The Sanborn fire insurance maps of 1913 show Gibbs High School on the corner of West 18th and South Ringo streets, two blocks south of Gibbs Elementary's current location (and immediately behind Dunbar Magnet Middle School's current location), and a smaller Gibbs Elementary School just to its west on the same block (approximately where Dunbar's gym now stands).
Postcard of M.W. Gibbs High School (date unknown).
Individual rooms were labeled by sender.
Top floor: auditorium. Second floor: senior class, library,
junior class (my room). First floor: freshmen (1st division),
freshmen (2nd division). Ground floor: sewing room, boys workshop.
Postcard courtesy of Ray Hanley.
Gibbs was an elementary and high school for African-American students in Little Rock after the Union and Capitol Hill schools were closed. Isaac T. Gillam, Jr., who was educated in the Little Rock schools, was principal of Gibbs High School for over 50 years. Gibbs High School (photo, above) was in operation in Little Rock as early as 1906. According to the Sanborn maps, the old Gibbs building was still standing in 1939, in the shadow of the newly built Dunbar High School. Six city blocks ultimately were combined between Cross and Chester streets, 16th Street and Wright Avenue to form one unified parcel of land that now includes Gibbs, Dunbar, the Dunbar Community Center, the Dunbar Community Garden, athletic fields and the Sue Cowan Williams Library.
In 1987 Gibbs Elementary became the first international studies/foreign languages magnet school in the state. In November 1992 then-governor Bill Clinton visited Gibbs on his first presidential election day. He again visited Gibbs in April 1994 to give his weekly radio address in front of students in the school's Media Center. In 1996 the faculty, students and the LRSD Board of Directors voted to rename the school's Media Center in honor of President William Jefferson Clinton.
Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was free-born in Pennsylvania. He was active in the Underground Railroad, and in 1849 he accompanied abolitionist Frederick Douglass on a speaking tour in western New York. He later moved to San Francisco and eventually became editor of Mirror of the Times, an abolitionist newspaper. In 1858 he left for British Columbia; he acquired a small fortune in real estate and other trades there and became director of the Queen Charlotte Island Coal Company. In 1866 and 1867 he was twice elected to the Victoria Common Council. In 1869 he came back to America to study law at Oberlin College in Ohio and later opened his own law practice in Little Rock. Gibbs was appointed county attorney in 1873 and elected municipal court judge of Little Rock later the same year. He was the first African-American judge in America. Gibbs received three federal appointments: Registrar of the United States Lands Office (1877), Receiver of Public Moneys (1899) and U.S. Consul to Tamatave, Madagascar (1897). A Republican, Gibbs returned to Little Rock in 1901, remaining active in business and the civil rights movement. In 1902 he published his autobiography, Shadow and Light, which contains an introduction written by his friend and colleague Booker T. Washington. Gibbs' home in Little Rock was across the street from the school that bore his name.
Gibbs Magnet Elementary web site:
"LR schools named for prominent people," Arkansas Democrat article by Cynthia Howell, 18 Apr 1983; page 10B.
"The African American Registry" web site, M.W. Gibbs page:
Sanborn fire insurance maps of Little Rock, Arkansas, available online here.
"Arkansas Times Online" article about prominent African Americans in Little Rock: If you have information about a Little Rock school or photographs that you would like to contribute to this project (we will return photographs if requested), please contact us!
Updated July 2008