Gibson, John Rufus (ca. 1865–1948)

By: Mark B. Buchy

Type: Biography

Published: May 15, 2013

Updated: April 7, 2021

John Rufus Gibson, African-American pioneer educator, civil rights activist, and United States consul general to Liberia, was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, possibly on April 1, 1865, to Nimrod and Helen Gibson. (Sources differ regarding Gibson’s true age.The 1870 and 1880 censuses listed his age as sixteen and twenty-five, respectively, while his obituary in 1948 gave an age of eighty-three at the time of death.) By 1870 the Gibson family had moved to Green Township in Clark County, Ohio, where John Gibson received a basic education. He eventually graduated from Wilberforce University in Greene County, Ohio.

In 1883 Gibson moved to Galveston, where he began teaching in the city school system and after three years service was elevated to principal of East District School. By 1888 Gibson was principal of Central High School, which had been established in 1885 as the first African-American high school in Texas and among the first African-American public high schools in the South. Central High School began in a rented building located on the corner of 16th Street and Avenue L. From 1889 to 1893 the school was located at 15th Street and Avenue N until a permanent building was constructed on the corner of 26th Street and Avenue M. Gibson continued his education with the University of Chicago, and in recognition of his achievements, Wilberforce University conferred upon him a masters degree in 1901. In 1905 Gibson was paid $150 annually to manage the “Colored Branch” of Galveston’s new Rosenberg Library.

Under Gibson, credibility of Central High School was acknowledged when the state of Texas accredited the school in 1926. In 1933 Central achieved affiliation with the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. That same year students, faculty, and the local community of Central High School honored Gibson with a celebration in the city auditorium upon his completion of fifty years service in Galveston. In 1935 a petition containing 205 names was presented to the Galveston school board requesting that the name of Central High School be changed to Gibson High School. The board deferred the request. Gibson retired in 1936, and Walter J. Mason took over.

Gibson also contributed greatly outside the realm of education. After the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900, Gibson worked directly with Clara Barton of the Red Cross to facilitate relief. Barton chose to “handing…money directly to Gibson [to avoid]…dealing with the all-White Central Relief Committee, which may not have given it directly to its intended recipients….In placing donations directly into the hands of Gibson and the African American Red Cross Society, Barton made it possible for Galveston Blacks to determine for themselves how they should use the money and for whom.” Gibson also earned greater recognition when President McKinley appointed him consul general to Liberia in 1901.

Gibson achieved Royal Arch Mason’s thirty-second degree, was an active member of the Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church, helped establish the Colored Teachers State Association (see TEACHERS STATE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS), and later served as that organization’s president. He lived by his motto, “I will study and prepare myself; someday my chance will come!” Gibson died in his Galveston home on December 12, 1948, and was buried at the Gold Bond Memorial Cemetery in Hitchcock, Texas.

 Dallas Morning News, December 14, 1948. Galveston Daily News, May 21, 1933; January 10, 1935; February 8, 1981; April 8, 1990. Mexia Daily News, December 13, 1948. Elizabeth Hayes Turner, “Clara Barton and the Formation of Public Policy in Galveston, 1900” (, accessed January 31, 2013. Maggie Williams, Galveston’s African American Historic Places and Pioneers: A Guidebook (Galveston: Old Central Cultural Center and the African American Heritage Committee of Galveston Historical Foundation Galveston, 2005).

  • Education
  • School Principals and Superintendents
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Educators

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark B. Buchy, “Gibson, John Rufus,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 13, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 15, 2013
April 7, 2021

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