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Our Story, Our History, Our Education | John Rufus Gibson, an education pioneer and civil servant

John Rufus Gibson dedicated 50 years of his life to students and public education.

GALVESTON, Texas — This Black History Month, KHOU 11 celebrates an unsung hero of early educators.  

John Rufus Gibson dedicated 50 years of his life to students and public education.  It's a legacy often overlooked but not lost on people like long-time Galveston School Board trustee David O'Neal, Jr.

"You still can't forget the significance of the impact of the individuals before you," said O'Neal in reference to Gibson's contributions to Galveston schools and students.

Gibson served as the principal of Galveston's Central High School from 1888 to 1936.  Central was the first public high school for Black students living west of the Mississippi River.  It was an amazing opportunity for children coming up in the Reconstruction-era South.  

Mr. O'Neal shared how it was an amazing opportunity for children coming up in the Reconstruction-era South.  

"Most students who were going to school, it was to just the 8th grade," O'Neal added. "Going to Central, it was like going to a college."

The original permanent structure for Central High School was stately and elegant, much like Gibson.

"So many people came from near and far to go to school here,"  O'Neal said. "All of the rural areas like Brazoria, Sweeney, Cedar Lake, Bay City, and Louisiana came.  It was just easy access for them to come here because Houston back then was rural.  The first high school for Houston was Booker T. Washington."

Principal Gibson was a graduate of Wilberforce University in Ohio, the nation's oldest private historically black university.  Upon graduation, he relocated to Texas.  

By 1905 Gibson managed the new colored branch of Galveston's Rosenberg Library while also heading up Central High School and its evolution through the years.  

The educator's influence and impact extended way beyond Central and Galveston.  In 1901, President McKinley appointed Gibson the Consul General of Liberia, a West African nation with missions, schools, and even a teachers college at the time.

But by far John Gibson's greatest contribution and legacy was at the head of the class.  

"I believe there are children and adults still being impacted by his work," said historian Sam Collins.  

"We need more men, specifically men of color, to help educate young people," added O'Neal.

It's a call of action for men who will serve the classroom and their community all while encouraging the next generation and carrying on the legacy of John Rufus Gibson. 

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