Mifflin Wistar Gibbs

Mifflin Wistar GibbsMifflin Wistar Gibbs was born in 1823 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a successful black American who played an important role in helping British Columbia become a part of the Canadian confederation.

As a young man, he became heavily involved in the abolitionist movement with Frederick Douglass. In 1850s he moved to California during the state`s gold rush, where he founded the state’s only black newspaper. But at that time, California began passing discriminatory laws designed to discourage blacks from migrating to the state. They were forbidden to own property and were not allowed to present evidence against a white person in court. They even had to wear distinctive badges, similar to the badges Jewish people had to wear in 1930s Nazi Germany.

Frustrated with the wave of racism in California, Gibbs and two other black Americans travelled up to British Columbia (BC) to meet with the colony’s governor to find out how blacks were treated there. The governor assured them they would face less discrimination and racism than in their native United States.

In 1858 Gibbs and 600-800 black Americans moved from California to Vancouver Island where he worked as a merchant. In 1861 Gibbs became a citizen of the British Empire and became involved in politics during his ten-year stay in Canada.

In the 1860 Vancouver Island legislative election, the black community united as a block to defeat Amor de Cosmos, a racist political candidate who wanted to restrict black rights in the colony.

Gibbs himself ran and won a seat for Victoria City Council in 1867, where he would play a role in Confederation. In 1868 Gibbs attended the Yale Convention, an important event that helped BC join the Canadian Confederation.

Gibbs eventually eturned to the United States and settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he became a lawyer and was active in the Republican Party. He was appointed to a number of judicial and government positions in the state. In 1873 Gibbs was elected to the Office of the City Judge as a Republican, the first black judge elected in the United States.

In 1897, Gibbs was appointed by Republican President William McKinley as the American Consul to Madagascar.

He died in 1915.


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