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Biographies Unit Biographies

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs 1823-1915
Entrepreneur and Lawyer

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was a hard worker who was determined to succeed at everything he tried. He was a free African American born in Pennsylvania. He went to school and became a carpenter. He helped people escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Gibbs went to California in 1850 to look for gold. He soon realized that he could make more money by starting a business than by looking for gold. He opened a store with Peter Lester, another African American entrepreneur.

Although African Americans had more opportunities in California than in many other states, they were still treated unjustly. Gibbs became a leader in the effort to win recognition for the rights of African Americans in San Francisco. He published California's first newspaper for African Americans, Mirror of the Times. He led a group that worked for fair trials for African Americans, but he could not win the changes he wanted.

In 1858 Gibbs and several hundred African Americans from California moved to Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada. There Gibbs bought land, ran a coal company, and built a railroad. He was also elected to local government.

In the late 1860s, however, Gibbs came back to the United States. He went to Oberlin College, in Ohio, to study law. Then he moved to Arkansas. There, he became a lawyer and a judge. He also served as a United States government official for many years. In 1897, he became a diplomat, a representative of the government of the United States to Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa. Everywhere he went, Gibbs worked for fairness, equality, and progress for African Americans.

Comprehension Check

What did Gibbs do in California?

Critical Thinking

Why do you think Gibbs published Mirror of the Times?