Golden Prospects and Fraternal Amenities:
Mifflin W. Gibbs's Arkansas Years
By TOM W. DILLARD*
THE CHURCH BELLS were ringing when Mifflin Wistar Gibbs crossed the Arkansas River into Little Rock one bright Sunday morning in May 1871 (1). The forty-eight-year-old black immigrant from Oberlin, Ohio, was quite unlike the hordes of former slaves that poured into Arkansas's capital city after the Civil War. He was well-educated, and spoke a stilted, purposefully flowery English, a product no doubt of his extensive reading in the classics and his long association with Canadians. But, above all, he was wealthy, at least by mid-nineteenth century Arkansas standards. That bright Sunday morning is an important date in Arkansas black history, for the arrival of Gibbs provided the state's blacks with an able leader, a skilled politician, and, on more than one occasion, a defender from the white majority. His life up until the move to Arkansas had been a combination of accomplishments that resulted in a truly unique individual.
* Mr. Dillard is a teacher in the Little Rock public schools and editor of the Pulaski County Historical Review. This article is taken in part from his master's thesis "The Black Moses of the West: A Biography of Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, 1823-1915" (University of Arkansas, 1975).
(1) Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, Shadow and Light: An Autobiography with Reminiscences of the Last an Present Century(Washington, D. C., 1902), 126.