Randall Lee Gibson (above) was valedictorian of the Yale Class of 1853. He had been born a member of the planter aristocracy of Kentucky and Louisiana. He was a keen secessionist and fought for the Confederacy, serving first as an artillery captain then as colonel of the 13th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Nonetheless, Randall Gibson, Class of 1853, deserves to be counted as Yale’s first African-American graduate rather than Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed, MD 1857, or Edward Alexander Bouchet, Class of 1874.
Randall Gibson was the descendant on one Gideon Gibson, who arrived in the Colony of South Carolina in 1730 and who was “a skilled tradesman, had a white wife and … owned land and slaves in Virginia and North Carolina.” Gideon Gibson obtained land grants from the governor of South Carolina and he and his descendants married into the white planter class on the Western frontier. By the 1790s, the Gibson family had forgotten its African origin and ascribed a family tendency toward a dark complexion to Gypsy or Portuguese descent.
New York Times article.
Randall Gibson fought at Shiloh. His regiment saw action with the Army of Tennessee at Chicamauga. Gibson ultimately made it all the way to the rank of Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. He fought in the Atlanta Campaign and ended the war defending the city of Mobile.
After the war and Reconstruction, Gibson was elected to Congress as a democrat from 1875 to 1883 and served as senator from 1883 to until his death in 1892. He was a trustee of Tulane and a hall at Tulane University is named for him.
Reading all this moved the Atlantic’s race blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates to observe:
Race is such bullshit.