The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

James Lowell Gibbs, Jr.

Cultural anthropologist James Lowell Gibbs, Jr., was born on June 13, 1931, in Syracuse, New York to Huldah Hortense Dabney, a school teacher, and James Lowell Gibbs, Sr., executive director of a community center. Gibbs was born prematurely when his mother’s appendix burst during the seventh month of her pregnancy. Gibbs can trace his family ancestry back to 1834 to a paternal great-great grandfather who was born in Florence, South Carolina. Gibbs grew up in Ithaca, New York, where he attended Henry St. John’s School. He skipped the second grade and later attended Boynton Junior High School and Ithaca High School. Gibbs initially wanted to be a commercial artist but changed his mind when he read a book by Paul Robeson’s wife, Eslanda Goode Robeson, called African Journey that showcased Robeson’s field work as a cultural anthropologist in Uganda. Gibbs realized that he wanted to be a social scientist.

Gibbs graduated from Cornell University in 1952 and served as senior class president. Gibbs went on to graduate school at Harvard University and earned his M.A. degree and Ph.D. degree in cultural anthropology. While pursuing his degree at Harvard, Gibbs served as a teaching fellow and resident tutor, the first African American resident tutor in the history of Harvard University. In 1959, Gibbs went on to teach at the University of Minnesota. He remained at the University of Minnesota until 1966. In 1965, Gibbs edited and contributed to the book, Peoples of Africa. In 1966, Gibbs joined the staff at Stanford University as associate professor of anthropology. For three different periods, Gibbs went to Africa and conducted field research on the Kpelle of Liberia. In 1970, Gibbs co-directed and co-produced the documentary film, The Cows of Dolo Ken Paye, which displays the Kpelle people’s methods of conflict resolution. That same year, Gibbs became Stanford University’s first dean of undergraduate studies. He remained in this position until 1976 but continued to serve as a professor of anthropology. In 1983, Gibbs co-authored Law in Radically Different Cultures, a study of law in Botswana, Egypt, the Peoples Republic of China, and the United States. In 1984, he became a senior fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University. Gibbs returned to Stanford and served as the codirector of the Stanford/Berkeley Joint Center for African Studies between 1985 and 1987. Between 1987 and 1990, Gibbs served as Stanford University’s chairman of the Department of Anthropology.

Gibbs was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus at Stanford University. He is married to Jewelle Taylor Gibbs.

Accession Number

A2006.061

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/5/2006

Last Name

Gibbs

Maker Category
Middle Name

Lowell

Schools

Ithaca High School

Henry St. John's School

Frank David Boynton Junior High School

Washington Irving Elementary School

Cornell University

Harvard University

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Syracuse

HM ID

GIB06

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bali, Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Shanghai, China

Favorite Quote

You Have To Work Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

6/13/1931

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Stanford

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken Curry, Chinese Stir fry, Palm-Oil Chops

Short Description

Cultural anthropology professor James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. (1931 - ) was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus at Stanford University.

Employment

University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Stanford University

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:380,3:988,12:1672,23:3876,53:4332,60:7296,103:7828,150:11820,181:14772,216:17478,255:23464,367:23874,374:26170,425:29368,465:33632,605:41425,670:43610,699:44560,710:44940,715:45700,724:55080,806:55661,814:56076,821:56823,831:58068,842:58566,849:58898,854:59313,860:59977,869:60807,881:61305,889:61637,894:61969,899:67445,965:68138,973:79936,1138:92415,1300:93090,1311:93390,1316:94740,1340:95040,1352:97440,1397:98040,1406:99465,1429:100065,1438:108950,1599:112394,1659:112722,1664:115510,1701:119692,1753:122972,1793:124530,1813:126416,1837:127154,1849:136684,1909:137140,1925:137672,1935:141548,2004:142308,2018:143220,2035:144208,2049:144740,2058:145196,2065:146032,2081:157792,2223:158682,2236:165713,2339:166692,2351:168205,2372:168917,2381:178260,2562$0,0:10672,117:11008,122:12436,146:13528,160:21952,223:22609,233:24069,258:24434,264:24872,275:26332,307:26770,315:27500,327:28887,351:31442,380:32026,389:36322,419:36634,429:39364,473:39832,480:45303,586:45837,593:48774,633:52790,651:63045,747:63648,757:65189,795:73906,961:74428,968:77995,1053:78430,1059:78952,1067:80083,1081:80692,1091:86374,1111:87270,1120:87942,1128:92875,1167:93785,1183:94045,1188:94890,1202:95475,1212:96125,1225:97230,1248:98855,1283:100415,1304:101260,1316:102040,1342:104770,1390:105550,1405:105940,1412:106330,1420:107175,1434:107825,1448:108215,1455:108475,1460:108930,1469:109515,1480:114990,1508:116264,1522:118616,1552:122144,1598:126998,1635:127922,1651:128342,1657:129434,1671:130358,1683:132290,1707:133550,1728:134222,1739:138170,1787:139514,1805:147480,1877:150093,1982:152304,2016:153376,2030:153778,2038:154314,2048:154649,2054:155051,2062:155453,2069:155721,2074:156056,2080:156458,2087:157128,2099:158334,2120:162258,2136:163116,2155:163584,2163:164130,2171:164754,2178:165300,2187:165924,2197:166782,2211:168732,2253:170760,2324:172866,2349:174504,2368:175518,2386:180220,2397:180688,2404:181078,2411:182014,2425:185836,2497:186928,2519:188900,2527
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Lowell Gibbs, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls activities with his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his parents' move to Syracuse, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his father's work at Southside Community Center in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his father's connection to Ruth Carol Taylor

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his parents' community involvement in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his ancestry

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his early family life

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. talks about his sister, Huldah Gibbs Jones

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes Ithaca, New York in the 1930s and 1940s

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his community in Ithaca, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls how World War II impacted his family and community

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his religious upbringing

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls attending Ithaca's Henry St. John School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes Boynton Junior High School and Ithaca High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his high school demeanor

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his high school social life in Ithaca

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his early interest in anthropology

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. remembers receiving 'African Journey' as a gift from his employers

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls attending Cornell University with a high school classmate

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his first research opportunity at Cornell University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes the findings of Cornell University's Hometown Project

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his mentor, Dr. Robert Johnson

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his mentors at Cornell University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls the founding of Watermargin at Cornell University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes the educational component of Watermargin

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. remembers meeting Eleanor Roosevelt

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls applying to graduate programs at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his graduate studies in anthropology at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his fellowship at the University of Cambridge

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes residential education

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his Rotary Foundation Fellowship experience

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes how he met his wife, Jewelle Taylor Gibbs

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his mentors at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. talks about St. Clair Drake

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. explains how his interest in Liberian tribal law developed

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. remembers his travels to Liberia

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his research on Kpelle tribal law in Liberia

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his analysis of the Kpelle moot

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his work in ethnographic film with Marvin Silverman

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes 'The Cows of Dolo Ken Paye' and 'Dolo Ken Paye's People Go to the Movies'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. recalls his return to Ithaca in the summer of 1962

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his move to San Francisco, California

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his career at Stanford University

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. explains how he balances academia and social activism

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his volunteerism in East Palo Alto, California

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes student-initiated programs at Stanford University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes the importance of community building

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his future plans

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. reflects upon changing university demographics

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes values he considers to be important

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered by his colleagues

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered by his future grandchildren

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

3$9

DATitle
James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his research on Kpelle tribal law in Liberia
James Lowell Gibbs, Jr. describes his career at Stanford University
Transcript
My research focused on traditional law. We were, we stayed with a Liberian family that I knew through Cornell [Cornell University, Ithaca, New York] connections for about ten days while we got established upcountry with the aid of the government; worked through the Bureau of Mores, Folkways and Customary Laws [sic. Bureau of Folkways, Mores and Customary Laws] to find a location in Panta Chiefdom [Bong County, Liberia], among the Kpelle, where we stayed for a year and a half. My original grant [Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellowships] was for a year, and it got extended for another six months. Jewelle [HistoryMaker Jewelle Taylor Gibbs] assisted me with the fieldwork. She did interviews with women on topics that a man could not interview them about. I spent a lot of time in court hearing cases, analyzing cases. It became very clear that the major legal kind of case that they had was cases involving what we would call rights and women: divorce cases, adultery cases. The Kpelle would say--well, they gave me a name, my Kpelle name is Ya-paulo [ph.]. They would say, "Ya-paulo, when it comes to law, we have only one kind of case here. It's woman palaver." That was the--in Liberian colloquial English, the term for cases involving disputes about women. So my thesis focused on this problem, why is it that most of the cases are woman palaver. So the title of my doctoral dissertation was 'Some Judicial Implications of Marital Instability Among the Kpelle of Liberia' [sic. 'Some Judicial Implications of Marital Instability Among the Kpelle,' James Lowell Gibbs] because one of the things I discovered and documented was a high degree of marital instability. So a contribution of my work was to show that one of the reasons for marital instability is that women's labor is so highly valued. And the economy was based on more on the work of women than on the work of men; that, you know, this is a society where a man can have plural wives, what we call a polygynous society. And because of that, women's labor being so highly valued, a woman does not have to put up with a man who is not treating her well because there will always be another man who would very much like to have her labor in his household. And so that's one of the reasons for marital instability. So, one focus of my work was to demonstrate that. And one of my doctoral students, Caroline Bledsoe [Caroline H. Bledsoe], has done a book ['Women and Marriage in Kpelle Society,' Caroline H. Bledsoe], in which she took that theme and carried it further.$Could you tell us a little bit about your career here?$$Yes. Well, as I said, I started out teaching anthropology. I've always focused a lot on undergraduate teaching. I taught the course in introductory anthropology; a course in culture and personality, going back to my work with Cora Du Bois; and, of course, peoples and cultures of Africa; and later African societies in a changing world. I taught ethnographic film, and that's where the idea for the--I taught the course before I did the film ['The Cows of Dolo Ken Paye: Resolving Conflict among the Kpelle']. And I taught a course called Film Studies of African American Culture; taught a seminar on African law; taught an innovative--a comparative law course called Law and Radically Different Cultures. That was taught in the law school [Stanford Law School, Stanford, California], comparing law of the United States, China, Egypt and Botswana. Those were some of the things I did in teaching. Fairly early on, I got invited to be Stanford's [Stanford University, Stanford, California] first dean of undergraduate studies. There was a sort of internal look at Stanford in the 1960s. And one of the conclusions was that undergraduate education needed to be strengthened, that the university was being dominated too much by the graduate schools and research. And that to do that it would be good to have a new position, a position to be called dean of undergraduate studies for a person that would be within the university, an advocate for undergraduate education. So I was asked to accept that post and I did and did it for six years. And as I was saying earlier, that some of my early experience in residential education came to bear, some of what we were able to do successfully was to expand the idea of research opportunities for undergraduates. So one of the things I'm very proud of is having, with their permission, stolen from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts], the idea of an undergraduate research opportunities office, where you would have an office that would create funding for undergraduates to be able to do real research. And, of course, knowing what I told you about the impact of the research I did in Elmira [New York] as an undergraduate [at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York], I was gung-ho about what undergraduate research can do in terms of training people and giving them a commitment to academic careers. So that's one of the things that I was able to do as dean of undergraduate studies.