The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

The Honorable Kenneth Gibson

Political leader Kenneth Gibson was born on May 15, 1932 in Enterprise, Alabama to Willie Gibson and Daisy Gibson. In 1940, his family migrated to Newark, New Jersey. He attended Monmouth Street School, Cleveland Junior High School and graduated with honors from Newark’s Central High School. Gibson served in the United States Army in the 65th Engineering Battalion from 1956 to 1958. He continued his education after leaving the army, and received his B.S. degree in structural engineering in 1962 from the Newark College of Engineering in Newark, New Jersey.

From 1950 to 1960, he worked as an engineer for the New Jersey Highway Department. Then in 1960, he was hired as the chief engineer for the Newark Housing Authority and was promoted to the position of New Jersey State Official Chief Structural Engineer for the City of Newark in 1966. In this role, Gibson held several community administration and management roles for the City of Newark and the Office of Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio. In 1970, Gibson was elected to the position of Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and served four consecutive terms from 1970 to 1986 – he was the first African American Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Gibson also ran unsuccessfully for governor of New Jersey in 1981 and 1985.

During his career, he received numerous recognitions and awards for his public and government service. In 1964, Newark’s Junior Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year. In 1976, Gibson was elected president of the United States Conference of Mayors, as the first African American to hold this position. In 1979, Gibson received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards Foundation.

Gibson was active in the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the YMCA and the YWCA. He headed Newark’s Business and Industry Coordinating Council, a job-finding organization, and served as vice-president of the United Community Corporation, an antipoverty agency.

Gibson passed away on March 29, 2019.

Kenneth Gibson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 31, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.042

Sex

Male

Interview Date

01/31/2017

Last Name

Gibson

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Schools

Central High School

Cleveland Junior High School

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Monmouth Street School

First Name

Kenneth

Birth City, State, Country

Enterprise

HM ID

GIB08

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

Wherever American Cities Are Going, Newark Will Get There First.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/15/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Newark

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Death Date

3/29/2019

Short Description

Political leader Kenneth Gibson (1932 - 2019) was elected as the 34th Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and was the first African American elected mayor of any major Northeastern United States city. He served from 1970 to 1986.

Employment

Gibson Associates

City of Newark, New Jersey

Newark Housing Authority

New Jersey State Highway Department

Favorite Color

Dark colors

Timing Pairs
0,0:902,19:1394,27:1886,35:4397,50:5198,61:5643,67:6355,75:9203,125:9826,133:10805,147:11428,154:11962,162:16749,237:17331,244:17719,249:24950,338:25754,357:26357,369:26759,376:27228,385:27496,390:29171,416:37124,515:37982,537:48132,630:52248,695:54852,735:57288,786:58296,802:59136,822:59472,930:90805,1128:100454,1211:119411,1321:137800,1528:166862,1745:169720,1825:202740,2064$0,0:1053,16:1408,22:1692,27:2260,37:3822,65:5526,112:6449,202:6804,208:7514,220:8011,228:8437,235:8863,243:10212,267:13692,284:13956,289:17330,300:18298,316:18738,322:19090,327:22720,349:34620,472:64094,741:69764,779:88406,999:98386,1091:109704,1275:110388,1282:110844,1287:139650,1502:139918,1507:140186,1512:140588,1520:156766,1752:157446,1766:158670,1796:159146,1805:159690,1815:166930,1876:180865,1954:181635,2043:182251,2053:183945,2088:184407,2095:189486,2134:192355,2147:192810,2155:193590,2168:206810,2393:207242,2400:214580,2468:214936,2473:223930,2599:241120,2695:266550,3075:277773,3193:283910,3262:284325,3277:284657,3282:290830,3373
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Kenneth Gibson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about racial discrimination in Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his family's move to Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his community in Enterprise, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about the Newark Public Schools

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his community in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his early personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about growing up in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers playing the saxophone

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the economic impact of World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the treatment of African American soldiers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers being drafted into the U.S. Army

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers working for the Newark Housing Authority

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes the racial demographics of Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his career at the Newark Housing Authority

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his civil rights activities in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson recalls his early political influences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the riots of 1967 in Newark, New Jersey, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his children

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the riots of 1967 in Newark, New Jersey, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about the state of public education

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about the criminal justice system

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his election as mayor of Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson recalls the start of his mayoral term in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about the healthcare and insurance industries in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his administrative appointments in the City of Newark

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson describes his hiring strategy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his crime reduction programs

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson recalls his presidency of the U.S. Conference of Mayors

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his relationships with other mayors

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his affirmative action program

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers the tax crisis in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson shares his views on taxation

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about the discriminatory sentencing practices in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his gubernatorial campaigns

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson reflects upon his experiences as the first black mayor of Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers Amiri Baraka

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his successor, Mayor Sharpe James

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson talks about his engineering consulting firm

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his indictment

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers Ras Baraka

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson reflects upon the treatment of African American politicians

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson shares his advice to aspiring African American politicians

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Kenneth Gibson narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
The Honorable Kenneth Gibson recalls the start of his mayoral term in Newark, New Jersey
The Honorable Kenneth Gibson remembers his administrative appointments in the City of Newark
Transcript
When you come into office, this is historic. You become the first African American mayor of Newark [New Jersey], one of the largest cities in the United States, after a mayor [Hugh Addonizio] who's been in there for a long time who has fallen from grace. But you're dealing with some, some big issues for your city that you've run on. What are, what are some of the things that you were able to implement in this first term?$$You know, it's very hard for me to separate the terms now because--$$Okay. Well, you just tell me what you remember.$$The things that I can--$$Let me ask you this differently. You are, you are mayor from when to when?$$From 1970 to 1986.$$And so, there're several elections in between there?$$Yeah, four elections.$$Four elections. So, you don't have to limit it to the time period, let me know some of the accomplishments you feel that you were able to make.$$Well, when I took office, Newark had some of the worse health statistics in the country. We had the highest tuberculosis rate, the highest venereal disease rate, the highest infant mortality rate.$$In the whole country?$$In the whole country. The highest maternal mortality rate, and I can go on and on.$$Why do you think the highest?$$Only because healthcare and health conditions are symptomatic of life experiences and the quality of life. If the housing is poor and lead paint is all over the place; if your healthcare system is poor and people are not able to go to the doctor as much as they should; if pregnant women are not able to get care during pregnancy, then you end up with these kind of problems. I was able to put together a healthcare network, and we had the major healthcare providers join in with preventive medical care, and we were in, within one to two years, able to improve all of those statistics. So, there were children being born then that are now still alive because of that system. So, how much is a human life worth? I think that we saved lives; and that, to me, is a better statistic than anything that we were able to do otherwise.$So, I'd like to learn more about the relationship that you built with Newark [New Jersey] that--excuse me--with Prudential [Prudential Life Insurance Company of America; Prudential Financial, Inc.] and other businesses, because that's part of what you are known for; helping to bring more businesses into Newark, to bring more money into the city.$$Well, you know, I'd like to take credit for all of that. But the point is that it makes good sense, business sense, to be where people and businesses are, because they provide a service. The guys that I made friends with in downtown Newark, they laughed at me at first when I said I was going to be the mayor; they didn't believe it. I convinced them to do some special things in Newark. Before I was elected, I went to every major business in downtown Newark. And I told them, I said, "I'm going to be the mayor, and I just want one commitment from you. Once I become mayor, then you help me." I said, "Because I realize who actually has the power in town." After they got finished laughing, then I got elected and I called them all back up. I said, "Okay, I'm here now." They gave me, without cost to the city, a senior vice president of every business in downtown Newark. The guy who chaired the committee was a senior vice president for Prudential; his name was Bob Smith [ph.]. I made him the business administrator for the City of Newark, at no cost to the city, and he stayed for three months and they gave him another three months. They were able to help me change the way the city operated, just based on their experience and knowledge about how to get things done. It didn't cost the city any money.$$So this was a relationship that you had planned that you had planted the seed when you were running?$$Oh, yeah.$$And then they all agreed to help?$$That's right, they all came.$$And over what period of time were they helping you?$$It was six months, officially. It was more than that, but actually I made him business administrator for six months.$$Okay, so I have to break the timeline for a moment, since we're having this particular topic. So, do you see value in the current presidential administration [President Donald John Trump] bringing these businesspeople in to do these jobs?$$It depends on what they're doing. You can't--just because these guys are businessmen don't mean they're smart. (Laughter) The people that I brought in were people who actually had the power in Newark; they were already here.$$Okay.$$I didn't resurrect--I didn't bring in new people. Prudential was the home base in Newark, and had been for a hundred years. These guys that we read about nowadays, they, in most cases, have no commitment to improving the quality of life of the normal citizen; they have no real interest in doing it. So, I don't know what's going to happen. Getting back to my pet peeve, how can a person run in charge of public education who doesn't believe in public education? The guy [Rick Perry] who's in charge of environmental protection [United States Department of Energy] said that that was one of the departments he was going to eliminate when he was running for office. Are these the kind of people you should put in charge? It's a like a person who tells you that, "I don't like children," and you put them in charge of child welfare. There's something wrong with that.