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Kenneth A. Gibson (1955 - 2007)
RepositoryNew Jersey Historical Society
Collection IDMG 1684
Size11 linear feet (26 boxes and 1 oversize folder)
Collection Description
Kenneth Allen Gibson (1932-2019) was Newark's first African-American, serving from 1970 to 1986. He was born in Enterprise, Alabama, and moved to Newark's Central Ward in 1940 with his parents and younger brother, Harold. His father, Willie, worked in the Swift packing plant in Kearny, NJ, and his mother, Daisy, worked as a seamstress. He attended Monmouth Street School and Cleveland Junior High School and graduated from Central High School in 1950, the same year that he entered Newark College of Engineering. Gibson, whose college education was interrupted by work and by his service in the military, graduated from NCE with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1962.

From 1956-1958, Gibson served in Hawaii with the 65th Engineer Battalion of the United States Army; he then held a number of positions in Newark: Engineer, Highway Department (1950-1960), Chief Engineer, Newark Housing Authority (1960-1966) and Chief Structural Engineer, City of Newark (1966-1970). His marriage to the former Muriel Cook (1929-1983) ended with her death from cancer. The couple had two daughters, Jo Anne (Danks) and Cheryl (Fuller), and one step-daughter, Joyce (Williams). His second wife, Camille, survived him.

Throughout the early 1960s, Gibson was active in community affairs, as director of the Newark YW-YMCA, and in the Newark chapters of the Urban League and the NAACP. In 1964, he was chosen "Outstanding Alumnus" by Newark College of Engineering and "Man of the Year" by Newark's Junior Chamber of Commerce.

In 1966, six weeks before the election, Gibson joined the mayoral race. He received 18 percent of the vote, causing a mayoral run-off, but ultimately lost to incumbent Hugh J. Addonizio. Gibson spent the next four years preparing for the 1970 mayoral campaign, which he won. When Gibson took office in 1970, he was faced with a large budget deficit, high rates of crime and unemployment, and the lingering social, political, and fiscal ramifications of the 1967 Newark riots. During his tenure as mayor Gibson acquired federal funding for Newark and built or rehabilitated thousands of public housing units. But despite all efforts, Newark's population continued to decline, while crime and unemployment remained high.

Gibson served as president of the United States Conference of Mayors from 1976-1977. He also traveled widely while in office -- in 1980 to Burundi, and in 1982 to Hong Kong to participate in "Invest in America's Cities." As legal, fiscal and political challenges mounted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gibson's positive reputation waned. In 1981 he made an unsuccessful primary run for governor, losing the Democratic nomination to James Florio, and in 1986 he lost Newark's mayoral election to Sharpe James.

Gibson's post-mayoral years were clouded by charges of malfeasance in regard to public contracts, charges he fought strenuously; in 2002, after prolonged litigation, he received three years' probation for tax evasion.
Collection Contents
The collection includes correspondence, notes, photographs, slides, blueprints, maps, newspaper clippings and other printed material from Kenneth Gibson's student days at the Newark College of Engineering, as an employee of the New Jersey State Highway Department, and as mayor.

Boxes 1-2 contain campaign materials, including flyers, petitions, and platforms, related to Gibson's 1966-1982 mayoral campaigns, and his 1981 run for governor.

Boxes 2-3 contain material related to the Newark College of Engineering, including Gibson's notes, exams and technical bulletins from his engineering classes; and brief notes taken by Justin J. Calcagno (1955), Robert J. Carlin (1956), and Joyce Cook; and Gibson's NCE transcript

Boxes 4-6 contain material related to Gibson's mayoralty. Administrative materials include a contract between the City of Newark and the U.S. Department of Labor for repayment of emergency funds; proposals for law enforcement programs, letters of complaint, an open letter to the City Council from Gibson regarding the appointment of a new police director, an undated survey of Newark residents, and a 1966 contract between the NJ Secretary of Labor and the Welfare Federation of Newark. Also present are Newark Housing Authority materials, including the transcript of a civil action court hearing (1955), the Newark Housing Council's first annual report (1970), an evaluation of the impact of the Housing, Community Development Act of 1947, a summons from an Essex County Grand Jury to Gibson concerning allegations of illegal activities surrounding the operation of the Housing Authority, and a 1964 ordinance of the City of Newark revising its building code. Newark Board of Education materials include correspondence and minutes of a BOE conference (1974).

Boxes 7-8 contain materials related to meetings, conferences, and rallies (1963-1982), including the United States Conference of Mayors

Box 13 contains three folders of awards and honors (1962-1982) received by Gibson, including certificates, correspondence, and programs; and a copy of Gibson's degree from Newark College of Engineering (Folder 1)

Box 14 contains printed material and ephemera related to Newark (1963-1983), including a booklet about Newark city government, a general guide to Newark, and fact sheets

Boxes 15-16 contain personal documents, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera related to Gibson, his family, and Newark in general. Gibson's personal material includes contact lists (Box 15, Folder 4); a brief biography (Box 16, Folder 3); a 1956 military notebook (Box 16, Folder 4); and correspondence, 1961-1980 (Box 16, Folder 5). Newark material includes correspondence and printed material (1966) of the Business and Industrial Coordinating Council (BICC, Box 15, Folder 6); correspondence with the New Jersey Historical Society (2007, Box 16, Folder 1); hand-drawn maps of Newark (Box 16, Folder 6); and a 1971 yearbook and commencement program from Central High School (Box 16, Folder 9).

Boxes 17-25 contain clippings (1963-1983), arranged chronologically. Topics include Gibson's mayoral campaigns, his time in office, city finances, crime, housing, education, and other civic issues.
FormatsPhotographic materials; Textual materials
SubjectsAfrican-American History / Civil Rights; Education; Politics and Government; Property / Urban Development
Time Periods20th Century; 21st Century
Access policyOpen for research
Finding AidYes
Finding Aid URL