The Tradition Begins
Tulane's present day administration building, Gibson Hall, is named in honor of Randall Lee Gibson, plantation owner, Confederate general, and legislator who became the first president of the Board of Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, serving from 1882 until his death in 1892.
His father, Tobias Gibson, Esq., owned sugar plantations with 148 slaves in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. Randal Lee Gibson (b. 1832) was educated with private tutors, graduated from Yale College in 1853, obtained a law degree from the University of Louisiana in 1855, and traveled abroad for three years before returning home to tend the family business.
At the outset of the Civil War, Gibson enlisted in the Confederate army where he rose rapidly through the ranks to become a general who commanded many bloody military campaigns before his final defeat and surrender in 1865 near Mobile, Alabama. Following the war, which financially ruined his plantation business, he established a law practice in New Orleans, entered politics, and eventually was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1875-83) and U.S. Senate (1883-92).
Gibson shared many of the same ideological values as the merchant and philanthropist Paul Tulane who sought him out in 1881, and as a member of Congress he had the political connections necessary to implement Paul Tulane's desire to create an institution in New Orleans for the education of "young white persons" that would embody those ideals.
Louisiana's Constitution of 1868 had extended public education to blacks and created a dilemma for opponents of desegregation. They were indignant over the prospect of having to send their children to an institution of higher learning that was no longer the exclusive domain of whites, and privatization was seen as a solution.
Working as Paul Tulane's agent, Gibson in 1881 began the task of assembling a group of prominent citizens that included bankers, lawyers, clergymen, judges, and businessmen whose purpose was to convince the state legislature to permit them to take over the financially troubled University of Louisiana Gibson's old alma mater in New Orleans and place it under their control as a new educational institution, a venture justified by the financial donation made by Paul Tulane.
Thus was born the plan for the founding of Tulane University of Louisiana, an institution that would reflect for years to come many of the board's cherished Southern traditions.
In 1882, Gibson was declared the first president of the Board of Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund, and in 1883 Gibson named his cousin his Yale roommate and fellow Confederate Colonel William Preston Johnston to become the first president of the future new university. By 1884, the efforts of the Board of Administrators culminated in the passage of Louisiana Act 43 of 1884, which formally transferred the assets of the University of Louisiana to the new board and recognized the renaming of the state institution to Tulane University of Louisiana.
|The great irony about segregationist Randall Lee Gibson is that his own great-grandfather, Gideon Gibson, was a free man of color who had married a white woman and settled in South Carolina. Gibson's African ancestry was a family secret.*
“The farther backward you can look,|
the farther forward you are likely to see.”
-- Winston Churchill
*The African ancestry of Gideon Gibson, the great-grandfather of Senator Randall Lee Gibson, is tightly woven into the historical record of that period. However, recent DNA analysis of a male descendant of Senator Randall Lee Gibson has indicated the absence of the senator's African ancestry, although "some ancestry" from Portugal. (Source: Personal correspondence, 10/26/2018 to 02/05/2019, with Ms. Claudia Gibson, wife of Harlan Lee Gibson, the great-great-grandson of Senator Randall Lee Gibson) If substantiated, this finding raises the possibility that the senator may have been fathered by a Caucasian man. Alternative circumstances other then marital infidelity are also possible, and further research is warranted. The question over Senator Randall Lee Gibson's African ancestry may never be settled until his body is exhumed and his DNA tested.
- Randall Lee Gibson, "Virtual American Biographies,"
(http://www.famousamericans.net/randallleegibson/), accessed 11/21/04.
- "In Memoriam: General Randall Lee Gibson & Daniel Hubbard Willis, Jr.," (http://www.civilwarmysteries.com/...), accessed 11/25/04.
- Gibson, Randall Lee, The Columbia Electronic Encylopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press, 2004, (http://www.infoplease.com/...), accessed 11/21/04.
- TERREBONNE PARISH [DeBow's Review, 1849], (http://www.rootsweb.com/~laterreb/debow1.htm), accessed 11/22/04.
- GIBSON, Randall Lee - Biographical Information, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, (http://bioguide.congress.gov/...), accessed 11/21/04.
- John P. Dyer, Tulane: The Biography of a University, 1834 - 1965, Harper & Row Publishers, New York and London, 1st Ed., 1966.
- Mary G. McBride, "Senator Randall Lee Gibson and the Establishment of Tulane University," Louisiana History, 28, 245-262, 1987.
- "Reconstruction: A State Divided," The Cabildo, (http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/cabildo/cab11.htm), and related postings of the Louisiana State Museum, accessed 12/01/04.
- "Frontline: Gibson," The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families, (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ shows/secret/famous/gibsonfamily.html), accessed 12/02/04 (remove space from URL).
- Mary G. McBride and Ann M. McLaurin, Randall Lee Gibson of Louisiana: Confederate General and New South Reformer, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2007, 320 pp.
- Daniel J. Sharfstein, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, The Penguin Press, 2011, 396 pp.