Randall L. Gibson
|Randall L. Gibson|
|United States Senator
|Preceded by||William P. Kellogg|
|Succeeded by||Donelson Caffery|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st district
|Preceded by||Effingham Lawrence|
|Succeeded by||Carleton Hunt|
September 10, 1832|
|Died||December 15, 1892
Hot Springs, Arkansas
|Alma mater||Yale University|
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Confederate States Army|
|Years of service||1861-1865|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
Randall Lee Gibson (September 10, 1832 – December 15, 1892) was an attorney and politician, elected as a member of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senator from Louisiana. He served as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. Later he was a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and a president of the board of administrators of Tulane University.
Gibson was born in 1832 at "Spring Hill", Versailles, Kentucky, the son of a planter and slaveholding family. After his father moved the family to Louisiana when Randall was a child, the youth was educated in leading local schools. In 1853 he graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of the Scroll and Key society. He returned to Louisiana to study for his bachelor of laws (LL.B) from the University of Louisiana, later Tulane University.
Later in the year, he was commissioned as colonel of the 13th Louisiana Infantry. Gibson fought at the Battle of Shiloh and subsequent actions. With the Army of the Mississippi, he took part in the 1862 Kentucky Campaign and the Battle of Chickamauga. After being promoted to brigadier general on January 11, 1864, he fought in the Atlanta Campaign and the Franklin-Nashville Campaign; he next was assigned to the defense of Mobile, Alabama. He inspired his troops to hold Spanish Fort, which was under siege, until the last moment, after which they escaped at night on April 8, 1865.
Gibson returned to Louisiana after the war, working to help the state recover. It had suffered much damage to levees along the Mississippi, which threatened the large-scale plantations for cotton and sugar. Planters struggled to deal with free labor after the war.
In 1874, Gibson was elected as a Democrat in the US House of Representatives, being re-elected and serving nearly a decade from 1875 until 1883. He promoted the creation of the Committee on the Mississippi Levees on December 10, 1875, to investigate the state of Mississippi levees and gain federal support for their building and repair, issues he persuaded his fellows were in the national interest because of the importance of the Mississippi, its trade, and the region's agriculture. The committee's name was changed to the Levees and Improvements of the Mississippi River on November 7, 1877.
In 1882, Gibson was elected by the Louisiana state legislature (as was the procedure at the time) as US Senator, serving from 1883 to 1892. According to historian Daniel L. Sharfstein in The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey From Black to White (2011), during these years a political opponent challenged Gibson's status as a white man, based on records. Gibson investigated but learned only that his ancestors were property owners, which was "enough to satisfy most of Gibson’s contemporaries."
“Such status,” Sharfstein explains, “could not mean anything but whiteness. . . . As much as racial purity mattered to white Southerners, they had to circle the wagons around Randall Gibson. If someone of his position could not be secure in his race, then no one was safe"."
(Note: For similar reasons, in the late 19th century, Virginia legislators decided against passing a law for a one-drop rule to establish racial status, as they did not want to embarrass well-established families, including likely some of their members.)
Sharfstein found that Gibson's paternal line went back to freed African slaves in colonial Virginia (who by that time may already have been of mixed race, as was common in that region). Descendants had moved to the South Carolina frontier by the late 18th century, where Gideon Gibson became a property owner and slaveholder, and married white, as did his descendants for generations. They succeeded in the South.
Gibson Hall on the campus of Tulane University is named for Senator Gibson, who was instrumental after the war in helping fund and continue the public University of Louisiana as the private Tulane University of Louisiana.
- Eicher, p. 254.
- Records of the Committee on the Mississippi Levees (1875-77), History and Jurisdiction, National Archives
- RAYMOND ARSENAULT, "Shades of White", New York Times, 25 February 2014, accessed 29 January 2014
- Owen and Owen, Generals at Rest, p. 80.
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Richard Owen; James Owen (1997). Generals at Rest: The Grave Sites of the 425 Official Confederate Generals. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Co. ISBN 1-57249-045-4.
- Daniel L. Sharfstein, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey From Black to White, New York: Penguin Press, 2011
- Congressional biography
- Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 1995-2006
- "Randall L. Gibson". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st congressional district
|United States Senate|
William P. Kellogg
|U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Louisiana
Served alongside: Benjamin F. Jonas, James B. Eustis, Edward D. White