The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has confirmed that a geographical site in Antarctica will be named for the first African American explorer who set foot on the frozen continent, George W. Gibbs, Jr.
A rock point forming the northwest entrance to Gaul Cove will be called Gibbs Point.
This is Gibbs' second posthumous honor within a year. As a result of his civic and business leadership, the George W. Gibbs Jr. Elementary School was approved last year by the school board of Rochester, Minn.; the school's formal dedication will take place on Oct. 11.
Gibbs was born on Nov. 7, 1916, in Jacksonville, Fla., and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1935. Four years later he was chosen from hundreds of applicants to join an expedition with the United States Antarctic Service (U.S.A.S.).
In 1939, Congress established U.S.A.S, and an expedition under veteran polar explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd went south, "to consolidate previous American exploration and to examine more closely the land in the Pacific sector." Gibbs served as a Mess Attendant 1st Class aboard the lead expedition ship, U.S.S. Bear.
On the morning of Jan. 14, 1940, the Bear steamed into the Bay of Whales, an indentation in the massive Ross Ice Shelf, that stretches out into the Ross Sea -- it was a special day for Gibbs, who recorded the events in his journal:
"When the Bear came up to the ice close enough for me to get ashore, I was the first man aboard the ship to set foot in [Byrd's old base] Little America, and help tie her lines deep into the snow. I met Admiral Byrd; he shook my hand and welcomed me to Little America and for being the first Negro to set foot in Little America."
Rising to become Chief Petty Officer, Gibbs left the Navy in 1959, having earned the Navy Good Conduct Medal and the silver U.S. Antarctic Service Expedition Medal 1939-41, among other service medals. Mr. Gibbs moved to Minneapolis, MN where he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Education.
Gibbs moved to Rochester in 1963 to work with IBM before retiring in 1982. He was also a civil rights activist in Rochester and co-found the local branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). After his retirement from IBM, Gibbs opened a career service placement business and managed Technical Career Placement, Inc., until 1999.
"He lived a long life of community service and never really retired," said his daughter Leilani Rashida Henry, who is currently researching and writing a book on her father's Antarctic adventures.
"Most people are aware of Mathew Henson, the first African American to reach the North Pole but few people are aware of my father as the first African American to set foot on the Antarctic continent."
Gibbs died on his 84th birthday, Nov. 7, 2000.