Soldier, Chaplain, Dad: Collection Details Life of Service

Papers and photographs from the Gibson Collection at the State Archives

Brynn Hoffman has a summer of surprises in store for her. She is learning the inspiring story of Rev. Elmer P. Gibson, an African American chaplain during World War II and the Korean War, through the study of his papers and war documents. Hoffman is a graduate student in the Public History program at North Carolina State University and is interning with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources in the Office of Archives and History in Raleigh.  She will be blogging about what she learns about him, and what it’s like to be an archivist working with the Military Archives.

Recently the Military Collection received the private collection of Elmer P. Gibson, a black chaplain in the United States Army throughout World War II and the Korean War.

This collection found its way to the State Archives of North Carolina through the generous donation of Gibson’s son, also named Elmer, and through the hard-work of Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. Gibson’s son is well-known in the jazz community as a great musician, and first contacted the N.C. Museum of History because he wanted to donate the saxophone of late jazz great Mr. Numa “Pee Wee”Moore. 

During a conversation with Ijames, Gibson mentioned that his father was one of the first black chaplains in the United States Army and wondered if the museum would be interested in his collection.  Ijames jumped at the opportunity to have such an important piece of history at the museum, and of course accepted the offer.

The Elmer P. Gibson Collection was quite extensive and included, among other things, two uniforms, a field kit for communion, and hundreds of letters and photographs. The uniforms, field kit and several other similar items were kept at the N.C. Museum of History, but the photographs, letters, and various other paper documents were donated to the State Archives to join the Military Collection. 

More on the Military Collection State Archives

The collection held at the State Archives includes documents from Gibson’s time in ChaplainSchool, paperwork and publications associated with the U.S. Army, information about his 10 year term as president of Morristown College in Tennessee, in addition to the many letters and photographs previously mentioned. Although Gibson’s ministerial career prior to and following his time in the Army is long and noteworthy, the interest the Military Collection holds in his papers is his accomplishments during his many years spent as a chaplain in the United States Army.

Gibson entered the service as a 1st Lieutenant in the Chaplain Corps on Feb. 10, 1941 and on July 5, 1947 he was commissioned as a Major in the Chaplain Corps of the Regular Army, which was one of the highest commissions of permanent grade of any black man in the Regular Army. For his exceptional performance of duty during his time in theAleutian Islands, Gibson received the Legion of Merit Award, which, at the time, made him one of only two living black chaplains to receive this high honor.  

For his service during the Korean War, Gibson was honored with the Bronze Star and the Oak Leaf Cluster in 1952. Gibson is an especially interesting person because of his long and noteworthy career, both in and out of the U.S. Army. Held in exceptionally high regard by his superiors, peers and the soldiers he served in the United States Army, his papers indicate that he also played a role in many discussions held about desegregating the Army and what that would mean for all parties involved. 

Gibson was also a strong supporter of higher education for black Americans and played a role in black education after his time in the Army. The Military Collection at the State Archives is extremely lucky to have such an extensive collection from such an incredible veteran. There is no doubt that this collection will be extremely useful for researchers and I am excited to see what it has in store for me!

How to Donate Your Family's Materials to the Military Collection

Thanks to Rusty Edmister whose generosity is making this project possible.

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