Gibson Collection A Learning Experience

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. 

As my time with the Elmer Gibson collection comes to an end, it seems like the appropriate time to consider what an influential man Gibson really was. Elmer Gibson played a critical role in American society and served the United States Army during some of the most pivotal time periods in American history.  

Gibson's Army portraitThe 20th Century was a period of change and Gibson was able to fully experience and participate in many of these changes. Gibson served in the United States Army as a chaplain throughout World War II and the Korean War. As a chaplain, Gibson served the spiritual and emotional needs of soldiers during the difficult times of war. He offered religious services on an almost daily basis and counseled men one-on-one about personal and professional issues. In addition, he also put his own life in danger because he was stationed alongside soldiers overseas and in the battlefields. 

Besides just performing his chaplain’s duties, Gibson went out of his way to actively participate in the debate over the integration of the United States Armed Forces. While in the Army, Gibson earned the prestigious Legion of Merit Award for his service in World War II and the Bronze Star and Oak Leaf Cluster for his service in the Korean War. Gibson retired from the Army in 1957 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.   

After his time in the Army, Gibson went on to earn a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology fromTemple University in 1959 and was elected as the president of Morristown College in Tennessee that same year. He stayed at Morristown College for the next 10 years and actively encouraged the higher education of African-Americans of all ages.  

Additionally, he also served at several churches, was a loving husband, and was the proud father of two children, Cornelia Gertrude and Elmer.

Having the opportunity to work with the Elmer Gibson collection has been an incredible experience on two levels. First, I had the opportunity to work with and process an entire collection from beginning to end. Basically, I organized the collection and created a finding aid to help lead researchers through Gibson’s papers.

More interestingly, however, I had the chance to learn a lot about an incredible man and what it means to be a chaplain in the United States Armed Forces.

Although I have knowledge of all the wars the United States has participated in, my understanding of what life was like for the men and women participating in these wars is lacking, and this collection gave me the chance to get know one of these men.

Look Back at Hoffman's Six Previous Posts on the Collection

Working with this collection has been a treat for me and I look forward to more of these experiences in my future!

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