Over the last several years in Philadelphia, we have witnessed the erection of the first monument to a Black man in our city, abolitionist Octavius Catto; the first mural to a legal and civic giant, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.; a community effort to rename a street from Taney — named for the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision — for Caroline LeCount, Philly’s own Rosa Parks; and a school renamed from racist president Andrew Jackson to former slave-turned-educator Fanny Coppin Jackson.
Like these people, to me, the All Stars are the everyday folks who are doing the heavy lifting for their race and culture: Teachers, sanitation workers, people who work the traffic lights and run nurseries — both for kids and for your grass — the people who are clerks in local stores. They are the preachers who reach masses of people on a daily basis; the writers whose praises don’t get as well-sung as they should; the social activists who are out there trying to make a better life for us even when we don’t understand what’s at stake.
These are the people Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as the “ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth.”
John Trusty Gibson
John Trusty Gibson
In 1920s Philadelphia, John Trusty Gibson had sure made a name for himself. The owner of all three Black theaters in Philadelphia, Gibson was the wealthiest African American in the City of Philadelphia.
Born in 1878 in Baltimore, Gibson attended local public schools before attending Morgan College Preparatory School, now known as Morgan State University. Beckoned into Philly in the 1890s by the promise of economic opportunity, Gibson bought his first theater, The North Pole Theater, after buying out his business partner in 1910.
In the following years, Gibson would open up the Standard Theater in 1918 and the Dunbar Theater — which would then be named the Gibson Theater — in 1921. Gibson’s theaters would go on to host famous actors and musicians of the time, including Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Gibson was also an active member of Philadelphia society, serving as a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Director of Douglass Hospital.
- Owner of all three Black theaters in Philadelphia
- Member of the Chamber of Commerce
- Director of Douglass Hospital
More on Gibson: Black Then, “John Trust Gibson: Owner of Three Major Black Theaters in Philadelphia PA”
Reporting by Aly Kerrigan and Ethan Young.