Jewelle Taylor Gibbs was born in Stratford, Connecticut and raised in Ansonia of the Naugatuck Valley near Yale University. Her earliest memories centered family, the church, and the beach on Long Island Sound. Her father founded the NAACP of Connecticut in 1944 and led the organization for twenty-five years as its inaugural president. He was also politically active as Vice Chair of the Democratic Party, exposing young Jewelle to the likes of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and prominent Chicago Congressman William L. Dawson. In 1950, Taylor chose to attend Radcliffe College because of its true co-ed nature. With mixed Black and white heritage, she organized to protest segregation in the dormitories and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, the oldest Black sorority in the nation. AKA gave Taylor a network of role models and peers as the only Black student in her class. During her senior year, she met James Lowell Gibbs Jr., a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard and the university’s first African-American resident tutor. Wedded in 1956, they were one of the earliest Black couples to appear in the social pages of The New York Times’ wedding announcements—an editorial decision that “reflected the changing racial attitudes in American society.”
Soon after, the new couple moved to a Liberian village for Mr. Gibbs’ anthropological study. Living in a mud hut without electricity, plumbing, or television brought the two daily adventures and unmatched closeness. In 1966, Mr. Gibbs accepted the position of anthropology professor at Stanford University and eventually became its first tenured African-American faculty member. When their two sons were of schooling age, Taylor Gibbs began pursuing a Master’s in Social Work at the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated in 1970 and served as a clinical social worker at Stanford’s Cowell Health Services while her husband became the university’s first dean of undergraduate studies. Her interests in minority mental health brought her back to UC Berkeley for a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Hopes of opening a private practice stalled when Proposition 13 (a cap on property taxes) in California passed and limited funding for social services. She turned her attention to teaching as assistant professor at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare in 1979, became an associate professor in 1983, and then a full professor in 1986. Her research interests included juvenile justice issues, adolescent psychosocial problems, biracial and bicultural identity issues, and urban social policy.
In her oral history with UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, Taylor Gibbs named Dorothy Height (former president of the National Council of Negro Women), Thurgood Marshall (first Black Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), Leon Higginbotham (civil rights advocate and judge), and Eleanor Roosevelt (former first lady of the U.S. and human rights activist) as role models in her work. Professor Gibbs mentored a generation of students and faculty. In 1993, she was named the Zellerbach Family Fund Professor of Social Policy, Community Change and Practice and became the first African American professor appointed to an endowed chair in the entire University of California system. “This ‘first black’ designation was a mixed blessing,” she wrote in her 2014 autobiography Destiny’s Child: Memoirs of a Preacher’s Daughter. “You are expected to represent the whole race, you are always under the microscope, and you can’t afford to fail.” Despite these pressures, she received the highest academic honor at the University of California, the Berkeley Citation, and testified before Congress during her tenure.
Source: Mary Tan, 150W Project Assistant, from An Oral History of Jewelle T. Gibbs, Transcribed
Profile of Professor Gibbs on Berkeley Social Welfare site
New York Times article featuring Taylor and Husband, "A Couple Used to Breaking the Color Line"