George Gibbs, Jr. was the first black man to go to Antarctica, a.k.a the South Pole. Getting his start in exploration through the U.S. Navy, the Jacksonville, Florida native served in WWII as a Navy gunner.
In 1939, George Gibbs applied for a chance to accompany Admiral Richard Byrd on a South Pole Expedition. Gibbs was chosen among 2,000 applicants. He was the first and only African-American in the group of 40 sailors aboard the USS Bear. On January 14, 1941, the men reached their destination.
Gibbs would continue to serve the navy for a total of 24 years before retiring in 1959. After taking work in personnel at IBM, and starting his own employment agency, George Gibbs turned his attention toward civil rights and would organize the Rochester, Minnesota chapter of the NAACP in 1966. Only a few years later he would be honored with a chapter humanitarian award in his own name for outstanding work.
In his efforts to build integration in his community, George Gibbs applied to the Rochester Elks club, an all-white private club. He was the first applicant and, of course, denied. But his denial made headlines and he helped to break the tradition of segregation at the prestigious organization.
Since his passing on his 85th birthday, November 7, 2001, the city of Rochester has opened the George Gibbs Elementary School and dedicated Rochester’s West Soldiers Field Drive in his honor.