By Anthony S. Johnson, Contributor
1919: A young Percival Gibson held the post of Assistant Curate.
MAY 1, 1947 was a great day for all Jamaicans. In the Anglican Cathedral at Spanish Town, Percival William Gibson was consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, the first time the honour had been conferred on someone of African ancestry in almost one hundred years.
For Gibson it was merely another milestone in an illustrious career, which saw him proving beyond any doubt, the capacity of Jamaicans to achieve greatness. Most importantly, he demonstrated the practicability of living a clean, honest life, without any hint of scandal, while rising to the top ranks of civil and ecclesiastical life.
Born September 15, 1893 to William and Louise Gibson at the Cavaliers Water Works in Kingston, he attended Mico Practising School and in 1907, won a scholarship to St. George's College. His parents could not have afforded the fees. Young Gibson never received less than 90 per cent in any subject during the four years before graduating and became one of the first black students admitted to St. Peter's Anglican Theological College, again on a scholarship. Through private study, he became the first Jamaican to gain the Bachelor of Divinity degree, later also gaining the B.A. and B.A. (Honours) degrees, all through external study. These were landmarks which inspired future generations of scholars at a time when the handful of black students who could qualify, studied either medicine, dentistry or law. And all had to travel overseas.
As a young curate, he developed a reputation as a hell fire preacher, at St. George's Church on East Street, where he started outreach programmes among the youth. Percival Gibson then developed the goal of working for the City of God through the training of young men of character, who would lift up the morals and lifestyle of the City of Kingston. His inspiration was the book "The City of God" by St. Augustine, an African Father of the mediaeval Christian Church.
In 1925 his sister Gwendolyn and himself purchased the Rectory of All Saints Church on East Street, and on April 16, 1949, he enrolled the first 49 boys at the building which he renamed Kingston College. At the time, there were 20 high schools in Jamaica, with a total enrolment of about 1,000. By his death in 1970, Kingston College alone would have over 1,500 students enrolled.
From the beginning, Gibson made it known that the school was not 'exclusive', but would accept any boy whose parents could pay. Most of the other schools prided themselves on only taking 'the right kind' of students, which was a justification for the class and race prejudice of the day. Nevertheless, his reputation as the country's greatest classical scholar ensured a steady stream of students of all strata of society.
The first two decades of K.C were a struggle, buoyed only by the motto 'the brave may fall, but never yield'. From 1949 to 1957, the school would win the Jamaica Scholarship six times, and since it entered inter-schools sports in 1928 it has won over 100 titles while producing West Indies cricketers and Olympic medallists. Among other things, he proved that a 'down town' school, drawing heavily from the working class, could produce high-class scholars and sportsmen.
Despite the heavy teaching schedule, Gibson maintained his duties as a priest, so it was no surprise that the Anglican Diocese was unanimous in electing him to be the assistant Bishop of Jamaica in 1947 with the title Suffragan Bishop of Kingston. When the Anglican Bishops next met at Lambeth Palace in London, a black face appeared. It was the herald of the dawn of black men moving to centre stage in the world.
LORD BISHOP 1955-1967
In 1955, the Diocese was again unanimous in electing him as Lord Bishop of Jamaica, after a rump movement had withdrawn the plea that Jamaica needed the customary English Bishop. He developed a reputation as Jamaica's conscience, and was soon appointed to the Legislative Council, (the forerunner of the Senate). His theological brilliance flourished, and the Montreal Theological Institute made him a Doctor of Divinity. He was then the Rt. Rev. Dr. the Hon. Percival Gibson, D.D., C.B.E., B.D., B.A. (Hon), B.A, the first Jamaican to own these honours together. Gibson's term as head of the Jamaican Church was one of brilliant achievement as he tore himself away from his beloved K.C.
His main work was in expanding education in the island which became a state in 1962. He expanded all the secondary schools owned by the Anglican Church and in 1956 established the Diocesan Educational Trust headed by a big businessman, Eli Matalon, to spearhead the Church's outreach, especially in rural areas.
He also founded Bishop Gibson High School in 1962 and Glenmuir High School in May Pen in 1958. He also
conceived an Anglican Teachers College, which became Church Teachers College in 1965, and encouraged the formation
of basic schools. In his youth, Percival Gibson had been vitriolic in his sermons against other denominations, but as Bishop, he became a pioneer in the call for ecumenism. Perhaps the capstone of his effort was the founding of the Union Theological Seminary at the UWI, through the amalgamation in 1966 of
the Anglican St. Peter's, the Methodist Caenwood, the Presbyterian St. Colme's and the Baptist Calabar Theological Colleges.
In 1958 he re-established the Church Army in Jamaica, as a militant lay force, especially to work in depressed areas, and re-established the Order of Deaconess in 1957.
Bishop Gibson became a national symbol during his lifetime. To the end his fiery sermons criticised any aspect of political, civil or social life which he felt was unbecoming. He was particularly harsh on immoral behaviour, and called for reform, often stating:
"Kingston is the wickedest city on Earth".
In his lifetime no one ever dared to challenge him, but he never received a Jamaican civil honour. He resigned his duties in 1967 and passed away on
April 3, 1970.