A Trove of Toledo History

. August 13, 2019.
“You cannot realize how valuable your services to the school are and how much it would weaken us to lose you.” Letter from Booker T. Washington to Charles Hanford Gibson, 1904. Part of the collection donated by Kip Leahy to the Toledo Library. Image courtesy: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
“You cannot realize how valuable your services to the school are and how much it would weaken us to lose you.” Letter from Booker T. Washington to Charles Hanford Gibson, 1904. Part of the collection donated by Kip Leahy to the Toledo Library. Image courtesy: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Library receives docs of prominent Toledoan

A collection of rare documents connected to Toledo history— and to the history of one of the most prominent African American schools in the country— has been donated to the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

The collection consists of two books, one a scrapbook of personal pieces connected to former Toledo lawyer James Slater Gibson, the other a 1918 yearbook from the Tuskegee Institute, a university that Gibson attended, which was founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington.

James Slater Gibson

Both of the items shed light on the personal history of Gibson, a famous figure in Toledo history who was the first African American lawyer to work for the City of Toledo. The scrapbook in particular features a great deal of information about Gibson’s father, Charles Hansford Gibson, who worked at the Tuskegee Institute.

Among the most valuable pieces preserved in the scrapbook are three letters written to Charles by Booker T. Washington himself.

“They’re glued into the scrapbook. They’re handwritten, and the earliest one dates [to] 1897,” said Gayle Harmon-Hebert, librarian with the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. “The second one is dated 1904, and in that one, Washington is basically thanking Gibson for staying with the Tuskegee Institute. He had received a different job offer. So they are a glimpse into someone who was personally not connected to Toledo, but whose son was.”

A fascinating individual

The collection was donated to the library by Kip M. Leahy, a former Toledo resident who had been doing some research into the life and career of his father, another former attorney from Toledo.

“My dad was an attorney for almost 20 years in Toledo. So I was doing research on him, and I know he had some cases and involvement with James Slater Gibson,” Leahy, who now resides in Phoenix, explains.

“As I’m researching, James Slater Gibson was a fascinating individual with an interesting background. Of course I knew a lot about my family history, but I wanted to find out more about (Gibson). So as I looked into his family, I found the wife of his grandson is living in California. So I contacted her, and went to visit.”

Gibson’s grandson, Slater Gibson Leverette, passed away in 2015. His widow, Betty, gave Leahy the materials when he visited her, expressing her late husband’s wishes that the pieces be donated.

“When I talked with Betty, (she explained that her husband’s) Slater Gibson Leverette’s wishes, were that whatever family papers and documents there were should be donated to some kind of museum or library, to be available to others,” Leahy said.

Preserving history

Leahy himself suggested the Toledo Library as the documents’ final destination. The donation thrilled Harmon-Hebert and her colleagues at the department of Local History and Genealogy, and they’ve been working to digitally scan and preserve the fragile materials. “They’ve probably been handled in the last month more than they’ve been handled in the last 75 years,” Harmon-Hebert said.

“People are able to see them if they make an appointment, but the less they’re handled, of course, the better. So we’ve started the process of scanning the items. The first thing that I scanned were the Booker T. Washington letters, but really everything needs to be scanned, and that’s the plan.”

To view the documents related to James Slater Gibson and the Tuskegee Institute, make an appointment by calling the Library’s department of Local History and Genealogy
at 419-259-5233.