At the ripe age of 113 years old, Delphine Tucker Gibson is the oldest living American citizen currently living in the United States. Born on August 17 in 1903 she has witnessed more change than any of us. Here to tell her story is her grand-daughter Frandrea Gibson Thompson, the wife of the author’s lifelong best friend, Everard Thompson. The Thompsons and Mrs. Gibson currently reside in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1903 at the turn of the century, life for African Americans was socially, politically and economically brutal. The country was evolving, yet African Americans were excluded from society. Their value was diminished and racial significance had not been established. Though slavery was abolished, African Americans had limited rights and limited resources.
My grandmother Delphine Tucker was born into that world in Ridgeway, South Carolina. The second of eight children she was destined to a hard life in in the segregated Jim Crow south. She was raised in a home where faith in God and service to mankind was practiced daily. Although raised on a farm as a sharecropper’s daughter Granny learned the value of hard work. She tended the farm, picked cotton, assisted her mother in raising her younger siblings and performed other jobs to help the family survive.
The south was segregated and racist and she endured humiliating experiences as part of her everyday existence. She lived in fear of the pain inflicted by white people. She experienced the ravages of the Klan as they destroyed homes, families and churches. She moved from South Carolina to North Carolina in the 1920’s searching for better economic opportunities.
In January 1927 she married Taylor Gibson and they started their journey together. In 1930 her son Frank Gibson (my father) was born and soon afterwards the Depression overwhelmed the South. Granny and Granddaddy raised chicken, hogs, ran a snack shop, cooked meals, had a lawn service, and worked as domestics. She always said “Don’t spend all you make”; because she understood that money was scarce.
Two things remained steadfast in Granny’s heart. Religion was the grounding force, the center of her life. Faith in God kept her focused and at peace. Being active in the church gave her sanctuary; a place to voice concerns about illegal and immoral practices of whites against African Americans, and bond with like-minded individuals. Church was used as the social network of the time. Educating the youth in the community was the second heartfelt desire held close to Granny’s heart.
Granny insisted that her only son become a stellar student and learn everything possible. She always told him that “Education is the key to a better life.” He received both academic and athletic scholarships to Virginia Union University and North Carolina A&T College.
Granny has been a witness to all of the major events of the 20th and the 21st centuries. From Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglas, WWI, WWII, Civil Rights movement, Harlem Renaissance to the election of our first African American President — President Barack Obama. Her longevity is attributed to her love of and extreme faith in God, and a diet of fresh unprocessed foods. Today Granny is completely blind as a result of glaucoma yet her vision for her family remains strong. “Always Put God First.”
Granny has one son, Frank E. Gibson; three grandchildren, Frandrea Gibson Thompson, Jule Gibson Lawrence, and Frank Roneil Gibson; six greatgrandchildren, Fravere D. Thompson, EvVarey F. Thompson, Fine’ E. Thompson, Briana K. Lawrence, Frank Roniel Gibson II, and Shane L. Gibson; and one great-great grandson, Hezekiah E. Thompson.