Civil rights

Lester Gibson, McLennan County Commissioner and Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 74 | Local government and politics

According to staff reports

Lester Gibson, who served 28 years as Black McLennan County’s first commissioner since Reconstruction, died Friday after a long illness. He was 74 years old.

During his tenure as Precinct 2 Commissioner from 1990 to 2018, Gibson was known as an advocate for civil rights, minority employment in county government, and economic development.

Commissioner Pat Chisolm-Miller, who worked as Gibson’s administrative assistant for two decades before succeeding him, said Gibson has expanded minority leadership opportunities.

“He was a brilliant political mind,” Chisolm-Miller said. “I don’t think anyone else will be able to fill that booming voice. He was a man of great stature and passion. He was erudite, thoughtful and provocative. … He was a visionary. He challenged all of McLennan County to work together to be the best.

Gibson grew up in Teague, rural Freestone County, where he was a high school quarterback. He completed his high school education at AJ Moore High School in Waco, graduating in 1967. He served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War and studied sociology at Baylor University, where he graduated in 1975.

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Back in Waco, he worked for the Waco Housing Authority as a tenant services coordinator, published two community newspapers, helped organize local protests, and worked on political campaigns. In 1988, he was elected to a two-year term on the Waco City Council, representing District 1, a largely minority district. After that, he was elected to the Court of Commissioners of McLennan County.

During his tenure as commissioner, Gibson was one of the founders of the Texas Organization of Black County Commissioners. By the time he retired in 2018, he was the only remaining Democrat on the commissioners’ court.

Chisolm-Miller credited him with an increase in minority jobs in county government. She said 13% of employees today are black, up from 3% when Gibson took office.

County Judge Scott Felton said the diversity of the workforce is a lasting legacy of Gibson’s time on the commissioners’ court.

“We maintained that,” he said.

Felton was nominated to serve County Judge Jim Lewis in 2012, and he said Gibson was a strong supporter of the nomination. Even before that, when Felton was chairman of the board of Heart O’ Texas Fair, he appreciated Gibson’s support of county bonds to expand the coliseum and equestrian center.

Felton said Gibson shared his enthusiasm for economic development and was vigilant about county finances.

“I will always remember his involvement in his heyday, his involvement in the budget process and his understanding of budget details,” he said.

Gibson was not afraid to ruffle feathers as a commissioner or as a community leader.

In 1998, he and his wife, former Waco Independent School District Board President Coque Gibson, sued Waco ISD for its policy of withholding students on standardized test scores. The Gibsons lost the case.

Gibson worked for nine years to secure a resolution condemning past lynchings in McLennan County on display in the courthouse rotunda, which came to fruition in 2011.

Gibson was highly visible in the community, supporting the Gibson Tigers basketball league championship, hosting the Fred Batts Leadership Luncheon, and hosting a community radio talk show with his wife. Other community leaders included the local chapter of the NAACP and the Eastern Little League.

Chisolm-Miller said Gibson has seen a lot of civil rights progress since he was a kid in the Jim Crow era, but he only sees the beginning.

“We felt we had made a lot of progress, but we still had a lot of work to do,” she said. “He was proud of the number of minority and women’s representatives we had, but he knew there was still a lot of work to do on economic equity and building strong minority businesses. … He was a forward-looking visionary.

Funeral services are pending.