Booker Gibson, beloved music teacher, dies at 85


Editor’s note: The following obituary is adapted from a two-part feature story that Brinton wrote on Gibson in December 2010. Links to the original stories can be found at the bottom of this obituary.

By his own admission, Booker T. Gibson wasn’t the most athletic student at Mepham High School in Bellmore in the 1940s, so becoming popular at a school that placed a high value on success in sports –– in particular, in wrestling –– was no easy feat. But Gibson could play boogie-woogie piano, and at the time this highly rhythmic style of the blues ruled the airwaves.

So Gibson, a soft-spoken student musician with an electric smile and an easygoing personality, was wildly popular and became president of Mepham’s House of Representatives.

Gibson’s senior yearbook featured a photo of him standing beside a lectern before a semicircle of preppy student representatives, leading the class of 1948. His was the only black face in a room full of white teens.

Gibson grew up as one of a handful of African-American children in predominately white Merrick. He later went on to become one of the first African-American teachers in the mostly white Valley Stream Central School District, in 1956. He retired 30 years later.

Gibson died of natural causes at his North Merrick home on March 10. He was 85.

A funeral service was scheduled for 11 a.m. at Union Baptist Church in Hempstead on Friday, March 18, at 11 a.m. Burial was to follow at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn. The Carl C. Burnett Funeral Home in Hempstead made the arrangements.

Gibson is survived by his wife, Frances, and three sons, Joshua and Paul, both of Merrick, and Brock, of Syracuse.

Gibson made his home in the Merricks for most of his life. Having served in the U.S. Air Force, he was a longtime respected member of Merrick American Legion Post No. 1282 and was a regular at Memorial Day parades and Veterans Day services.

Gibson, named for the renowned African-American educator Booker T. Washington, was born in the Bronx in 1930, as the Great Depression began, and spent his first eight years in an apartment in Harlem, in the shadow of the Apollo Theater, with his parents, Theodore and Mary, and two older siblings, Frances and Ted.

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