Winner, 2006 Illinois State Historical Society Book Award Certificate of Excellence
Recipient, 2007 Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award
Knocking Down Barriers is the memoir of a life spent making a difference. In 1940, when Truman Gibson reported for duty at the War Department, Washington was like a southern city in its seemingly unalterable segregation and oppressive summer heat. Gibson had no illusions about the nation’s racism, but as a Chicagoan who’d enjoyed the best of the vibrant Black culture of prewar America, he was shocked to find the worst of the Jim Crow South in the capital. What Gibson accomplished as an advocate for African American soldiers—first as a lawyer working for the secretary of war, then as a member of Harry S. Truman’s “Black cabinet”—fueled the struggle for civil rights in the American military.
A University of Chicago Law School graduate, Gibson took his fight for racial justice to the corridors of power, arguing against restrictive real estate covenants before the US Supreme Court, opposing such iconic military figures as Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall to demand the integration of the armed forces, and challenging white control of professional sports by creating a boxing empire that made television history. Filled with firsthand details and little-known stories about key advancements in race relations in the worlds of law, the military, sports, and entertainment, Gibson’s memoir is also an engaging recollection of encounters with the likes of Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Patton, Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis. Winner of the 2006 Illinois State Historical Society Book Award Certificate of Excellence, Knocking Down Barriers illuminates social milestones that continue to shape race in the United States today.