Lillie Belle Boyd Gibbs, 1865

by Ty Smith

Lillie Belle Boyd Gibbs was born in January 1865, into slavery in Smyth County, Virginia. Toward the end of her life, Mrs. Gibbs told a reporter that her uncle had brought her to Emory when she was six months old.

Mrs. Gibbs began working for Emory & Henry when she was an early adolescent. Among her responsibilities was washing and ironing students’ laundry, carrying it between her home in Blacksburg and the campus. Additionally, Mrs. Gibbs worked in the president’s residence during the tenures of President Wiley through President Hillman.

Many regard Mrs. Gibbs as one of the founders of the Blacksburg community. Coming to Emory as she did in 1865, she certainly grew up with that community as it took root in the years following emancipation. She helped establish the Mt. Zion Baptist Church and was active in the church all of her life. Mrs. Gibbs’ other legacy is as a midwife to expectant mothers, both persons of color and white. Beginning her service before she was 20, she learned her skills from her mother and grandmother who also served as midwives. Mrs. Gibbs delivered babies in the Blacksburg community and surrounding area for seventy years. By her own estimation, Mrs. Gibbs delivered more than 300 babies. Mrs. Gibbs was 98 years old when she died in June 1963.

A portrait of Mrs. Gibbs, painted by Blacksburg native and resident Nancy Hill Johnson, hangs in the Appalachian Center for Civic Life.

Click here to listen to Robert Lampkins describe Blacksburg and Mrs. Gibbs’ role in its founding.

The photograph of Mrs. Gibbs is provided courtesy of Marie Lampkins, Mary Lampkins, and Debbie Foster from their family collection.

Click here to learn more about the Watershed Project.

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