Knocking Down Barriers

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Publication Date
August 2021
Page Count
344 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Knocking Down Barriers

My Fight for Black America
Truman K. Gibson Jr. with Steve Huntley

Recipient of 2007 The Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award
2006 Illinois Winner, State Historical Society Book Award-Certificate of Excellence

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.
About the Author

TRUMAN K. GIBSON JR. (1912–2005) was the civilian aide to the secretary of war during World War II, a member of two presidential advisory committees, and the president of the International Boxing Club. Gibson was the first African American to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit.

STEVE HUNTLEY is a former editorial page editor and metropolitan editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. He currently writes columns for the newspaper.

"This informative book is a time capsule covering many rich experiences of one man over nine decades. In addition to recounting his participation in the successful struggle to desegregate the armed forces, Mr. Gibson takes the reader along on a grand tour of his interactions with many key figures in the political, military, business, sports, and entertainment worlds of the twentieth century." --Jimmy Carter
"Gibson entertains and enlightens in recollecting the living detail of the national capital, the nation itself, and many of its iconic figures in the hard-fought struggle to desegregate. His is an important addition to the historical record. . ." --Library Journal, starred review
"Knocking Down Barriers is a wonderful book ripe with stories and insights that illuminate many of the dark corners of America's struggle for integration and racial justice during the 1930s and 1940s. While this engagingly written memoir explores the intersection of race, sports, entertainment, and law, Gibson's greatest contribution is his recollections of the personalities, debates, and barriers in the battle to integrate the armed forces. Gibson's words help us to better understand the difficulties and the ultimate importance of the successful challenge to a segregated military and how those actions helped create an environment that stimulated and supported the nascent civil rights movement. This is a must-read."
--Lonnie G. Bunch, President, Chicago Historical Society