Professor Larry Gibson receives First Citizen Award

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By William F. Zorzi
Photo credit: Bryan P. Sears

Larry S. Gibson, civil rights activist, law professor and political consultant known for his insistence on the use of sound trucks and a plethora of lawn signs in election campaigns, was honored Friday by the Maryland Senate with a First Citizen Award for his lifetime of work.

Gibson, 81, was summoned from his Baltimore home to the State House not knowing he was to receive the medal, only to be surprised upon arrival that he was being honored.

“This is a delightful event for me. Thank you very much,” he said.

“One thing that comes from teaching at the same school for 49 years … and it being a law school, you end up with many former students who are lawyers, but also many former students who are lawmakers,” Gibson said, referring to his tenure at what is now known as the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

“I’m ready to hold class,” he told the Senate, drawing a laugh.

Gibson then specifically called out Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the presiding officer’s chief of staff, Sally McMillan Robb, and Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) as his former students, saying, “I am delighted and proud every day” by their work.

Ferguson returned to the rostrum smiling.

“Little piece of trivia: Professor Gibson was also the law professor who gave me my lowest grade in law school,” he said. “Take a guess what class … it was.”

“Election law!” Ferguson said to an amused chamber.

Gibson became active in politics in the late 1960s, advocating for Black candidates in Baltimore City, though his reach soon expanded across the state and beyond. He is perhaps best known as political adviser and padrone to former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who served three terms in City Hall from 1987 to 1999.

Always fascinated with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was born in Baltimore, Gibson wrote a book on the former NAACP lawyer called “Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,” published in 2012.

Elaine Rice Bachmann, the Maryland state archivist, made the formal presentation on the Senate rostrum, after reading a short biography.

The award to Gibson was postponed last month because of the death of his wife, Diana L. Gibson, three weeks ago.

“This award today just caps it all off,” Gibson said at the conclusion of his brief remarks. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The Senate president, in concert with the Maryland archivist, presents the award annually to “Marylanders who have been dedicated and effective participants in the process of making government work for the benefit of all,” the Archives website states. The other recipients this year were former Senators Paul Pinsky and Adelaide “Addie” Eckardt.

This story was originally published in Maryland Matters.