The cause was complications from dementia, said his son, Carl Gibson.
Early in his career, Mr. Gibson served as Executive Secretary of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, community development and social services consultant, and leader of a social science group, Planners for Equal Opportunity, which called for urban renewal efforts to be more responsive to the housing and employment needs of communities of color.
He came to Washington in 1966 with the now-defunct Potomac Institute, a Washington nonprofit agency that worked on policies promoting racial justice and equality. As an executive partner of the organization for 13 years, he led projects focusing on urban policy, municipal planning and affirmative action.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, he spent a year on the National Capital District Planning Commission, as an appointee of President Lyndon B. Johnson; chaired the D.C. Bicentennial Commission before resigning in 1975 after accusing Mayor Walter E. Washington’s administration and local business leaders of inadequately funding planning efforts; and was a longtime funder and chairman of the Harambee House Hotel, a short-lived, minority-owned showcase hotel in the city.
Throughout, he was a confidant of Barry, a civil rights activist and city council member who became mayor in 1979. He advised Barry on housing and economic development, with the middle class in mind. “I’m a diamond in the rough,” Barry told The Washington Post at the time, “and Jim is working to heal me.”
In 1979 Barry appointed Mr. Gibson Deputy City Administrator for Planning, putting him in charge of the new Office of Planning and Development. During Mr. Gibson’s nearly three-year tenure, Washington opened its first massive convention center, a nearly 800,000 square foot, $100 million facility at the corner of 10th and H NW streets built to spur the economy of the city by filling hotel rooms and creating jobs. It was demolished in 2004, a year after the 2.3 million square foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center opened a few blocks away.
After leaving city government, Mr. Gibson remained involved in the artistic, educational and financial welfare of the district through senior positions in foundations and institutes and on committees.
He spent two years as president of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, was director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Equal Opportunity Program, was a senior associate at the Urban Institute, and was a senior fellow at the Center for the Study. of social policy. From 1995 to 2000, he served as director of DC Agenda, a group of business and civic leaders working to revitalize the District during the DC Financial Control Board era as the city emerged from insolvency.
In 2011, the nonprofit group Partners for Livable Communities presented Mr. Gibson with an award, citing “his leading advocacy on urban revitalization, community development and race relations, with more than three decades on issues ranging from civil rights to economic opportunities”.
James Oliver Gibson was born in Atlanta on April 1, 1934 to a butler and a housewife. Educated in private and Catholic schools, he graduated in 1956 from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Then, with the rank of Sergeant, he served in the Army Education Counseling Program while stationed in West Germany.