John Edward Gilbert was born on March 22, 1902, in LaGrange, a community just north of Titusville, in Brevard County, Florida. His father Jonas Gilbert was a Minister, and his mother Charity Gilbert was a “washwoman.” Both parents were born during the Civil War prior to Emancipation. John was the eighth of nine children.
John Gilbert and Harry T. Moore were classmates at Florida Memorial College. Moore began teaching 9th grade at the Cocoa Colored School in 1925, and later was joined by his friend Gilbert, who taught Latin. Eventually Gilbert was promoted to principal of the Cocoa school, while Moore became principal of the Titusville Negro School.
John Gilbert was a member of the Brevard Chapter of the NAACP, and served on the executive committee. He was described as “…quiet but more forceful and more the leader of the group.”
Harry Moore convinced his good friend, John Gilbert, to become the named Petitioner in the legal fight to equalize teacher pay. Gilbert agreed after “…the FSTA executive board promised to pay his salary when- it wasn’t a question of if- he was fired.” Gilbert was 36 years old and unmarried; perhaps he was willing to risk his career because at that time he did not have a family to support, unlike his friend Harry Moore.
In 1939, after he was fired because he allowed his name to be used in the suit against the School Board of Brevard County, he was employed by The General Life Insurance Company of Tampa. At the same time, the Florida State Teachers’ Association agreed to pay his expenses for one year at Florida A & M college.
In 1942, at the age of 39, John married the 22 year old Annie Louise Pope. In 1947 they had a son, Ronald Keith. The family lived in Bartow, Florida until 1954 when they moved to Dade City.
John Gilbert died in 2000 at the age of 98.