We mourn the passing of Delbert Tibbs, a death penalty abolition activist deeply committed to peace and racial justice. He died on Saturday, November 23, 2013.
Delbert was on a spiritual journey, walking across the country when he was wrongfully convicted in Florida of murder and rape in 1974. He was sentenced to death by an all-white jury, but his story generated tremendous community support. Celebrities such as Joan Baez and Pete Seeger became involved and raised money for the Delbert Tibbs Defense Committee. Delbert was then able to hire better legal representation and get a retrial. Eventually, the Florida State Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and the District Attorney finally dropped the case in 1982.
Delbert was active in the death penalty abolition movement and served as an Assistant Director of Membership and Training for Witness to Innocence, the country’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors.
Through the years Delbert traveled around the country telling his story and reciting his poetry. He spoke with governors, legislators, and community members to help shift their thinking on the death penalty, and he was an avid advocate for addressing the racial bias implicit in the capital punishment system.
“I should have lost hope,” Delbert said, “but I didn’t”. In addition to his advocacy work, Delbert wrote prolifically, realizing his lifelong dream of becoming a writer.
Delbert touched many of us with his gentleness and wisdom. He will be missed, but his legacy will surely live on.
Watch the short video interview with Delbert which was featured as part of One For Ten, a series of ten short films about innocence and death row created in 2012.