Civil rights activist, dentist, book and African art collector Jack Johnson Kimbrough was born in Lexington, Mississippi, on July 26, 1908, to Samuel G. Kimbrough, a blacksmith, and Mary (Hoover) Kimbrough. Fearing violence from the Ku Klux Klan, in 1915 the family fled Mississippi with their seven-year-old son to live with relatives in Alameda, California.
Kimbrough graduated from Alameda High School in 1926, attended Sacramento Junior College for two years, and then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley where he majored in chemistry and graduated in 1930. Kimbrough then obtained his dental degree from the University of California Dental School in San Francisco in 1934. Following his graduation, he received the third highest score on the state’s required dental board examination.
When he heard of the absence of African American dentists in San Diego, Kimbrough hitchhiked to the city in 1935 and was befriended by the only black physician in the area, A. Antonio DaCosta, who lent him office space in a rental unit. In 1940 they transferred their offices to the city’s first black-owned medical building, located in the Golden Hills neighborhood, despite the protest and threats of white residents there. Kimbrough’s marriage to schoolteacher Quincella Pearl Nickerson in 1937 produced four children, and his involvement in black community affairs grew steadily.
Kimbrough was elected president of the San Diego branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1947. The following year, he conceived and put into action a plan to integrate racially San Diego’s eating establishments that refused to serve blacks. With the help of black and white students at San Diego State College, he carefully arranged for black individuals to enter the restaurants with whites. If they were refused service, the NAACP then initiated lawsuits against those restaurants since they were violating California law. Kimbrough and the local NAACP were victorious in thirty-two of the thirty-three lawsuits filed charging illegal racial discrimination. In 1948 Kimbrough also successfully convinced the management of the U.S. Grant Hotel to end their ban on black customers in the hotel’s restaurant, the posh Grant Grill. In 1953 Kimbrough co-founded the San Diego chapter of the National Urban League and was named its first president.
An outstanding professional, Kimbrough in 1961 became the first African American elected president of the San Diego Dental Society. In 1968 he was chosen president of the California State Board of Dental Examiners. A pioneer in hypnosis dentistry, he was elected president of the San Diego Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Kimbrough also served as Section Chief of Dental Medicine at San Diego County Hospital and was a fellow of the American College of Dentistry.
Kimbrough’s San Diego home, a welcoming haven for visiting intellectuals and celebrities, was crowded with rare, autographed, and first-edition books pertaining to African American history and culture. His enormous collection of exquisite African art and artifacts was periodically displayed in art galleries, libraries, and museums. An eloquent public speaker with an engaging personality, Kimbrough, a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, died of cardiac arrest on April 13, 1992, at his home in San Diego at the age of 83. Five years later in 1997, the Dr. Jack J. Kimbrough Elementary School, named in his honor, opened in San Diego.