For the original character, please see Virgil Tibbs
I want to like you people; and I want you people to like me. But there can be no liking without respect, and until there is that respect you will call me MISTER Tibbs!
~ Virgil Tibbs on his first day on the Sparta PD

Virgil Tibbs was one of the primary protagonists of the television series In the Heat of the Night.

A native of Sparta, Mississippi Tibbs moved away for a number of years, becoming a detective in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the late 1980s the city council of Sparta decided their police force would be well served if minorities were recruited into the force, with some members hoping the existing Chief Bill Gillespie could be eased out of office. When Tibbs came back to town for his mother's funeral the council approached Tibbs to offer him a job, and Tibbs insisted on a contract to ensure he wouldn't lose the job the first time he stepped on a white man's toes.

At first Chief Gillespie and the other officers were highly resentful of Tibbs. When an officer spoke disrespectfully to Tibbs he dressed down the assembled officers, telling them that they would call him Mister Tibbs. Eventually the officers came to consider Tibbs a friend and he became a valued member of the police force, especially after Tibbs declared that Gillespie was doing a fine job and he would refuse to be named Chief.

Tibbs became friends with many members of the Sparta PD, including Bubba Skinner, Parker, and Lonnie Jamieson.

Tibbs wife Althea became a popular and well liked high school teacher. As Gillespie became good friends with Tibbs he also became a father figure of sorts to Althea.

Tibbs and Althea's marriage would be severely tested when Althea was raped by a fellow teacher. The two decided to go to a sexual assault crisis center that not only treated the female victim but offered counselling services for their spouses as well.

Later Tibbs and Althea decided to have children. Althea became pregnant and delivered twins.

Tibbs was a top notch investigator who could pick up the smallest clues when dealing with the various crimes that happened in Sparta. For example he once determined a woman had been murdered and did not commit suicide as the murderer had hoped the police would conclude. With his investigative skills Tibbs would be called to assist the FBI in New Orleans from time to time.

As time went on Tibbs decided to attend law school. Gillespie wasn't happy with the thought of losing a fine officer and friend, but supported Tibbs as he desired to continue his education and start a new career. Tibbs police and law school careers were nearly derailed when he and Gillespie supported an asylum seeker over the objections of the sheriff, who called for a hearing to determine if the two had obstructed justice. The two men were later cleared of charges.

Tibbs was able to graduate from law school early and decided to leave the force. By then his marriage to Althea had fallen apart, with Althea leaving for Philadelphia with the children. He began his law practice and would return from time to time. Harriet DeLong pulled some strings in the city council and got Tibbs fully vested in the pension plan for his service as a police officer, even though he didn't quite have enough time to be vested.


  • The television version of Virgil Tibbs was played by the late Howard Rollins. Rollins struggled with drug and alcohol addiction throughout the series. The producers would have characters explain that Tibbs was working with the FBI when he was gone due to legal issues. After continued personal and legal issues Rollins was dropped from the show in 1994 and replaced by Carl Weathers. He was allowed to return as a guest star during the 7th season, but had further legal problems that led to his getting permanently dropped from the show.
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