GALLIPOLIS — Many have forgotten that, at one time, Gallia County was once considered a wild frontier as settlers from the east moved west.
With that movement and the gradual birth of the United States came with it the struggles of new cultural identities.
The Ohio River once marked the difference between what was considered free and what was considered slave territory. The river sat on the forefront of liberation efforts as Underground Railroad conductors smuggled African American slaves over the border.
Dorothy Casey, executive director of the John Gee Black Historical Center, made it part of her life’s mission to make certain Gallia County would never forget what it meant to be free or what it meant to be part of family. Casey passed away Sept. 11 shortly before the Emancipation Celebration Day weekend.
Casey also served as a certified nutritionist with the Gallia County Agency on Aging and used her cooking prowess to prepare and plan nutritious meals for community seniors while also being a devoted Christian.
She leaves behind a legacy of guardianship for African American history in Gallia County, as well as the love and memories of her friends and family.
John Gee Black Historical Center members Elaine Armstrong and Bobette Braxton credited Casey with being one of the founders of the center as it transitioned from church to historical society. Services were held at the John Gee Chapel for nearly 180 years until its last service in 1997. Church members gathered to discuss the future of the church. In 1998, the church was opened as the new John Gee Black Historical Center. Casey partnered with Barbara Scott, another local African American historian, in instituting programs and tours promoted by the center that are still guiding children and locals through the annals of Gallia County history.
Colleagues said Casey’s favorite quote was by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, regarded by many as the father of African American history.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history,” Woodson had said.
According to information provided by family members, Casey was born in November 1926. She would have been 90 this year. She was the great-great-granddaughter of John and Abigail Stewart, who were both conductors on the Underground Railroad in “Poke Patch,” Gallia County, which is near Blackfork. Casey was born in Middleport. Casey joined the John Gee African American Methodist Episcopal Church in 1946 before it would become the center.
Casey naturally gravitated toward her elders who were the keepers of traditional oral history. She was not just interested in the stories which made up the African American community, but also forms of life such as cooking, quilting, family life, and equal education and empowerment. Colleagues, in particular, said they loved Casey’s macaroni and cheese dishes, but she was an accomplished cook in every right.
“(Casey) was behind the scenes always,” Armstrong said. “She made sure everything was set up. She made sure people had their points and she made sure everything got done. She didn’t hide away. She just sat back and made sure everything operated smoothly.”
Armstrong said Casey was the epitome of “class and grace.”
“Without her leadership,” Braxton said, “we wouldn’t have the center.”
Andrew Gilmore, president of the Emancipation Celebration Day Committee, said Casey was the example of what it meant to be a matriarch in the African American community and the Casey family was always identified with stability and respect in Gallia County.
Rosie Hollinshed, center colleague, said Casey would be well remembered for her compassionate nature.
In a document written by Bill Casey, Dorothy’s son, he said his mother was a mother to many in the community. She also loved to travel.
Casey visited most of the states of the union, but she also ventured to Liberia in 1977 to visit family then living there. As told by Dorothy’s son, Bill, at the time, she was received by the President of Liberia, President William R. Tolbert Jr.
“My mother was honored by his kindness, but was as direct with the president as she was everyone,” Bill wrote. “He remarked to her about her bearing and dignity. My mother simply expressed her pleasure in meeting him. She was ever the same with everyone, kind, firm, direct, strong in her convictions and her faith. In visiting Liberia, a country settled and governed by the ancestors of American slaves, my mother learned many things and developed during her time there a love for the indigenous peoples who, in return, expressed great respect and affection for her as well.”
”Her life is a beacon and suggests to each one of us that in honoring what came before and in nurturing what opportunities we have in this hour, we can provide inspiration and hope, as Dr. (Carter) Woodson so aptly reminds us,” Bill wrote.
According to Dorothy’s obituary, she was born to James and Anna Singer and wed to Robert Casey in 1946. She had five children, William (Bill), Hattie Ann, Roberta, Cynthia and Morris. She had seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.