GALLIPOLIS — Fifth grade Washington Elementary school students were taken on tours through Gallipolis and given lessons on Gallia County’s black history Tuesday as part of a 21-year-old tradition.
Students discussed history with their Washington Elementary teachers, Pastor Christian Scott of Paint Creek Baptist Church and Bobette Braxton of the John Gee Black Historical Center. According to Braxton, roughly 80 students across three classes visited the center in the morning before returning for lunch at the school.
“We’ve been doing this for 21 years,” said Braxton. “Gallia was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Gallia Academy High School was integrated in 1918. We had black business leaders and wealthy landowners. John Gee was one of them…There is so much here that people don’t know and we want them to share.”
Students learned that jumping a broom was a part of wedding ceremonies in the days of slavery and Gallia had once been home to a Tuskegee Airmen, Major Henry Norman. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American fighter pilots in World War II noted for accomplishing distinguished awards in combat.
Students discussed the local history of John Gee-constructed homes as well as the Lincoln Colored School on Third Avenue. They even covered home remedies for illness in the days of slavery. Some remedies included utilizing tar for ear aches or drinking a mixture of apple cider vinegar and iron from nails soaked in vinegar for other health concerns. The importance of spirituals to Underground Railroad history was also discussed as a means of hidden communication on the road to freedom in the north along with quilts and other subtle signs as slaves attempted to escape the south.
Students took home with them pins of Tuskegee Airmen Mustang fighter planes after coloring them.
“Some students are quieter than others,” said Braxton. “We love it when we can see them get excited about the history with their questions.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.