Ariel ponders John Gee exhibition

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — The executive director of the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre is looking to flesh out the life of a the late Gallipolis constructor and reported Underground Railroad conductor John Gee.

According to Lora Snow, executive director of the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre, many individuals in the community she has spoken with since she took an interest in attempting to preserve Gee buildings in Gallipolis had little to no idea who the man was. She has since begun communicating with individuals in an attempt to get a presentation and potential historic dramatic performance together to memorialize Gee.

According to local historians, most of Gee’s history is shared orally. Gee was once a landowner in Gallipolis as well as a contractor and constructor of brick homes. Old census records label Gee as a “mulatto” man, one who shared both African and European ancestry. Historians put Gee’s birth around the late 1790s and to a slave woman in Cincinnati. According to late Gallipolis reporter Pinckney T. Wall, his notes between 1889 and 1909 list Gee as being the son of ninth U.S. President William Henry Harrison.

Gee was recorded to have acquired wealth during his life and originally donated around four acres of land to the cemetery for African Americans along what is now Pine Street. Oral history points to Gee helping escaped slaves along the Ohio River as West Virginia was still considered slave-owning territory during his lifetime. West Virginia entered the Union in 1863. Much of Gee’s former property overlooked the Ohio River.

“The man was a hero,” Snow said. “Who knows what kind of (conflicts) he faced just living across the river near slave territory, not to mention (reportedly) taking slaves across the river.”

Gee donated land for a church which would eventually become the what is now known as the John Gee Black Historical Center on Pine Street.

Snow said she has met with members of the center as well as the Emancipation Celebration Committee in hopes of producing a performance centered around the life of Gee and his history in the Gallipolis community. She hopes to have the production unveiled in February for the annual celebration of African American History Month during the Ariel’s annual musical tribute. Last year’s focus was on the late Dr. Edward Bouchet, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from an American University and former Lincoln High School teacher in Gallipolis.

This year, Snow hopes to bring the focus on Gee and bring a similar presentation to next year’s Emancipation Celebration.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright