CENTENARY — Gallia Academy High School hosted members of the John Gee Black Historical Center Wednesday to learn about local history and the desegregation of Gallia Academy.
“We tend to look at Black History Month and talk about key figures like Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr., but what we don’t always look at is the impact people had on our lives locally, where we grow up,” said Principal Josh Donley.
Members of the Gee Center spoke on the court case and surrounding events of 1918 between Robert Mitchell and the Gallipolis Board of Education that led to the desegregation of Gallia Academy.
In 1918, students of color attended the Lincoln Colored School on Third Avenue, and the building was in disrepair. Mitchell’s daughter attended the school. In the Spring of 1917, a state of Ohio building inspected condemned the facility as unsafe and in need of significant repair.
The board of education at the time justified their neglect of the building by allocating resources to the war effort at the time, although Gallia Academy had recently been rebuilt. In May of 1918, members of the community submitted a petition to the board of education asking for one of two things; to supply a first class facility for Lincoln High School or allow the students to attend Gallia Academy.
The petition sat without action until September of 1918 when Mitchell brought a lawsuit against the board, who was found guilty of operating and maintaining a separate school for colored students by the Gallia County Court of Common Pleas, and students of color began attended Gallia Academy that year.
“I think it’s important for us to note that during the Jim Crow Era, there were things such as the inability to go into a restaurant and sit down and order what you want. Right here in Gallipolis Ohio you weren’t allowed to go to the swimming pool with the other children. There was one day a week you could go to the skating rink. You didn’t get to do a lot of things that we take for granted now,” said Robert Gorden, Gee member and a descendant of Mitchell. “You think an African American could walk downtown and get a job anywhere they had applied and wanted? They had to take the jobs no one else would take, that were very subservient in their capacity. They worked hard, they earned money, and were able to take care of their families, but they didnt have the luxuries that some did here in town. Many of the families who worked in the homes raised the children of many of the individuals who had opportunities their own children would never have.”
Gordon talked about the contemporary implications of the events of 1918.
“The individuals that you see here on stage have all had good jobs and represent themselves well, and that is because of opportunities from people like Mr. Mitchell, who stood up and said we deserve an opportunity, we deserve a chance,” said Gordon. “The reason we take our time and come out and speak to young people like you and that we have the John Gee Black Historical Center is so that you can come and learn about the past and you can protect yourselves in the future and the lives of those you care about.”
These speakers also visited Gallia Academy Middle School to share with them the importance of local history and desegregation. Gordon and Donley both emphasized the need to remember the past so as to not repeat those mistakes.
“We don’t think about it on a daily basis because someone has given or sacrificed or fought to give us what we have today. We walk into this building everyday and we assume everyone else has that right. Around the world they do not, and years ago they did not. It’s important that we understand that there was a struggle and there is a struggle, and it happens in local communities,” said Donley. “For every Rosa Parks, there are local people who fought that battle. We have people who were heroic in their own efforts that we take for granted and we don’t think about it.”
Reach Morgan McKinniss at 740-446-2342 ext 2108.