In preparation to teach one of his popular courses on Black history, Rev. Alex Gee did a simple google search on his name, looking for some ancestors. What he found was a bit of a surprise: a post on a forum from a 67-year-old white man saying that he had just learned that his great-great-grandfather had a son named Henderson Gee, and wondering if anyone had any additional information.
Alex Gee did — Henderson Gee was his great-great-grandfather, which made him and that white man cousins.
He struck up a correspondence with that man — John Gee — and soon went to visit him in New Orleans. He learned the difficult story of his own ancestry.
“My great, great grandfather was a result of rape,” he said in a recent interview. “His mother’s name was Venus. Reuben Gee was from Wales and had gotten the Homestead Act. Got land, bought slaves, moved to Mississippi. Raped one of his slaves, had my grandfather’s grandfather Henderson. He had children through his white wives. And had a child through his black slave. John and I … are descendants of those two brothers.”
That led to a troubling realization.
“My name proves that I’m the result of slavery and rape,” he said. “As much work as I do to make the Gee name proud, I’m really upholding the name that represents patriarchy, chauvinism, rape violence, capitalism.”
Alex Gee told that story to his classes, who encouraged him to return to the south and continue learning his own family’s story. At around the same time, longtime local television news reporter and anchor Greg Jeschke had left his news job and formed J Dog Productions, an independent production company. And he wanted to tell the story in a film.
“I said, ‘Well, I need to go Mississippi, go back to Carthage, go to Leake County. Where there’s a Gee laundry, a Gee grocery store. Gees and their descendants and those who married Gees are big names,’” Alex Gee said. “So Greg Jeschke and his team followed me down to Mississippi two years ago and filmed me meeting white relatives. We even walked through the tea plantation.”
That was the toughest part, Gee said.
“It was bad. It took me months to get over that,” he said. “When you walk through that… I’m a sensitive person. And I mean intuitive. It was like, when you walk through a haunted space, you say you feel chills to know that that’s where it went down, man. To know that was the property, you’re standing on the land where Reuben raped Venus. And where my granddad’s granddaddy grew up. So we walked through this and the whole idea is, as we were doing this, I’m saying, I want America to understand that Black history is American history.”
The result of that trip is a 40-minute documentary, “Justified Journey,” that will premier in a virtual event tonight, hosted by Justified Anger and the Black Like Me Podcast. Actress Angela Robinson will moderate a discussion afterward with Gee and Jeschke.
Madison365 will host another screening on our Facebook Live page at 6:30 pm Tuesday, June 30, followed by a discussion between Gee and our publisher and CEO Henry Sanders.
“I feel really blessed to be able to do two premiers in one week,” Gee said. “I just realized with everything that’s going on in front of us, I don’t want people to think that just because we see it, we changed it. You see cancer, but that doesn’t make it go away. This is the unmuzzling. I’m telling you this is how we got here. You want to know why streets are burning down? You want to know why flames are going? Because this has been the reality. You all don’t know it, you don’t teach your kids. I’ve been taking a thousand white people through it. I’m realizing folks knew that there was slavery, but they were oblivious to the systemic realities.”