John Gee moved to Gallipolis, Ohio, as a young man. He eventually became one of the community's largest landowners. He also was a skilled builder and constructed a number of buildings in Gallipolis. Gee's success in the community was remarkable, since he was an African American.
While slavery was not legal in Ohio, a number of residents were prejudiced against African Americans. Cemeteries in the town were not open to black people. African Americans also did not have access to many local schools and businesses.
Gee used his financial resources to provide local African Americans with more opportunity. In 1818, he helped found the community's first African Methodist Episcopal Church. Gee donated the land for the structure and helped build the church. In 1868, after the church relocated to a new site, members voted to name the church the John Gee African Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the American Civil War, church members actively assisted runaway slaves. Following the Civil War, Gee also provided funds to repair sidewalks and roads in the African American neighborhood of Gallipolis.
Gee also donated four acres of land to establish the Pine Street Colored Cemetery in 1860. Numerous prominent African Americans were interred on the grounds. Among them was Leah Stewart, the first African American to live in Gallipolis. Phoebe Smith, who established the local Mutual Aid Society, also was buried here. The Mutual Aid Society assisted slaves in gaining their freedom. At least fifty-seven African-American soldiers were buried in the cemetery. John Gee also was interred here.
To commemorate Gee's contributions to Gallipolis, the former church building of the John Gee African Methodist Episcopal Church is now the John Gee Black Historical Center. This center honors Gee and seeks to promote the African-American heritage of southeastern Ohio.