Dr. John S. Mattox, 84, founder and curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, died last Wednesday at the Ohio State University Hospital. Suffering a stroke Monday evening, he was rushed by e-squad to Barnesville Hospital and life flighted to Columbus according to social media posts.
Wednesday, sharing the news on social media, his son John Mattox, Jr. stated, "friends, family and loved ones, it with a heady heart that I share with you all my father, Dr. John S. Mattox, has gone on to be with the Lord. He went peacefully and surrounded by his loved ones".
One of Mattox’s last major public appearances was one month ago at the in inaugural Juneteenth ceremony at Market Plaza, Wheeling, site of the city’s pre-Civil War slave auction where he gave a brief history of Juneteenth, which celebrates the date news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas.
"Today, we do not look for politics, we look for recognition and the good government of Wheeling, West Virginia, has given us that opportunity, to celebrate here every year hereafter," Mattox told the crowd of 150 gathered at the plaza.
Three years ago, the Eastern Ohio Alumni Chapter of Ohio University selected the Flushing resident as an Austin C. Furbee Award honoree, "in recognition of his dedication and contribution to Ohio University and the community".
A native of Raleigh, NC, Dr. Mattox served in the US Air Force and was a graduate of Houston-Tillitson College of Austin, TX.
Mattox was active in dozens of local, and national organizations after moving to his late wife, Rosalind's, hometown of Flushing in 1973 where they operated an insurance agency. "In fact, the Underground Railroad Museum shares its building with A Special Wish Foundation, an organization for which Mattox serves as national chairperson and National Board of Governors member," the 2016 Ohio University press release noted.
He was a long-time member of the Ohio University Eastern Campus Coordinating Council, co-chair of the university's African American Cultural Committee, and was a contributor to the Department of African American Studies' African American Presence in the Ohio River Valley research project.
In 2008, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of public service from Ohio University. He also received the Belmont County Tourism Person of the Year, the West Virginia Education Association's Effie Mayhan Brown Award and Community Builder Awards from the cities of Steubenville and Flushing.
Statewide recognition accorded Dr. Mattox included Ohio Department of Aging’s Elder Caregiver Award in 2012 and the Ohio Department of Veterans Services’ Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2016.
Over time, he served as a board member for various companies and organizations, including Harrison Community Hospital, Belmont County Correctional Institution Community Board, Sargus Juvenile Center, Zion Christian Retreat, American Legion and Bank One.
"Mattox is best known for his work with the Underground Railroad Museum, which displays more than 30,000 items related to the Underground Railroad and slavery. Keys to slave pens, books, reward posters, slave collars, bills of sale and maps from the trans-Atlantic slave trade are included in the collection," the OU release noted.
He also visited cities and schools across the region with a "traveling trunk" of museum artifacts and gave special tours of notable Underground Railroad sites in the region.
He spearheaded the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration in the region, as well as the state of Ohio at OU’s Eastern Campus in 2016.
That same year, a press release from the Underground Railroad Museum shared he "signed a letter of intent to purchase the Benjamin Lundy House, in St. Clairsville, Ohio."
Benjamin Lundy resided in the home on E. Main Street and while there, established the Union Humane Society, the first organization dedicated to the abolition of slavery west of the Appalachian Mountains. Shortly thereafter, he began publishing the anti-slavery papers, for which he became known.