FLUSHING Dr. John Mattox and the Underground Railroad Museum founded by him and his late wife, Rozz, has been featured in a book exploring the lives of a dedicated, community-minded couple and their commitment to preserving an important part of Ohio and American history.
The book is titled "A Museum for Generations to Come, A gift from Rozz and Dr. John Mattox," written by Beni-Kofi Amedekanya as the fourth book in the Our Heroes, Our Pride series.
Mattox credited his wife with making the museum and its continuing mission a reality.
T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Dr. John Mattox, curator of the Underground Railroad Museum.
"If I can continue to help people like we did, we're going to be bridges of education," he said. "Since I no longer have her, I'm carrying on our legacy for her."
He also acknowledged the support of the people of Belmont County, the Department of Transportation, the Tourism Council, and area organizations, businesses and banks.
"They keep my story alive by supporting the museum financially," he said. "We don't charge a fee, so when people realize that we have done something, they reciprocate, and I'm very glad to do it that way."
Mattox welcomed the idea of the book for its potential to spread word about the museum and all the history it houses.
"I'm concerned that there's a record of the museum located right here in Belmont County," he said. "When people go on Amazon.com or Author House or go to Words and Music or the Artisan Center, we'll be there."
He noted the importance of knowing history in order to better understand one's roots and form one's identity.
"A lot of young people don't know from whence they came. So I feel I need to do what I can with what success in life and goodness God has given me to share it."
Mattox added that he resides close to the museum so he might better conduct tours at his guests' convenience.
"I have had some wonderful, wonderful people from all over the country," he said.
Mattox met the author last December in Columbus during a function of A Special Wish, where Mattox serves on the National Board of Governors as well as president of a local chapter. After a discussion and a perusal of the museum's Web site, Amedekanya contacted Mattox and inquired if he and his work might be the subject of the next book.
While researching for the book, Mattox also took a trip into his own past, from his childhood to his current work. From his childhood home in New Jersey, Mattox attended college in Texas, served in the Air Force, and had worked in diverse fields including the racehorse business and owning a restaurant.
"I didn't realize I had such a long trail," he said.
"One of the most important things to bring closure to my life last August was to go to New Jersey where I was raised to do some research at cemeteries and find the grave of my biological mother," he said, adding that he never knew his father and his mother passed away in 1943. "It brought closure to the trip that I had been trying to put together as an adopted child, and it all came about because this gentleman said 'I want to write something about you.'"
He added that he hopes the experiences he shares in the book will connect with readers. He said he always tries to establish a personal connection with people and their experiences. This is true of his work in prison re-entry programs, A Special Wish, the hospital, and other projects. He also mentions the many people who have had a positive influence in shaping his life.
"I'm very pleased with it and I hope it serves for people to want to come to the museum, because it's a long road to bringing our culture to a point from whence we came. There's not an American that doesn't understand their background. Once they realize that this is American history and not black history, they're really interested in learning more," he said.
He noted that the book stressed the importance of volunteering, participating in one's community, honesty and doing the best work one can.
He also pointed out the parallels between the past and present and noted that present day events often have their similarities in the past.
Mattox said this was his first experience in writing and publishing.
"The process was new to me," he said. "He took pictures. He asked questions. He did a lot of taping."
Mattox added that a second book may be forthcoming, focusing on personal stories and the lessons learned.
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org