Johnnie Gibson Rhea, beloved elder of the Melungeon community, 1931-2014
Johnnie Clyde Gibson Rhea was born in Lee County Virginia on May 23, 1931, daughter of John and Martha Goins Gibson. She was granddaughter of Andy and Emily Long Gibson and Alex and Merky Collins Goins. She passed away January 18, 2014.
Johnnie was the only permanent lifetime member of MHA.
Johnnie had attended every Melungeon Union since 1997. She had chat sessions from the beginning, always a highlight for so many. This evolved into having her own session at every Union for which folks clamored and always looked forward with anticipation. She received MHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award and proudly showed it to her grandson’s classmates who came on a field trip
Every year, Johnnie was the first person registered to attend Unions.
She was loved for many things including her generosity. Johnnie’s quilts for raffle every year had the winners practically dancing around the room, and many of us treasure also her handmade gifts to the audience during her annual session. She was also generous in crafting items for soldiers from the area including her lap quilts.
Johnnie received a long standing ovation at last summer’s Union – the only person who ever received such an accolade.
Her interviews for radio, films, and scholars from universities contributed greatly to Melungeon studies. As a genealogist, she accepted and talked about the African ancestry within certain families from which she descended before DNA results proved these links. She believed in ‘One People, All Colors’ and proudly claimed kinship to Dr. Irene Moore, African American scholar from Harlan County, KY.
In a New Year’s Day phone call with MHA president S.J. Arthur, Johnnie said she knew she would not be able to attend the next Union, but she was still interested in our upcoming plans.