White George Henry, Congressman   Leave a comment

George Henry White (December 18, 1852- December 28, 1918) was a Republican U.S. Congressman from North Carolina between 1897 and 1901. He is considered the last African American Congressman of the Reconstruction era, although his election came twenty years after the era’s “official” end. By the time of his election, Reconstruction had long since been overturned throughout almost all of the South, making it impossible for blacks to be elected to federal office. However, in North Carolina, “fusion politics” between the Populist and Republican parties led to a brief period of Republican and African American political success from 1894 to 1900. After White left office, no other black American would serve in Congress until Oscar De Priest was elected in 1928; no other black American would be elected to Congress from the South until after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; Barbara Jordan of Texas and Andrew Young of Georgia were elected in 1972, and Harold Ford, Sr. of Memphis, Tennessee was elected in 1974.

 Early life and education

Born in Rosindale, North Carolina, White was at one time believed to have been born into slavery. However, Benjamin R. Justesen’s 2001 biography of White showed considerable evidence that George White was raised as a free black, as was his father Wiley. However there is some indication that George, like his older brother John, may have been born to a slave woman that his father never married.[1] White first attended private “old field” schools, before entering public schools after the Civil War. He was then educated at Whitin Normal School in Lumberton, N.C., before entering Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1874. After graduating from Howard in 1877, he studied law privately under Judge William J. Clarke and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1879, practicing in New Bern, North Carolina. He taught school in New Bern and later became principal of the New Bern State Normal School, one of four training institutions for African American teachers created by the legislature in 1881.

 Political career

White entered politics as a Republican in 1880. He was elected to a single term in the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1880, and then to the North Carolina Senate in 1884 from Craven County. In 1886, he was elected solicitor and prosecuting attorney for the second judicial district of North Carolina, a post he held until 1894.

A delegate to the 1896 and 1900 Republican National Conventions, White was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1896 (over incumbent Frederick A. Woodard) from the predominantly black Second District, and re-elected in a three-way race in 1898. During his tenure he arranged the appointments of a number of African American postmasters across his district, with the assistance of the state’s Republican senator, Jeter C. Pritchard. White also introduced the first bill in Congress condemning lynching.[2] As North Carolina Democrats changed laws and intimidated blacks from voting, he chose not to seek a third term and returned to law and banking. He delivered his final speech in the House on January 29, 1901. “This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress,” he said, “but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people – full of potential force.”

White’s farewell speech was referenced by President Barack Obama in his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation‘s Annual Awards Dinner on Saturday, September 26, 2009, in Washington, DC.

Later life

White was an early officer in the National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization created in 1898. He served several terms as one of nine national vice presidents, and was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Council’s presidency. White moved in 1906 to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he practiced law and operated a commercial savings bank. He also founded the town of Whitesboro, N.J., as a real estate development. After the Council dissolved in 1908, he was also an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which formed its Philadelphia chapter in 1913. He died in Philadelphia in 1918, and is buried at Eden Cemetery nearby.

White was married four times. His first wife, Fannie Randolph White, died in 1880; his second wife, Nancy Scott White, died in 1882; and his third wife, Cora Lena Cherry White, died in 1905. His fourth wife, Ellen Avant Macdonald White, survived him, along with two of his four children, Mary (Mamie) White (1887–1974) and his only son, George H. White, Jr. (1893–1927). Two other daughters died before 1918: Della White Garrett (1880–1916), and Beatrice Odessa White (1891–1892).

The town of Tarboro, where White lived during his tenure in Congress, has celebrated “George White Day” since 2002. On the eighth annual commemoration, a state highway historical marker was dedicated in Tarboro.[


Posted February 20, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Politicians

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