George H. White’s bold legislative proposals combating disenfranchisement and mob violence in the South distinguished him from his more reserved contemporaries. The lone African–American Representative at the dawn of the 20th century, White spoke candidly on the House Floor, confronting Booker T. Washington’s call to work within the segregated system. The onslaught of white supremacy in his home state assured White that to campaign for a third term would be fruitless, and he departed the chamber on March 3, 1901. It would be 28 years before another black Representative set foot in the Capitol. "This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress," White declared in his final months as a Representative, "but let me say, Phoenix–like he will rise up someday and come again."
As a child growing up in New Bern, North Carolina my father talked to me about my great, great Uncle George H White. He took me by his old house still here in town. My father was pastor at Ebenezer Presbyterian church and George H. White was one of the founding members. As a child it was hard to understand how any black man could be elected to any thing from here;''Jim Crow'' was in full effect.
George Henry White (18 Dec. 1852-28 Dec. 1918), lawyer, legislator, congressman, and racial spokesman, was born near Rosindale in Bladen County,North Carolina.His natural mother may have been a slave. His father Wiley Franklin White was a free person of color, of African and Scots-Irish ancestry, who worked as a laborer in a turpentine camp. George had an older brother John, and their father may have purchased their freedom.
In 1857 their father married Mary Anna Spaulding, a young local woman of mixed race, who was the granddaughter of Benjamin Spaulding. Born into slavery as the son of a white plantation owner and a slave mother, he had been freed as a young man. As a free man of color, he worked to acquire more than 2300 acres of pine woods, which he apportioned to his own large family.
In 1860 the Whites' household lived on a farm in Welches Creek township, Columbus County. Because he was so young when Mary Anna joined the family, George White always thought of her as his mother. She and his father had more children together. George White probably first attended an "old field school", paid for by subscription. After the American Civil War, the Reconstruction era state legislature established the first public schools for black children in the state. At Welches Creek in 1870, White met the teacher David P. Allen, who encouraged him. Allen moved to Lumberton, where he established the Whitin Normal School. White studied academic courses there for a couple of years,
Wiley Franklin White was a justice of the peace in Columbus County during Reconstruction,before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1872 to work for the U.S. Treasury Department.
In 1874 George White started studies at Howard University, founded in 1867 in Washington, D.C. as a historically black college open to men and women of all races. He studied classical subjects to be certified as a schoolteacher. In addition to his experiences at the college, he worked for five months at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which had visitors from around the world, and got to see something of its thriving black community.
White finished at Howard in 1877 and returned to North Carolina, where he was hired as a principal at a school in New Bern. He studied law in the city as a legal apprentice under former Superior Court Judge William J. Clarke, who had become a Republican after the war, and also established a newspaper. In 1879 White was admitted to the North Carolina bar. White established a thriving legal practice in New Bern and became active in Republican politics, winning election from Craven County to the N.C. House of Representatives (1880) and the N.C. Senate (1884). In 1886, he won office as solicitor of the state’s Second Judicial District, a six-county area in northeastern North Carolina; reelected in 1890, he was the nation’s only elected black prosecutor for eight years.
In 1896 he was elected to the U.S. Congress representing the predominantly black Second District from his residence in Tarboro. He defeated the white Democratic incumbent Frederick A. Woodard. The Republican president William McKinley carried many on his coattails, but White also benefited because a Democratic-Populist fusionist candidate had drawn off votes from Woodard. In addition, the 1894 legislature had repealed some laws which Democrats had used to restrict black voting, and the turnout in 1896 among black voters was 85 percent.
In 1898 White was re-elected in a three-way race. In a period of increasing disenfranchisement of blacks in the South, he was the last of five African Americans in Congress during the Jim Crow era of the later nineteenth century. There were two from South Carolina, Cheatham before him from North Carolina, and one from Virginia. After them, no African Americans would be elected from the South until 1972, after federal civil rights legislation was passed to enforce constitutional rights for citizens. No African Americans were elected to Congress from North Carolina until 1992.
White returned to law and entered banking, moving his family permanently to Washington, DC.In 1906 they moved to Philadelphia, which had a well-established black community. The city began to attract more blacks as it had many industrial jobs; it was a destination in the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South in the early twentieth century. White founded a commercial savings bank as well as practicing law. He also founded the town of Whitesboro in southern New Jersey as a planned community developed for African Americans,
Congressman George H. White's Farewell Address To Congress
In January 1901, at the beginning of a new century, George H. White was ending his term as a Congressman from North Carolina’s Second Congressional District. Realizing that he was bringing to a close a thirty two year period when nearly forty Southern African Americans sat in Congress, White used the occasion of his farewell address to remind that body and the nation of the reason for his defeat and the elimination of black representation in the nation’s capital. He also predicted that African Americans would return to Congress. His prediction became a reality when in 1928, Oscar DePriest was elected to represent a Chicago congressional district. Part of White’s address appears below.
I want to enter a plea for the colored man, the colored woman, the colored boy, and the colored girl of this country. I would not thus digress from the question at issue and detain the House in a discussion of the interests of this particular people at this time but for the constant and the persistent efforts of certain gentlemen upon this floor to mold and rivet public sentiment against us as a people and to lose no opportunity to hold up the unfortunate few who commit crimes and depredations and lead lives of infamy and shame, as other races do, as fair specimens of representatives of the entire colored race... In the catalogue of members of Congress in this House perhaps none have been more persistent in their determination to bring the black man into disrepute and…show that he was unworthy of the right of citizenship than my colleague from North Carolina, Mr. Kitchin. During the first session of this Congress…he labored long and hard to show that the white race was at all times and under all circumstances superior to the Negro by inheritance if not otherwise, and…that an illiterate Negro was unfit to participate in making the laws of a sovereign state and the administration and execution of them; but an illiterate white man living by his side, with no more or perhaps not as much property, with no more exalted character, no higher thoughts of civilization, no more knowledge of the handicraft of government, had by birth, because he was white, inherited some peculiar qualification...
In the town where this young gentleman was born, at the general election last August for…state and county officers, Scotland Neck had a REGISTERED white vote of 395, most of whom…were Democrats, and a registered colored vote of 534, virtually…all of whom were Republicans, and so voted. When the count was announced, however, there were 831 Democrats to 75 Republicans; but in the town of Halifax, same county, the result was much more pronounced. In that town the registered Republican vote was 345, and the total registered vote of the township was 539, but when the count was announced it stood 990 Democrats to 41 Republicans, or 492 more Democratic votes counted than were registered votes in the township. Comment here is unnecessary…
It would be unfair, however, for me to leave the inference upon the minds of those who hear me that all of the white people of the State of North Carolina hold views with Mr. Kitchin and think as he does. Thank God there are many noble exceptions to the example he sets, that, too, in the Democratic party; men who have never been afraid that one uneducated, poor, depressed Negro could put to flight and chase into degradation two educated, wealthy, thrifty white men. There never has been, nor ever will be, any Negro domination in that state, and no one knows it any better than the Democratic party. It is a convenient howl, however, often resorted to in order to consummate a diabolical purpose by scaring the weak and gullible whites into support of measures and men suitable to the demagogue…
I trust I will be pardoned for making a passing reference to one more gentleman -- Mr. Wilson of South Carolina -- who, in the early part of this month, made a speech, some parts of which did great credit to him… But his purpose was incomplete until he dragged in the Reconstruction days and held up to scorn and ridicule the few ignorant, gullible…Negroes who served in the state legislature of South Carolina over thirty years ago…These few ignorant men who chanced at that time to hold office are given as a reason why the black man should not be permitted to participate in the affairs of the government which he is forced to PAY TAXES to support…
If the gentleman to whom I have referred will pardon me, I would like to advance the statement that…what the Negro was thirty-two years ago, is not a proper standard by which the Negro living on the threshold of the twentieth century should be measured. Since that time we have reduced the illiteracy of the race at least 45 percent. We have written and published nearly 500 books. We have nearly 800 newspapers, three of which are dailies. We have now in practice over 2,000 lawyers, and a corresponding number of doctors. We have accumulated over $12,000,000 worth of school property and about $40,000,000 worth of church property. We have about 140,000 farms and homes, valued in the neighborhood of $750,000,000, and personal property valued about $170,000,000. WE HAVE RAISED ABOUT $11,000,000 for educational purposes, and the property per-capita for every colored man, woman and child in the United States is estimated at $75. We are operating SUCCESSFULLY several banks, commercial enterprises among our people in the South land, including one silk mill and one cotton factory. We have 32,000 teachers in the schools of the country; we have built, with the aid of our friends, about 20,000 churches, and support 7 colleges, 17 academies, 50 high schools, 5 law schools, 5 medical schools and 25 theological seminaries. We have over 600,000 acres of land in the South alone. The cotton produced, mainly by black labor, has increased from 4,669,770 bales in 1860 to 11,235,000 in 1899. All this was done under the most adverse circumstances.
We have done it in the face of lynching, burning at the stake, with the humiliation of "Jim Crow" laws, the disfranchisement of our male citizens, slander and degradation of our women, with the factories closed against us, no Negro permitted to be conductor on the railway CARS…no Negro permitted to run as engineer on a locomotive, most of the mines closed against us. Labor unions--carpenters, painters, brick masons, machinists, hackmen and those supplying nearly every conceivable avocation for livelihood--have banded themselves together to better their condition, but, with few exceptions, the black face has been left out. The Negroes are seldom employed in our mercantile stores… With all these odds against us, we are forging our way ahead, slowly, perhaps, but surely… You may use our labor for two and a half centuries and then taunt us for our poverty, but let me remind you we will not always remain poor! You may withhold even the knowledge of how to read God's word and…then taunt us for our ignorance, but we would remind you that there is plenty of room at the top, and we are climbing...!
Mr. Chairman, before concluding my remarks I want to submit a brief RECIPE for the solution of the so-called "American Negro problem." He asks no special favors, but simply demands that he be given the same chance for existence, for earning a livelihood, for raising himself in the scales of manhood and womanhood, that are accorded to kindred nationalities. Treat him as a man…open the doors of industry to him… Help him to overcome his weaknesses, punish the crime-committing class by the courts of the land, measure the standard of the race by its best material, cease to mold prejudicial and unjust public sentiment against him, and…he will learn to support…and join in with that political party, that institution, whether secular or religious, in every community where he lives, which is destined to do the greatest good for the greatest number. Obliterate race hatred, party prejudice, and help us to achieve nobler ends, greater results and become satisfactory citizens to our brother in white.
This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the American Congress; but…phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again…
Congressional Record, 56th Cong., 2d session, vol. 34, pt. 2 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901), pp. 1635, 1636, 1638.
- See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/1901-george-h-whites-farewell-address-congress#sthash.j2NY4E9n.dpuf
Obama Recalls When There Was Just One Black Congressman