George H. White (1852-1918)
In honor of Black History Month, all month long we will be sharing the legacies and stories of the heroes, sheroes, and events in the fight for Black suffrage on social media under the hashtag #VRABlackHistory. Follow us on Twitter (@VRAmatters) to share your own facts.

Today we honor  George H. White, who was a lawyer and a Republican African American Congressman from North Carolina’s Second Congressional District (1899-1901). "Facing overwhelming odds in the wake of the further disfranchisement of North Carolina blacks, he declined to run for re-election in 1900."  White was part of the 56th Congress of the United States and was the last African American member of Congress since Reconstruction, and there wouldn't be another African American Congressperson until 28 years later in 1928. White would also be the last African American Congressman "elected from North Carolina until the 1990s".

White represents the last of the 22 African American men who, since 1870, "had served reconstructed southern states in Congress." While he was last; he certainly was not least, and there is no better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to lift up and honor a man who so earnestly loved the law, his country, and his race.

"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."
 

What made White's farewell address even more commendable was that it wasn't supposed to even be a farewell address. White was on the House floor "considering the bill (H. R. 13801) [that would make] appropriations for the Department of Agriculture for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1902". White says in this speech that, because he had been denied the chance a couple days earlier to speak, he had taken this chance while he was on the House floor and had the attention of all the Congressmen to divert from the subject of the bill- leaving the bill to be discussed by more knowledgeable agriculturists- and instead use his five minutes to "enter a plea for the colored man, the colored woman, the colored boy, and the colored girl of this country."

White covered many issues in his speech, including:

  • The racism displayed by the 56th Congress;
  • The attempts of several Congressmen to repeal the 14th and 15th Amendments;
  • The voter suppression tactics used against African Americans;
  • The hierarchy, destructive nature, and hypocrisy of White Supremacy;
  • The statistics of how African Americans were doing in 1901 compared to 30 years before;
  • The state of poverty that African American families still faced; and,
  • The two bills he had proposed in the first session of Congress, and descriptions and arguments for them both (these two bills were one regarding the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company and one regarding his anti-lynching bill).

White's impromptu farewell address took up "four pages of the Congressional Record " (emphasis in original), at the end of which the record says there was loud applause.

Fun Facts:
  • George White was "the child of a free, mixed-race turpentine farmer in Columbus County. [He] was born in Rosindale, Bladen County, on December 18, 1852. No details are available regarding his birth mother, who may have been a slave and appears to have died shortly after her son’s birth."

  • "George Henry White’s first public speech came at an Emancipation Day gathering in the small coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina". (emphasis added)

  • "When White passed the state’s rigorous bar examination, personally administered in those days by the members of North Carolina’s Supreme Court, he was the state’s only black candidate in a class of 32. He then established a small practice in New Bern, becoming one of a half-dozen African American attorneys in the state." (emphasis added)

  • "By the fall of 1880, White had...emerged as a formidable political candidate, winning election on the Republican ticket as a member of the North Carolina House from Craven County. He later served one term as a Republican in the state Senate (elected 1884) from Craven County, before serving two terms (1887-1894) as the nation’s only elected black prosecutor, representing the state’s so-called 'black second' district."

  • "White was married four times and widowed three times." (emphasis added) One of his daughters, Beatrice Odessa White, who was born in  1891, died a short year later in 1892, and was buried in New Bern, North Carolina.

  • "[White] won his first term in the United States Congress from the Second Congressional District, after defeating his brother-in-law, former Congressman Henry Plummer Cheatham, for the party nomination in 1896." (emphasis added)

  • "Reelected to Congress in a three-way race in 1898, White was the nation’s only African American Congressman for four years, gaining national recognition as a vocal defender of civil rights and political equality for his race, and serving as a state delegate to two national Republican conventions, in 1896 and 1900." (emphasis added)

  • Sometime after 1901, George White left North Carolina due African American disenfranchisement and co-founded Whiteville (also called Whitesboro), an all-black community located near Trenton, New Jersey.

  • "George White devoted the last two decades of his life primarily to two significant business activities, as president of Philadelphia’s first black-owned commercial savings bank and as the founder of a land development company in southern New Jersey." (emphasis added)

  • "In 1912, [White] briefly attempted a comeback to Congress in an unsuccessful quest for the Republican nomination in a special election in Philadelphia’s First District." (emphasis  added)

  • "In 1916, [White] was selected as Pennsylvania’s first black alternate state delegate to the national Republican convention in Chicago". (emphasis added)

  • "In 1917, a year before his death, [White] was appointed as an assistant city [lawyer] in Philadelphia. He died at his home there on December 28, 1918." 
Click on the video below to watch as Bernard George presents excerpts from George H. White's 1901 speech.