north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     George Henry White, born near Rosindale (Bladen County) in 1852, was the fourth of four African Americans to represent North Carolina’s Second District in the United States House of Repreentatives in the late nineteenth century. The marker erected in 1976 in New Bern for White indicates that he was born into slavery, as was believed at that time. However, Benjamin R. Justesen’s 2001 biography of White relates details that tend to refute the statement. 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. White attended public schools and graduated from Howard University in 1877. He held principalships at two New Bern schools, while studying law under Judge William J. Clarke, and obtained a license to practice law in North Carolina in 1879.

     White launched his political career in 1881, when he was elected from Craven County to serve in the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 1885 he served in the State Senate. The following year White was elected to the first of two four-year terms as district solicitor for the Second Judicial District. He moved to Tarboro in order to be eligible to run for office in what was known as the “Black Second” Congressional District. The district had a significant black population and had elected three African Americans to Congress. Serving previously in that capacity were John Hyman of Warrenton, 1875-1877; James E. O’Hara of Enfield, 1883-1887; and Henry P. Cheatham of Henderson, 1889-1893. White, elected in 1896 and 1898, was the only black representative in Congress during his terms and introduced the first bill condemning lynching. He was attentive to local issues and appointed many blacks in his district to federal positions. He was a target of the white supremacy campaign in 1898 and was a particular target of the Raleigh newspaper, the News and Observer, edited by Josephus Daniels.

     After the passage of legislation disfranchising black voters, White declined nomination to a third term, saying "I can no longer live in North Carolina and be treated as a man." Noteworthy in White’s Congressional career was his farewell speech, in which he stated that “Phoenix-like he (the negro) will rise up some day and come again (to Congress).” After completing his term in 1901, as the racial climate in the South was changing, White and his family moved to Philadelphia, where he founded a bank. He established a black community in Cape May County, New Jersey, called Whitesboro. White died December 28, 1918, and is buried in Eden Cemetery in Philadelphia. White was the last black member of Congress for twenty-eight years, the last black Southerner until 1973, and the last black North Carolinian until 1993. His Tarboro house remains at 300 Granville Street. The town has commemorated George White Day since 2002.


References:
Benjamin R. Justesen, George H. White: An Even Chance in the Race of Life (2001)
Congressional Record Containing the Proceedings and Debates of the 56th Congress, Second Session (1901)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 174-175—sketch by William Z. Schenck
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George H. White

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