George Henry White
George Henry White was born in New Bern, North Carolina in 1852. He grew up free and was raised by his stepmother, Mary Anna Spaulding White, a free woman. After the Civil War he attended Freedmen’s Bureau schools and the Whitin Normal School in Lumberton, North Carolina. After graduating he attended Howard University and later worked as a schoolteacher and principal in New Bern. While in North Carolina, he studied law under former Superior Court Judge William John Clarke and was eventually admitted to the North Carolina bar. White was among the first African Americans to receive a law degree.
George White developed a successful legal practice while also being active in Republican politics. He was first elected to represent Craven County in the North Carolina House of Representatives and then to the state Senate. In 1886 he won election as the solicitor of the Second Judicial District in northeastern North Carolina. During his eight years as solicitor, he was the only elected African American prosecutor in the country. He also served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1896. In 1897, White was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He would be the last African American elected to Congress until 1928.
While in Congress, White spoke out against segregation, disfranchisement, and violence against African Americans. He sponsored an anti-lynching bill—which died in committee—that proposed to make lynching a federal crime punishable by death. He also arranged appointments for more than three dozen Black postmasters in his district—the largest number of appointments in any district during the 19th century.
White chose not to run for re-election for a third term when the North Carolina constitution was altered to dilute African American votes. In a famous farewell speech on January 29, 1901, he pleaded for justice for African Americans. He continued his activism after leaving Congress by serving as vice president of the National Afro-American Council and as a founder of the Philadelphia National Association of Colored People.
This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.
George H. White, 1901
White practiced law in Washington, D.C., after leaving Congress and also created the George White Land Development Company. Its goal was to create an all-Black town, Whitesboro New Jersey, which still exists today. After relocating to Philadelphia, George White set up Philadelphia’s first Black-owned commercial savings bank, People’s Savings Bank. He also became involved in local politics, running unsuccessfully for a congressional seat and becoming as assistant city solicitor before his death in 1918.