Washington, D.C. – With the overwhelming support of the Congressional Black Caucus and the North Carolina Congressional delegation, Congressman G. K. Butterfield has asked for a postage stamp commemorating the life and accomplishments of former Edgecombe County resident and North Carolina Congressman George Henry White.
“George Henry White was a mighty force of one,” Butterfield said. “Throughout his life he relentlessly stirred the conscience of America to embrace racial justice and equality for all people.”
Butterfield sent a written request to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) asking that White be honored with a stamp as part of the popular Black Heritage stamp series. The request was co-signed by all 42 House members of the Congressional Black Caucus and all but one of North Carolina’s 13 House members.
The 15-member CSAC makes recommendations to U.S. Postmaster General on which stamp proposals merit consideration. The Committee meets four times a year in Washington, D.C. At the meetings, the members review all proposals that have been received since the previous meeting.
Born a slave in Bladen County, N.C. in 1852, White graduated from Howard University before returning to North Carolina to become a school principal in 1877. There he began to study law under a prominent former judge, a renegade Confederate veteran named William Edwards Clarke. Passing the state bar, he became one of North Carolina’s first black lawyers in 1879. The next year voters elected White to the first of two terms in the North Carolina General Assembly where he was best known for his struggles on behalf of African-American schools.
In 1886, White was elected district solicitor – essentially, district attorney – for the Second Judicial District. At that time, he was the only black solicitor in the United States. That same year he married Cora Cherry, a teacher from here in Tarboro. The couple moved to Tarboro in 1894 after the General Assembly removed New Bern from the Second Congressional District to help prevent him from running for Congress in the predominately-black district.
Running in the Second District, White was elected to Congress in 1896 and re-elected in 1898. He was the last former slave to serve in Congress and by 1898 he was the only black member of the House.
Butterfield said that White was a forceful figure in Congress, advocating that the federal government become more aggressive in stopping widespread lynching in the South. Toward that ends, White authored a bill making lynching a federal crime punishable by death. Butterfield said that 1,856 African-Americans are documented by the Library of Congress as having been lynched during the Reconstruction.
“As the political forces of white supremacy swept across North Carolina and the South, voters of the ‘Black Second’ stood fast as long as they could.,” Butterfield said. “But a lethal blow to voting was delivered to the black community in 1900. In order to vote, they had to be able to read and write, and their grandfather must have voted. This essentially eliminated political participation by the black community in eastern North Carolina.”
White was defeated in 1900. In his last speech before Congress on January 29, 1901, White predicted, “This 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. 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.”
In 1905, White moved to Philadelphia where he successfully practiced law and established the People’s Saving Bank on Lombard Street. The bank helped blacks to buy homes and start businesses. White also helped to establish Whitesboro, N.J., a community for blacks migrating north from the Deep South. White died on December 28, 1918.
“George Henry White’s life exemplifies the true spirit of America,” Butterfield said. “He is deserving of the distinction of being honored on a U.S. Postal Stamp as our nation’s first black elected.”