Master of Arts Thesis
“Now is the Time to Buy: George Henry White & The Town of Whitesboro”
Terrance R. Taylor
Duke University Graduate School
This thesis provides an informative and in-depth explanation about the period in George Henry White’s (GHW’s) life when he shifted his focus for helping African-Americans from the political to the economic arena. White was the last African-American to hold a seat in the United State Congress in the 19th century after reconstruction. He left Congress and the state of North Carolina at the turn of the century, run off by the culmination of a twenty-year effort on the part of Southern whites to achieve legal segregation and legal disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the region. During his term in Congress, GHW protested the illegal repression and the legal changes that increasingly denied African Americans civic equality, but to no avail. Disenfranchisement of African American voters cost White his congressional seat in 1900.
Mr. Taylor’s thesis addresses, in the context of GHW’s role, the complexities of racial oppression and white resistance of urban migration and industrial change, during the early twentieth-century, which was the pivotal point in shaping modern African-American culture. During this period, like many African Americans during the 1890s, White shifted his agenda for helping African Americans from the political to the economic arena. Unlike other African Americans, such as Booker T. Washington, or the emergent black business leaders of Durham, White did not urge blacks to improve their lot economically in the South. On the contrary, the thesis addresses White’s belief that African Americans, who stayed in the South, faced a future only of more “degradation” and “subjection”. He argued that blacks should leave the South that had scorned and rebuked them. He predicted that, in the fall of 1900, there would be a mass exodus of fifty thousand Negroes from North Carolina because of North Carolina’s constitutional amendment that disenfranchised African-Americans from the political system.
The project addresses, in detail, White’s personal determination that “this migration (of African-Americans to the North) should be systematic”. White believed that to make the exodus work, a home in the North should be provided before African-Americans leave their homes in the South. The focus of Mr. Taylor’s thesis project, among other things, is to addresses in detail the efforts of White to provide a northern home for expatriate African-Americans. The George H. White Land & Improvement Company was founded in Philadelphia and Cape May, New Jersey, to build an independent African-American community in the North where African-Americans could gain control of their lives and identities in a racist culture. This thesis project looks at how White and his investors used the tools of land development and home ownership to create an early twentieth-century “empowerment zone” for African-Americans who faced enormous racial hostility in the South. In order to fully understand the processes that the George Henry White Realty & Development Company used to create the town of Whitesboro, Mr. Taylor’s thesis explores the following questions:
1. What caused the George Henry White Land & Improvement Company to purchase land in an all-White town?
2. What effects did the investors have on the George Henry White Land & Improvement’s decision to build in Cape May?
3. Why did the George Henry White Land & Improvement Company refuse to sell shares in it planned Negro community to African-Americans living in Cape May, New Jersey?
And lastly, in the context of the foregoing questions, the thesis project examines the advertisements and slogans that the George Henry White Realty and Development Company used. An examination of the 1900, 1910, and 1920 United States Census records and the mortgage records was done by Mr. Taylor to better understand the people who were buying and living in Whitesboro, Wildwood Height’s and Wildwood Junction Heights. These records were looked at to gain a better picture on the actual sentiment of county leadership towards White’s developing an all African-American town in Cape May County.
George Henry White answered the call of the 1890s because African-Americans were suffering from the restructuring of the new South. During the 1890s, North Carolina was coping with harsh economic problems. Beginning in 1898, Jim Crow laws restricted the rights and lives for Americans living in North Carolina. The Jim Crow laws separated the races in housing, jobs, schools, sports, recreation, prisons, asylums, orphanages, cemeteries, hospitals, and trains, according to Joseph Neff, referenced in Mr. Taylors thesis. White envisioned for African-Americans living in North Carolina, a place where the laws were not based in a nation of separate but equal accommodations for African-Americans.
In order to obtain a clear perception of George Henry White the person and the circumstances under which he was elected to public office, Mr. Taylor’s thesis devotes a lot of time to telling about GHW’s early up bring in Bladen and Columbus Counties NC, his education, and his political career, from the North Carolina State government to the US Congress. During his political career, White was an outspoken voice for the former enslaved people of America. Whenever he had the opportunity to address the issues of African-Americans in a public forum, he took advantage of the situation. Mr. Taylor’s thesis contains many direct quotes from George White while in the US House of Representative and at various public speaking engagements. Of particular note, is the comment that White made while giving the commencement address at the Avery Training School. In that address, White previewed a philosophy of self-determination that became the basis of his founding the Town of Whitesboro. He stated that, “before the war all labor in the South, both skilled and otherwise, was done by the blacks”. He was balancing the debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois over industrial and intellectual opportunities. According to White, there should be no conflict between industrial and intellectual schools.
Mr. Taylor’s thesis speaks to the condition of African-Americans at the turn of the 20 century, and addresses White’s call for African-Americans to go North, and explains why Cape May was selected by White to be an “empowerment zone”. Whites’ vision for Cape May was to build a Promised Land for African-Americans. Mr. Taylor explains in his thesis that White saw the 20th century as a time African-Americans could take progressive actions towards self-determination. Whites investment group was determined to improve the lives of African-Americans from the South. They were not seeking a profit-return on their investment; moreover, it was a return on social equality, political fairness, and economic justice for countless southern African-Americans. By creating opportunities in home ownership, White’s development company was an example of cooperated partnership by African-American political, community, and business leaders at the turn of the century. The George Henry White Land & Improvement Company’s investor group started a movement that was part of the development of the modern African-American. In addition, the foresight of visionary leadership of White contributed to creating the 20th century African-American class.
In conclusion, the establishment of Whitesboro was a very challenging endeavor for its visionary founder, George Henry White. He envisioned Whitesboro being a place where African Americans could seek social, economic, and political freedom. And before his death, Whitesboro did become a place where hopes and desires of African-Americans could be fulfilled, and stands today as a fully chartered town in the State New Jersey. I have attempted to encapsulate and provided an overview of Mr. Terrance R. Taylor’s Master of Art thesis regarding the establishment of the town of Whitesboro, NJ, by its founder George Henry White. On behalf of the BESD non-profit foundation, Inc., I would like to express our sincerely appreciation to Mr. Taylor for allowing us to post his Master’s Thesis on our website. Mr. Taylor is presently serving on the Staff of U.S. Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD). I sincerely encourage everyone reading this statement to access the full thesis by clicking the computer sites below:
Vincent M. Spaulding, R.A.
GHW Project Chair
Terrance R. Taylor
Terrance R. Taylor
Terrance R. Taylor