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  • W. Terry Smith

Marker will honor George Henry White

TARBORO — George Henry White has been dead 93 years, but he lives on in Tarboro where Saturday will be the annual George Henry White Day. A North Carolina Highway Historical Marker honoring White will be unveiled about noon on Saturday at the corner of Granville and Main streets, two blocks from White’s former residence at 300 E. Granville St.

In a program sponsored by the Phoenix Historical Society in Edgecombe County, former Congresswoman Eva Clayton will speak at the County Administration Building auditorium beginning at 11 a.m.

In 1992, Clayton became the first woman and the first black woman to be elected to Congress from the state of North Carolina. Clayton and Rep. Mel Watt, D-12th District, were the first blacks elected to Congress from North Carolina since Reconstruction.

Clayton stepped down in 2002 after serving five terms.

“We’re excited she is coming,” said Jim Wrenn, Phoenix Society vice president and chairman of the George Henry White Day Committee.

White lived in Tarboro while he represented the 2nd Congressional District. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1896 and again in 1898, and was the only black then in Congress. The passage of a controversial amendment in North Carolina that denied voting rights to black citizens, and discriminatory actions by other former Confederate states, meant no blacks from the South would be elected to Congress again until 1972.

In his famous farewell speech to Congress on Jan. 29, 1901, White stated that “Phoenix-like, he (the Negro) will rise up some day and come again (to Congress).”

While serving in Congress, White introduced the first bill condemning lynching. He appointed many blacks to federal positions and was attentive to local issues.

After completing his second term, he moved from Tarboro to Philadelphia.

The marker will bear the following inscription:

In 2002, Tarboro Town Council approved a resolution declaring Jan. 29 as the annual George Henry White Day in Tarboro. The next year the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners approved a similar resolution.

On Jan. 29, 2005, the Phoenix Historical Society unveiled a commissioned portrait of White in the Superior Court Room of the county Court House following approval by the Board of Commissioners.

A month later, in a ceremony organized by U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, the Tarboro post office was officially named the George Henry White Post Office Building following an act of Congress.

Butterfield has introduced legislation to have a George Henry White postage stamp.

Also, in 2010, the North Carolina Historical Commission approved recommendations of the Capitol Monument Study Committee to lift a moratorium of new monuments on the state capitol square to include among others a monument to commemorate the achievements and public statements of White.

The Phoenix Historical Society’s mission is “to recover, record and promote the unique history of Edgecombe County experienced by members of its African American community.”

Mavis Stith,Wrenn’s wife, is president.

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