OPINION: George H. White
A century before President Barack Obama won a landslide election in 2008 and rose from the ashes to win a presidential re-election, this trained lawyer was the original phoenix. And more than four score and eight before Gov. Douglas Wilder won a stunning election as chief executive of Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, this distinguished man of color served before the bar of North Carolina.
In 1852, North Carolina led the world in naval stores- that is the production of turpentine, tar, pitch and rosin. That same year a black child named George White was born free in the heart of the Tar Heel slave economy. In fact, the place in Tar Nation where George White was born was renamed Ronsindale in 1866 to reflect the industry of turpentine and rosin, of which White was a real Tar Heel. George White honed his business skills early in life by literally scraping the sap of profitability from the long leaf pine trees on his family’s property in Bladen County.
Against this backdrop, George White obtained a quality public education as soon as the newly revised 1868 North Carolina Constitution conveyed “the right to the privilege of education” upon everyone. By the 1880’s Senator White represented Craven County, the most progressive part of North Carolina, at the Old State Capitol in Raleigh. And by the 1890’s, Congressman White represented “The Black Second” and a generation of “Colored” people intent upon obtaining the American dream, even as the Reconstruction Era unfolded in the midst of the Great Redemption of white America. Congressman George Henry White embodied the educated, pragmatic businessman who would be relied upon with the precious boon of political representation of the people, by the people and for the people in this last great hope on earth. Congressman White’s last speech at the Capitol would serve as the conscious for America into a new century of unparalleled prosperity.
Submitted by: Earl L. Ijames, Curator North Carolina Museum of History
Date submitted: September 26, 2013