LightSmith Productions has been honored with the prestigious George Henry White Award for 2018 by the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation, for work promoting the life and legacy of this historical American.
SunJae Smith, owner of LightSmith Productions with his wife, Mie, and Kate Tsubata, who works as a writer/producer with LightSmith, were the direct recipients of the award. SunJae’s credits include creating and maintaining the website for GHW’s legacy, producing videos, and participating in seminars and other events to raise awareness of Congressman White. Kate produced the mini-documentary “American Phoenix”, written by the former award winner Benjamin Justesen, which traced the life and impact of this courageous native of North Carolina. George Henry White, who was born in 1853, rose from humble agrarian roots to attend Howard University Law School, becoming an attorney practicing in North Carolina. Elected to regional and state offices, he served the citizens during the tumultuous Reconstruction era, hewing to the high ethical standards inculcated by his family. In 1897, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, the only African-American to serve during the next four years, the sole voice in that body for the 10 million African American citizens.
He was the sole sponsor of a bill to outlaw the heinous practice of lynching, which subverted the justice system and was used to terrorize black citizens in particular. He was the sole voice exposing and protesting the illegal coup—and subsequent carnage—in Wilmington, North Carolina, which became known as the Wilmington Massacre. He became the especial target for the hate rhetoric and political manipulation of that era, as he courageously worked to preserve the advances in human rights so recently gained in the post-Civil War decades. Despite his lone crusade, however, North Carolina’s black citizens were stripped of their voting rights, and overnight, his constituency was disenfranchised; when he could not be voted out, his enemies simply denied the right to vote to his supporters.
From the ashes of this conflagration, however, White rose like a phoenix. He turned away from politics to become a leader in economic empowerment. He went into private practice, and eventually purchased land in New Jersey where African Americans could buy homes and farms and build businesses, founding the town of Whitesboro. Many members of his extended family moved from North Carolina to New Jersey to settle in this town, bringing their outstanding work ethic and civic influence to help build this bold venture.
During the next 30 years, the halls of congress were bereft of any representative of color, and for a time, it seemed that racial politics would prevail. Yet the words from George Henry White’s stirring farewell address to Congress soon proved prophetic. “This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress,” White declaimed, in 1901, “but let me say, Phoenix-like, he will rise up some day and come again.”
Those words rang out once again in the halls of Congress in 2009, as President Barack Obama shared them with the Congressional Black Caucus—resurrecting the legacy of George Henry White in the national consciousness. Yet, his legacy had continued to thrive in other arenas. Whitesboro became a haven for successful families, whose progeny included leaders in law, academia, communications and business. Eventually, legislation and representation in Congress did take place outlawing lynching, and establishing universal voting rights.
In accepting the award on behalf of LightSmith Productions, Kate Tsubata noted that the criteria for the award match the standards of the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants themselves. Entrepreneurship, Servant leadership, Visionary action and Family cohesion marked George Henry White’s legacy, but were learned through the matrix of the family he belonged to. His most enduring impact is in the continuous influence of the many family members on society. Tsubata spoke of the immense gratitude felt by SunJae and herself in being honored with the award, previously granted to President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and biographer Ben Justesen. At the same time, she encouraged the guests to see how their own impact continues to illuminate the world today. She urged them to inherit the mantle of their forebears and to bring the lessons learned and practiced in their extended family to every life they touch.
In particular, she mentioned the George Henry White Community Center, as well as many historical and educational programs being developed through the BESDF umbrella, which continue to raise human potential and instill success values in those reached.
A special copy of the “American Phoenix” mini-documentary DVD is available to present to your club or classroom. Donations can be earmarked for the Community Center, to BESDF, or for other activities promoting George Henry White’s legacy. Check the website for details: www.georgehenrywhite.com.