GHW: Statement for Public Presentation
My name is Vince Spaulding, and I am here today representing the BESDF, Inc. nonprofit foundation, which was established for Educational, Literary, Charitable purposes among other functions. One of our foundation’s projects includes the promotion of greater historical recognition of the life and legacy of George Henry White, a North Carolina congressman who was a major civil rights leader during his lifetime (1852‒1918). (66 Years Old)
Though largely forgotten today (which is something I don’t fully understand), George Henry White was a household name in North Carolina and most of the nation at the turn of the 20th century. During his lifetime he was the nation’s highest elected African American official, and was considered the equal of well-known African American contemporaries such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. During two terms in Congress from 1897 to 1901, he fought for equal rights for all Americans and sponsored groundbreaking legislation that would have outlawed lynching, if passed. Because of voter suppression laws disfranchising African American voters after the 1900’s, GHW did not seek another term in Congress. And subsequently, moved his family to Washington, D.C., and later to Philadelphia, Pa., where he continued his fight for equal rights and economic empowerment for people of color, as an attorney, founder of the People’s Saving Bank in Philadelphia, Pa, and later as a land developer founding the town of Whitesboro, NJ. A place where a person could live and have an even chance in the race of life. Which in my mind’s eye, is one of GHW’s most significant achievements, because it shows how committed he was to standing up for his race, in the wake of the South passing voter suppression laws, which took away the power of the vote from Black folks. Which subsequently allowed the passing of laws intended to keep Black folks Ignorant and in Poverty.
The passing of the Homestead Act during the 1800’s, is an example of a law adverse to black folks, that resulted in them becoming indentured servants to landowners. This law took advantage of them not knowing how to read and understand work agreement contracts. Therefore, unknowingly doing something that violated a work agreement (such as eating some of the crops they signed an agreement to raise), they would have to choose between going to jail or becoming an indentured servant to the land owner and work for free. The pervasiveness of legal, and illegal lynching, was also a factor in Black folks never having an equal chance to succeed in life.
To abate this problem, GHW decided to establish the town of Whitesboro, NJ, where any person could succeed in life without being held back by laws intended to keep a person in bondage. The significance of GHW founding the town of Whitesboro, NJ, continues to be overlooked in Black History (which I prefer to refer to as American History), including in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC: which misrepresented the significance of GHW’s role in the founding of Whitesboro, NJ, in its statement regarding the founding of Whitesboro, NJ. The statement for the exhibit simply indicated that
GHW of North Carolina was a key southern investor, in the founding of the town of Whitesboro, NJ. They missed, or miss represented, the whole point of the significance of GHW’s involvement in founding the town of Whitesboro, NJ, in the Museum for African American History and Culture. We hope to one day get the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), to revisit how they described the significant of GHW’s involvement with the founding of Whitesboro, NJ.
I think that it is important in my presentation, that I interject here, information on GHW’s accomplishments before serving in the US Congress, which includes the following: 1) Served as an educator and a school principal for a public and private school in New Bern, NC, 2) Was elected and served 1 term in the NC State House of Representatives, 3) Was elected and served a term as a NC State Senator, and 4) Was elected and served two terms as a State Solicitor (prosecuting legal cases involving black and white persons), until his election to the US Congress from the Second District of NC in 1896.
A major piece of legislation that GHW is known for, because of his belief in the importance of education, while serving in the NC State Government, is the bill that required by law, that every citizen in the state of NC must obtain 16 months of education, obtained between the age of 6 to 18 years old. This law resulted in every person in the state being able to obtain at least 16 months of formal education by the time they are 18 years old. While serving as a US Congressman, GHW served as the nationwide spokesperson for colored persons,
traveling from the deep South to Nova Scotia, advocating for the establishment of the National Afro-American Council. This organization was the prelude to the establishment of the NAACP. As a national leader while serving in the US Congress, he was the voice for over 10 million colored persons, and spoke nationwide in support of black causes and against racism. Major issues of concern that GHW spoke out nationally against, were voter suppression laws, and activities such as literacy test, lynching, the lack of educational opportunities for black folks, etc., which resulted in blacks losing the vote, and going from over 20 persons of color serving in the US Congress and Senate, as Congressmen and Senators, to just him serving as the only black person in the US Congress from 1897 to 1901. After GHW, it was not until 1928, before another person of color was elected to serve in the US Congress, and that was Oscar DePriest, elected from the state of Illinois.
The non-profit foundation which I represent, working in collaboration with the Phoenix Historical Society, Inc. of Tarboro, NC, has grown to include five other organizations and Groups, (which I am happy to report/and they are:), (1) The GHW Bar Association of Durham, NC, (2) the MWPHGLNC, Free & Accepted Masons (Prince Hall) of NC, (3) the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, NJ, (4) the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church of New Bern, NC, and (5) the Living Descendants of GHW- Nation Wide. All of these organizations and groups, are jointly, concerned that GHW’s courageous stands for racial justice (in the face of public apathy) not continue to be overlooked in the mainstream of national American history.
In addition to the organizations mentioned above, I am very pleased to report/mention that Dr. Benjamin Justesen, who has written 3 books on the life and legacy of GHW, is an active member and consultant, within our collective group. As a group, we are all very concerned about the discontinuation of African American history courses in many school systems, a move which has contributed to the omission of George Henry White,
and other black heroes, from being included in the mainstream of national history publications, events, and museums.
I would like to make the point here, that I consider Black History, American History, which is no less important than any other piece of American History. Even though, I support the importance of having Black history month each year, I am upset and disappointed, that during Black History Month, the same black heroes or events are celebrated and repeatedly mentioned each year, e.g., MLK, Rosa Parks, Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson, the Freedom-Riders, the Sit-in Movement, and very little attention is given to providing information on other black heroes and moments in Black History. Which is American History and should be kept in that context.
Note: Due to the way black history is portrayed/presented each year, it comes across as being separate and apart from other American history. So with one month for black history, it results in information being presented on the same black heroes over and over again, with no time for others.
Now I want to talk about what the organization I represent is doing to uplift the name of GHW. The BESDF nonprofit organization, working in collaboration with the PHS, Inc., has established the GHW “Rise Once Again” website, to provide a location on the Internet where information about programs and activities promoting public knowledge of GHW, and other unsung black heroes, during his era, can be posted. In addition to
posting historical information regarding GHW, the website is a place where: (1) present-day news and events can be posted, (2) a location for placing information on special occasions, (3) a place for posting media information and photos, (4) a location for posting, past and present activities regarding GHW and other black heroes, (5) a store where memorabilia and DVD’s can be purchased, (6) the GHW website, contains links to other websites that contain relevant information, and lastly (7) the GHW website provides a location for submitting contact information. The website also contains a Facebook connection for posting information and
facilitating discussion groups. Persons who are interested in submitting information for posting on the GHW “Rise Once Again” website should use the contact information form to submit requests for information to be posted. The website is: www.georgehenrywhite.com.
The nonprofit foundation I represent, has also had developed a 15-minute documentary movie entitled: “George Henry White: American Phoenix” which was produced by the LightSmith Production Company and runs for 15 minutes. (I will be showing the DVD after my remarks.) Our desire is to have the 15 minute documentary DVD expanded to 45 minutes, so that we can submit it for broadcasting during Black History Month on UNC TV and other locations. Copies of the DVD can be purchased from the GHW “Rise Once Again” website. We are considering showing the GHW DVD free on the GHW website, and continue to make it available for purchase from the GHW website for those who desire to have a personal copy.
During CY 2014, a 100 year old home in Bladen County, NC was donated to the BESDF, Inc. non- profit foundation in order to establish a memorial for GHW’s legacy in his birth county. The establishment of this memorial is a place intended to serve as a focus for the memory of the life and legacy of the late Congressman in his birth county, and to provide a location in Bladen County for commemoration, remembrance, and recognition of the rich history of Farmer’s Union and its surrounding communities during his youth. Starting during CY 2015, BESDF, Inc. raised funds and began work to renovate the house. We estimate that it will take approximate $100,000 to completely renovate the house and get it operational for serving the community. So far we have raised over $46,000s. Pictures of the GHW MC Center and work done, so far, can be seen on the GHW website.
For the past 30 years the Concerned Citizens (CC) of Whitesboro, NJ, which is a non- profit foundation established to highlight the founding of the town of Whitesboro, NJ conducts annually activities to memorialize the founding of the town of Whitesboro, NJ. The CC of Whitesboro, NJ is one of the groups that have joined with us to work collaboratively to conduct activities to uplift the public knowledge of GHW.
For many years the PHS in Tarboro has been working hard to memorialize the life and legacy of GHW. And have had great success locally in Tarboro, NC. Their efforts have contributed to two highway markers being installed in NC to recognize of the life of GHW. (One is in Tarboro, NC and the other is in New Bern, NC.) During 2014, the foundation I represent united with the PHS in its annual efforts to celebrate the anniversary of
GHW’s Farewell Speech to Congress on January 29, of each year. And during CY 2015, the PHS and BESDF co-sponsored a panel discussion where Dr. Ben Justesen, Dr. Al Tony Gilmore, and direct descendants of GHW, and two other noted historians responded to pre-prepared questions regarding the life and legacy of GHW. On January 19, 2016, at the Duke University Searle Conference Center, the 6 organizations that have united on our efforts to uplift the name of GHW (his name), came together to celebrate the 115 th Anniversary of GHW’s Farewell Speech to Congress, with a banquet. And during February, 5 representatives of the 6 organizations traveled to the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in New Bern NC, to conduct a program and host and exhibits of artifacts collected regarding GHW.
There have been many other events conducted over the years to recognize the outstanding life of GHW, too many to mention at this time. In closing, I want to bring attention to three alphabets that GHW put together to depict the plight of the colored person. And they are: “IPP”: Ignorance, Poverty, and Prejudice. During the era when GHW lived, IPP were the three primary tools used to keep colored persons destined to a very low standard of living. The fact that GHW formulated the foregoing analogy illustrates his uniquely high level of intelligence, and I believe personally, that due to him being perceived as being so, inherently intelligent and assertive, he was not well liked by persons of both races during his lifetime.
In closing, I am still trying to understand why GHW’s life and legacy have been omitted from the mainstream of American History, and have come to the foregone conclusion, for now. I need to do additional research, for why a person of his stature in life, during the time he lived, is being over looked in the mainstream of American History. So this question, will keep me looking into the life and legacy of GHW. Thank you for your patience and attendance. It has been a real pleasure to have this opportunity to be your guest speaker today.
GHW Stump Speech Available for use by Persons in Need of a Statement Regarding GHW: Prepared by Vincent M. Spaulding, R.A., April 2018, for presentation at the Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. (Edition of document reviewed by Ben. Justesen, PhD, 6/7/18)