GEORGE HENRY WHITE PIONEER AWARD | ABOUT
George Henry White was a distinguished attorney, educator, and public servant in North Carolina during the late 19th century. Born in Bladen County in 1852, he graduated from Howard University to become a teacher and principal, Admitted to the N.C. bar in 1879, White entered politics as a Republican, serving in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly and winning two terms as district solicitor. He then served two terms as the only African American in the U.S. Congress (1897 to 1901), where he became widely known as a powerful spokesman for civil justice for his race. White retired after North Carolina amended its constitution in 1900 to disfranchise most black voters.
Himself a target of vehement attacks and racial slurs, George White foresaw the need for economic self-sufficiency and access to higher education for those of color. In 1903, he founded the town of Whitesboro, New Jersey, as a haven for African Americans from “Jim Crow” segregation and racial violence—a utopian settlement where people could own farms and businesses, where children could receive an excellent education, and where each person could achieve personal and professional goals, given “an even chance in the race of life.” He also founded the first black-owned commercial savings bank in Philadelphia, where he moved to practice law in 1906, and where he died in 1918.
George White’s memorable “farewell speech” to Congress, delivered in January 1901, urged America to restore equal political and social treatment for African Americans. Despite the political setbacks of his era, he predicted that African Americans would one day return to Congress—a prediction fulfilled in 1928, when Chicago’s Oscar De Priest became the next African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.