On Jan. 28, members of the Phoenix Historical Society and representatives from the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation launched efforts to mutually support each other in their respective undertakings to promote public knowledge of the record and unique history of Congressman George Henry White.
“It is significant that our two organizations have converged today, based on the legacy of one great and almost forgotten hero, Congressman George Henry White,” said Vincent Spaulding, President/COO of the e Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation.
He said that by establishing a mutually beneficial relationships with such allied nonprofit organizations as the Phoenix Historical Society and other groups, both groups can expect to bring greater attention to the life and legacy of George Henry White, including his political achievements, and in other locations important to White’s life and his political career.
The Phoenix Historical Society was formed in 2001, inspired by the historical research of Benjamin Justesen, biographer of George Henry White and Dr. Robert Hinton of New York University, who wrote about the black Reconstruction in Edgecombe County.
The society’s name refers to George White’s celebrated “Farewell Speech to Congress” on Jan. 29, 1901 – observed as George Henry White Day in Tarboro: “This Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like, he will rise up some day and come again.”
It took until 1929 for George White’s prophetic words to be realized with the election of Oscar De Priest to represent Chicago in the halls of Congress.
As part of the festivities of this year’s George Henry White Day, the Spaulding Descendants have commissioned a plaque that reads: “Presented to the Phoenix Historical Society, Inc., in appreciation of your diligent and ongoing efforts to promote public knowledge of the life and enduring legacy of a landmark person and political figure, and our esteemed family member, U.S. Congressman George Henry White (1852-1918, Edgecombe County, Tarboro, North Carolina – January 28, 2012.”
The Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation is a nonprofit group established for educational, literary and charitable purposes, among other functions. One of their foundation’s projects includes the promotion of public knowledge of the life of and accomplishments of esteemed family member, George Henry White (1852-1918), whose stepmother was Mary Anna Spaulding White.
As the wife of Wiley Franklin White, she played a key role in raising George White and instilling in him the values which led him to enter public service.
The members of the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation were represented at this years George Henry White day event, by Vincent M. Spaulding and Stephen Spaulding, family spokesperson.
During the meeting representatives of the Phoenix Historical Society and the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation shared information regarding each organization’s respective efforts to promote public knowledge of George Henry White and discussed opportunities how to mutually support each other.
On Nov. 10, 2001, the Phoenix Historical Society first honored George White and since has hung a portrait drawn by local artist Richard Wilson, in the Edgecombe County Courthouse. The Tarboro-based group also worked with Congress to have the Tarboro Post Office re-named “The George Henry White Post Office Building.”
“In the era of the nation’s first elected African-American president, George White’s legacy should be remembered as a beacon, as having helped pave the way for the resumption of black political power on a national level from 1929 to the present,” said Ben Justesen White’s pre-eminent biographer.
Those interested in joining the effort to uncover the unique history of Edgecombe County as experienced by its black community, can contact The Phoenix Historical Society.
The Late Helen G. Quigless Jr., was the founding president of the Phoenix Historical Society. The Society meets monthly at 11 a.m. at the Historic Quigless Clinic Building, 99 Main St. in downtown Tarboro. Membership dues are $40 per year.
Did you know?
In 2001, the Phoenix Historical Society began its ongoing efforts to publicize and celebrate the life and achievements of George White. These efforts have been just one part of a larger mission – to bring public attention to historical achievements by blacks during the 19th and 20th centuries – but have easily garnered the most news coverage. George Henry White (Dec. 18, 1852 to Dec. 28, 1918) was a Republican U.S. Congressman from North Carolina between 1897 and 1901. He represented NC’s “Black Second” district from 1897-1901. He is considered the last black Congressman of the Reconstruction era, although his election came 20 years after the era’s “official” end.
He was educated at Whittin Normal School in Lumberton before entering Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1874. After graduating from Howard in 1877, he studied law privately under Judge William J. Clarke and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1879, practicing in New Bern. He taught school in New Bern and later became principal of the New Bern State Normal School, one of four training institutions for black teachers created by the legislature in 1881.
White’s farewell speech was referenced by President Barack Obama in his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner on Sept. 26, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
White was an early officer in the National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization created in 1898. He served several terms as one of nine national vice presidents, and was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Council’s presidency. He also founded the town of Whitesboro, N.J., as a real estate development. After the council dissolved in 1908, he was also an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which formed its Philadelphia chapter in 1913. He died in Philadelphia in 1918, and is buried at Eden Cemetery nearby. Before entering Congress, George White also served as the elected solicitor (prosecutor) of the Second Judicial District, which included Edgecombe County; he was elected to that post in 1886 and re-elected in 1890. He moved to Tarboro in 1894 in order to be eligible for that year’s Republican congressional nomination for the Second Congressional District; he lost that nomination to his brother-in-law, former congressman Henry P. Cheatham, who was defeated in 1894.
In 1896, White won the Republican nomination and was elected to Congress in the fall general election. He was re-elected to Congress in 1898. In 1900, he declined to run again, and his family remained in Washington after he left Congress in 1901. He had strong ties to Tarboro including his mother-in-law, Mary Ann Jones Cherry, whose affairs he continued to handle, but never returned there to live.
The Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants are a large extended family whose roots lead back to pre-Revolutionary War America. Today, incorporated with both nonprofit and for-profit entities, some nine generations since Ben and Edith have come into existence, with more than 5,000 descendants. Their website is www.spauldingfamily.com.