Spotlight on: 'George H. White' (U.S. Congressman)
- Congressman George H. White
As 1900 was drawing to a close, Republicans
in the US were in a celebratory mood.
They had retained the White House by a wide
margin and their plan for building up America
as an industrial powerhouse at home and
an expanding power abroad seemed
to win the approval of the citizenry.
But one member of the G.O.P. was not celebrating.
Congressman George White, the sole remaining
African-American in Congress, had earlier in
the year come to the conclusion that as a
result of racist voting regulations he
stood no chance of being reelected.
In 1900, it appeared to many
African-Americans that the march toward
equality had stalled, or even retreated.
Although African-Americans could count
among their number many doctors, teachers,
ministers, and writers, most were mired
in a world hostile to their ambitions.
A concerted attempt to deprive them of the
right to vote was underway in Southern states.
Through poll taxes, literacy tests, and
out-and-out intimidation African-Americans
were kept out of the voting booths.
In instances where they asserted their legal rights,
African-Americans were subjected to a particularly
brutal form of terrorism: the lynching.
Over 2,500 incidences of Southern lynchings
were reported in the years leading up
to 1900, 107 in 1899 alone.
To stem the tide of terror, George White introduced
a bill to Congress making lynching a federal crime.
White appealed to his fellow
Congressmen's sense of justice saying,
"To cheapen "negro" life is to cheapen all life.
The first murder paves the way for the
second until crime ceases to be abhorrent."
White's bill was defeated soundly by a majority in
Congress that still regarded the life of a black
man to have less worth than that of a white man.
In announcing his retirement from
Congress, a defiant White declared
to the House of Representatives ---
"This Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes'
temporary farewell to the American Congress.
But let me say, phoenix-like, he will
rise up someday and come again.
These parting words are on behalf of an outraged,
heartbroken, bruised and bleeding people,
but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious,
loyal people-rising people, full of potential..."
Not for 28 years would another person
of the African-American Ethnic group be
elected to the United States Congress.