Image courtesy of National Archives Records Administration
A two-term Representative from North Carolina, George Henry White was the last African American from the post-Reconstruction era to serve in Congress. It would be 28 years until another African American served.
On this date, George White
of North Carolina, the lone African-American Member of the 56th Congress
(1899–1901), gave his final address on the House Floor. The last of 22 black men who, since 1870, had served reconstructed southern states in Congress, White’s departure from the House the following March began a 28-year absence of African-American representation in Congress
. Born a slave in North Carolina in 1852, White practiced law and served as a principal for several public schools before entering politics as a member of the North Carolina house of representatives in 1880. In 1896, White defeated his brother-in-law, Representative Henry Cheatham
, to represent North Carolina’s “Black Second,” a majority African-American district in the eastern part of the state. White vigorously defended the diminishing rights of African Americans in the South; he boldly put forth the first anti-lynching bill, seeking to quell surging mob violence against black men. White’s bill was unsuccessful in the face of growing GOP apathy towards racial legislation and the increased power of southern Democrats in Congress. Facing overwhelming odds in the wake of the further disfranchisement of North Carolina blacks, he declined to run for re-election in 1900. White predicted the return of African Americans to Congress in his valedictory speech, which filled more than four pages in the Congressional Record
. “The only apology that I have to make for the earnestness with which I have spoken,” he concluded, “is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future happiness, and manhood suffrage for one-eighth of the entire population of the United States.”