When Congressman George White from North Carolina rose to the well of the, the
House and bid farewell to his colleagues in 1901, he was the last African
American elected voice that Capitol Hill would see for many years, not until
the 1920s. George White represented, however, a tradition that had been
fairly robust from the 1870s. Until his time considerable numbers of African
Americans from Alabama, from Mississippi, indeed, from Virginia had been
congressmen, had been representatives in Washington. One senator and that
senator's election was always contested and he never in fact took his seat, and
that was P.M.S. Pinchback from Louisiana but there were, oh, more than 20 or 30
African American representatives. And so when George White said,
"Phoenix-like, we will rise. The African American will return," he obviously
thought that this faustian bargain struck by Booker T. Washington was
provisional and that the ballot would, indeed, be a factor in the lives of
By 1900, George White was in Congress alone because all other Southern states
had, by ledger domain and constitutional alterations, made it virtually
impossible for African Americans to elect African Americans to represent them.
And certainly whites were not disposed to do so.
He decided not to run because he knew he couldn't win. The Constitution of
North Carolina was changed in 1900, although the disabling stipulations of the
constitution were not to come into effect until 1902. So, in fact, he really
could have run under the old game plan, but it was by that time a lost cause.
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