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Margaret Washington : African American Congressman-George White
Maragret Washington George White was the last African American to have been born a slave and serve in the House of Representatives. He was also the last Reconstruction African American to serve in the House of Representatives. He finished his term in 1900. And he was an extremely important man to the African American community. He was born in North Carolina. He was self-educated. Went to the various high schools in North Carolina and then put himself through Howard University. He read law himself, he passed the bar in North Carolina. He was elected prosecutor in North Carolina. He was elected to Congress. And his career even after his service in the House of Representatives was very important to the African American community. Actually he's one of the founders of Cape May, the all black community there. George White was the last and the only African American congressman in 1900.

African Americans had served in Congress during Reconstruction and afterwards. There had always been some representation of African Americans, because African Americans as a result of the Civil War and Reconstruction got the franchise and elected individuals of their own race to the halls of Congress. And as African Americans were gradually disfranchised, legally and extralegally, a period of non-representation occurred. And the last individual to represent African Americans in Congress was George White, in 1900. So African Americans lost many of the gains that they had made as a result of the disfranchisement.

George White was attempting to get an anti-lynching bill through Congress, because there had been so many lynchings of African Americans. In 1900 alone there were actually a 109 lynchings of which 89 were African Americans. And so for him this was a pressing issue. And even though he was actually on his way out of Congress, he labored vociferously and unsuccessfully to get Congress to pass an anti-lynching law that would make lynching a federal offense and make it an act of treason.

George White's bill, his anti-lynching bill really didn't have a chance. And he probably knew that, undoubtedly he knew that. But it was a way of bringing the Congress face to face with this pressing issue in the African American community. I mean when you look at who was in the halls of Congress it's pretty clear that a bill by the last remaining Reconstruction African American congressman was not going to get anywhere, especially when it had to do with lynching. But whites in Congress, many of them from the South said, we need this bill to keep the vicious, brutal African American males in line, to keep them from attacking the flower of white womanhood, because African Americans are inferior. I mean these were the kinds of conversations that were going on in the halls of Congress. So there was not chance that a bill like that would pass. Some of the most virulent racists were in Congress. Men like Pittsford Ben Tillman of South Carolina. These were the kinds of people that White was up against. So there never really was a chance for that bill to pass. But he brought it to the halls of Congress and it was the first time that it had ever been discussed. And it became an issue in later congressional debates. And so he made that contribution.

White decided not to run in 1900, because he came from a state that probably more than any other state was one where fusion politics, that is, politics between blacks and whites was successful. Which explains probably why he was the last congressman from the Reconstruction era to be in the House of Representatives. But that fusion had been broken, the back of black and white cooperation in North Carolina had been broken as a result of racism. And so not only was it unlikely that he could succeed, but it was just a voice crying in the wilderness. And for White there were so many other ways in which he could benefit his race, which he went on to do, that he simply didn't see any point in it.

White's last speech in Congress was memorable. He told his fellow colleagues that yes he was leaving the halls of Congress but it was not the end of African American electoral politics, because he predicted that the African Americans would rise like a phoenix and return to the halls of Congress. And they did in 1928.

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