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Congressman George White

Congressman George 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 African-American be elected to Congress.
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