Four North Carolina members of Congress have launched a bipartisan effort to honor the last African-American to serve in Congress during the Reconstruction Era.
Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Greg Murphy joined with Reps. Alma S. Adams and David E. Price to introduce the George Henry White Commemorative Stamp Act. The bill directs the U.S. Postmaster General to issue a commemorative postage stamp in White’s honor.
According to the History, Art and Archives division of the U.S. House of Representatives, White was the last of 22 African-American men who served in Congress from 1870 to 1901. He was the lone African-American when he served from 1899-1901.
“George Henry White was a persistent and thoughtful advocate for his constituents and all African-Americans,” Butterfield said. “He relentlessly stirred the conscience of both his Congressional colleagues and all Americans to embrace racial justice and equality for all people. In the midst of Black History Month, it’s fitting that we take time to look back at the actions of our ancestors and honor their contributions to our country.
“George Henry White paved the way for me and others like me to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and I am proud to honor his legacy by introducing this bill,” Butterfield said.
White was born a slave in 1852. He eventually practiced law and served as a principal for several public schools, according to the archives.
He put forth the nation’s first anti-lynching bill in an effort to stop surging mob violence against black men. However, the turn of the century was the time Jim Crow laws were taking hold throughout the South and southern Democrats were gaining power in Congress, according to the archives.
It would be nearly 30 years before another African-American served in Congress. The current Congress, the 116th, has the largest number of African-Americans serving: 52 representatives, two delegates and three senators, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
“During Reconstruction in the South, George Henry White courageously stood up to racial injustice in a hostile time period for African-Americans,” Murphy said. “The cause of Civil Rights in this country was only advanced because of strong and brave leaders like him. He is certainly deserving of the honor this legislation would bestow upon him and I hope for its swift approval.”
When White left Congress he gave a four-page speech where he foresaw African-Americans rising like a phoenix in Congress, Adams said.
“His description, in his farewell speech, of African-Americans as an ‘faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people — full of potential force’ rings true today, and is a reminder that our potential is limitless,” Adams said.
“He laid the strong foundation for future African American leaders to build upon by boldly calling for an end to white supremacy and working toward a future of equal opportunity,” Price said. “I’m proud to join my North Carolina colleagues in pushing for this most fitting tribute to George Henry White’s legacy.”