WELCHES CREEK TWP. — Honoring the life of 19th century Congressman George Henry White, local residents are joining forces to create a community center that will provide services to the surrounding community.
Workmen and donors alike have been busy; funds raised enabled local tradespeople to put a new roof and to resurface and paint the exterior of the house located on Farmer’s Union Road between Porterville School and Mitchell Field roads. The exterior work has been completed, readying the building for Phase Two: putting in new kitchen and handicap-accessible facilities. When fully remodeled, the building will have historical exhibits along with space for educational, health, and other community activities.
The building, once the home of Mattie Spaulding Campbell, was donated by her family to the Benjamin and Edith Spaulding Descendants Foundation to provide a living memorial to the life of George Henry White. White was born in 1852 in what is now Bladen County, and raised by his father and adoptive mother, Wiley White and Mary Anna Spaulding in the Welches Creek area of Columbus County. His public service career spanned work as a state’s attorney, member of the North Carolina Legislature, and finally, U.S. Congressman (1897-1901).
White was the last serving black congressman before the disenfranchisement of black voters in North Carolina — a lone fighter against lynching, the racial riots in Wilmington, and the erosion of representation for black Americans. He continued to be an unflinching advocate for self-reliance, initiating businesses, and ultimately founding Whitesboro, N.J., as a mecca where black residents could own homes, land and gain quality education.
“This center is intended to reflect the model of George Henry White’s legacy,” explains BESDF spokesperson Vincent Spaulding. “Neighbors helping neighbors…sharing knowledge and improving lives…this was what Congressman White always stood for.” The organizers are enlisting support from businesses, public agencies, churches, and nonprofits.
“BESDF funds earmarked for GHW initiatives were used for making the roof and window repairs, and $11,000 donated by project supporters was used for exterior painting and siding repairs,” Spaulding said. “The funds we raise from now will go straight into the work needed in the interior of the building. We hope to get broad-based support. This will be a place for local residents to meet and where health services and educational presentations can be given.
“The building is in place, the land is secured, the exterior is repaired,” he ticked off the milestones reached. “People are offering their services for free—architectural work is being donated, and other professional services as well.”
“We intend to utilize every contribution…whether financial, or in expertise, or sweat equity,” Spaulding said. “Just as George Henry White earned his college tuition making turpentine from his family’s pine trees, we are using every asset to further this dream.”
This center is part of a nationwide wave of recognition of the George Henry White’s legacy. Some events that have added to his legacy include:
— White’s final speech to Congress was quoted by President Obama in 2009 during his address to the Congressional Black Caucus.
— In 2013, a memorial honoring White’s contribution as founder of Whitesboro was erected in New Jersey.
— In October 2015, a memorial headstone was placed at his gravesite in Historic Eden Cemetery, Collingdale, Pa.
— Author Ben Justesen’s landmark biography “An Even Chance in the Race of Life” and subsequent volume “In His Own Words,” and a documentary short film,“George Henry White: American Phoenix” have intrigued historians and policy leaders around the country.
— Duke University will be the site of a banquet honoring the 115th Anniversary of GHW’s farewell address to the US Congress January 29, 2016,
— Efforts are underway to ensure White’s recognition in the Black Heritage U.S Postal Stamp Series.
“The example of George Henry White’s life — conducted through the eras of slavery, reconstruction, disenfranchisement, and World War I — shows us the impact of vision and hard work,” Spaulding said. “We are inspired about the outpouring of effort from local residents to carry on the legacy of one of the most significant natives of the Bladen/Columbus County area.”
Spaulding added, “It’s great to finally see White be recognized, but even greater to see it benefitting those of his birth county.”