George Henry White’s heart hurt when he heard the statistics: 2,500 incidents of racist violence had been reported by 1900. In a single year, 187 lynchings of Black men and women had taken place. Unfortunately for the racists, he was in a unique position to do something about it.
A North Carolina congressman, White was elected because of his poignant speeches and candid confrontation of white supremacy – and of peers like Booker T. Washington, who advocated that Blacks work within the system.
We were being murdered within that same system!
Despite targeting by his fellow slave-owning congressmen, who were working to maintain white supremacy, and threats by the vicious white mobs in his state who, a few days after his re-election, had run violently amok, White submitted the first federal anti-lynching bill.
Of course, the bill died – whites didn’t want to jail their own for crimes against Black people. Still, White’s legacy for fighting against injustice and disenfranchisement is a powerful lesson.
When we fight to place ourselves in positions of power, with intentions to change the paradigm for our people, then we can protect and empower our community against white supremacy. We might not find immediate success, but our efforts will reverberate through history.