George Henry White (1852-1918) was born into slavery. During Reconstruction, he attended a freedmen’s school set up by the federal government and studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He then returned to eastern North Carolina, where he taught school, practiced law, and ventured into politics. White lived in North Carolina’s Second Congressional District – often called the “Black Second” because of its black majority population. Voters in the district had elected three black congressmen since 1874. White became the fourth in 1896.
ALLIES ACROSS THE RACE LINE
White was a leader in the political movement called Fusion – a multiracial alliance that joined Republicans with debt-ridden white farmers who bolted the Democratic Party in favor of a new national Populist (or People’s) Party. Fusion politicians won control of the state legislature and the governor’s office in the mid 1890s, and, like their predecessors during Reconstruction, enacted progressive reforms. They increased funding for public education and revised the state’s election law to make it easier for poor and illiterate citizens to vote.
“The issue confronting the American people to-day is the liberty of the laboring people both white and black, an issue of vastly more importance than the enslavement or freedom of the negro ever was.” Fusion editorialist, 1896
A MUNICIPAL COUP
In the election of 1898, conservative Democrats set out to break the Fusion alliance and end multiracial politics once and for all. They again made white supremacy their rallying cry and used violence to suppress the vote.
The worst violence occurred in Wilmington, where white insurrectionists set fire to the office of the Daily Record, the city’s black newspaper, and ousted the Fusion board of alderman in the only municipal coup d’état in American history.