The Lincoln Exhibit at FSCJ wrapped up on March 5, with a presentation at The Wilson Center for the Arts on Jacksonville’s very own paragon of humanitarian might–Eartha White. Dr. Tim Gilmore led a riveting talk on White’s accomplishments in the city during a time when, as Gilmore states “It was unheard of for one black person to have so much power; for one black woman to have so much power; for one single black woman to have so much power…under Jim Crow.”
Gilmore’s talk spanned the many decades of White’s life from 1876-1974–bringing to light aspects of Jacksonville’s history that don’t always make it into the classroom. He discussed the creation of the Jim Crow laws that plagued the South following the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, and traced the origins of the extremely popular 19th and early 20th century Jim Crow vaudeville acts.
Gilmore also read excerpts from his book, “In Search of Eartha White, Storehouse for the People,” which chronicles his deeply personal search for White throughout the psychological and geographical landscape of a now desecrated LaVilla in Downtown Jacksonville.
White’s accomplishments are numerous. She founded the Clara White Mission, established a Tuberculosis treatment center, built a school, set up a nursing home and an orphanage for African-Americans and either founded or assisted innumerable other humanitarian ventures. .
White was also a dedicated pre-civil rights era activist. “Even though she was one of the great civil rights leaders of the South, she was already 79 years old by the time Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat,” said Gilmore. She met with A. Philip Randolph to discuss the possibility of carrying out a protest march in Washington 43 years before the historic March on Washington took place.
Remarkably, White accomplished most of this while living very simply in the upstairs bedroom of the Clara White Mission.
After his talk, Gilmore turned the stage over to Meagan Dickson, Student Learning Specialist of Student Life & Leadership. Dickson passed out volunteering packets to everyone present, and walked attendees through the Mission’s online application process.
Gilmore’s inspiration and drive spring from a need to tell important, meaningful stories. “I’m always looking for people whose stories need to be told more than they have been…historical forces shape the present as well. Race is such a huge part of Jacksonville’s social dynamics and history. Eartha White stood at the center of this starkly divided black Jacksonville and white Jacksonville during Jim Crow, and she connected to both sides like nobody else in the city’s history has,” Gilmore said.
Dr. Tim Gilmore teaches Literature and Composition at FSCJ. For more information on Eartha White and other important aspects of Jacksonville’s past and present, visit jaxpsychogeo.com.
Photo courtesy of: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/35599