The Afro-American Life Insurance Company, an historic business founded in 1901, served as the leading financial center of the black community in Jacksonville during the early 1900's. As such, it was also part of the rich cultural fabric of black life in Jacksonville and routinely sponsored charitable and educational activities. With strong competition from other insurance companies in the mid-1900's, it began a gradual decline and finally closed in 1990. Items in the White Collection include programs of events and activities, newsclippings, photographs, cards, receipt books, booklets, postcard.
Eartha White worked as a part-time clerk at the Afro-American while continuing to teach at Bayard and Stanton schools. She is credited with saving the company's records during Jacksonville's Fire of 1901, which devastated the downtown area. Dr. Daniel Schafer, biographer of Eartha White, recounts her actions: "She saw a drayman go by and stopped him to ask how much he would charge to carry the company's records to her home. The price he quoted was reasonable, so Eartha had him take the company's papers to her home outside the fire zone." (Florida Times-Union, February 8, 1982). The image on the left, from the Directory of Fortieth Anniversary of Afro-American Life Insurance Company (1941, page 6) attests to her heroic actions.
Since Eartha White was a member of Bethel, the collection is rich in items relating to the oldest black church in Jacksonville. Bethel Baptist still stands at 1058 Hogan Street and is noted for being one of the architecturally distinctive buildings in downtown Jacksonville. Items in the White Collection include numerous programs from anniversary celebrations and services, postcards, and rare photographs of the building, depicting funeral processions and services.
The Mission was formally established in 1928 and named by Eartha White in memory of her mother, Clara White. In 1932, during the severest days of the depression, Eartha White recognized the need for a larger facility to feed, shelter, and counsel the homeless. With the help of friends, she moved the mission into its present building on Ashley Street in downtown Jacksonville. Many notable figures, such as James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt visited her at the Mission.
In 1944, a fire destroyed much of the building, but she raised the funding to rebuild and enlarge the original structure. In the ensuing years, the Mission served as a nucleus and often a starting point for many of her charitable and humanitarian services: Works Progress Administration office, orphanage, a home for unwed mothers, and a tuberculosis rest home. Eartha White lived on the second floor of the mission until her later years.
The Mission, in addition to its many other social and civic services, is still noted for being the only non-profit organization serving daily mid-day meals to the needy in Jacksonville.
Beginning in 1926, Eartha White served in various fundraising capacities for the Community Chest in Jacksonville. The organization was instrumental in providing services for the homeless and ill. Items in the White Collection include brochures, photographs of activities, receipts of donations, newsclippings, and correspondence.
Florida Baptist Academy, the predecessor of the Institute, was founded at Bethel Baptist Church, Jacksonville, in 1892. The Academy relocated to St. Augustine in 1918, was renamed the Florida Normal and Industrial College in 1944, and, finally, in 1950, added "Memorial" to its title. Eartha White acted as a financial agent for the College in the 1930's and donated supplies throughout her lifetime to aid its students. She received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from the Institute in 1936.
Items in the White Collection include photographs of Founder's Day celebrations, Class of 1907, Dr. Nathan W. Collier, president; letters thanking Eartha White for her time and financial support.
Items in the White Collection include photographs of street scenes, historic buildings and community leaders in Jacksonville, circa 1920 - 1960; newsclippings relating to notable events in Jacksonville; list of names and addresses of Prominent Black Citizens of Jacksonville.
Eartha White served on the Board of Directors of the League in the 1930's and was active in the Milk Fund Committee which served free milk to elementary school children. Items in the White Collection include: correspondence; record book; reports; photograph of Directors of League; list of children receiving aid through the Milk Fund Committee.
Jordan was Eartha White's fiance. He died in May 1896, one month before his impending marriage to Eartha White. Items in the White Collection include correspondence from James Jordan from January 1895 - March 9, 1896.
Simuel McGill was an African-American attorney and contemporary of Eartha White. He attended Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and worked as a clerk in the law offices of James Weldon Johnson. After completing his legal education at Boston University, he returned to Jacksonville to open a law office. Documentation from the White Collection shows he also was active in community affairs: served as Treasurer of the Lincoln Memorial Association in Jacksonville and spoke at the Association's February 12, 1913 Tri-Celebration.
He is best known for his defense of four African-American men, who were sentenced to death after being found guilty of murdering a white man in Pompano Beach, Florida in 1933. McGill doggedly pursued a reversal of the guilty verdicts for nine years, on charges of civil rights violations. After successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court in 1940, a new trial was conducted, a not guilty verdict reached and the men were finally released from prison in 1942. A photograph from the Collection (see below) shows McGill, Eartha White, and three of the defendants after the final trial on March 9, 1942. Items in the White Collection include photographs; letter to Eartha White, June 21, 1919; programs; newsclippings; poem by Robert Hughes Bennett, The Little Scottsboro Case.
Eartha White was active throughout most of her life on national, state and local levels of the Association. Programs, correspondence and photographs in the Collection attest to her attendance and active participation at many national and state conventions of the Association. In addition, she organized a City Federation of Women's Clubs, which helped further many of her humanitarian goals: improvements in the county jail, the first playground for black youths and sponsor of numerous community celebrations.
Items in the White Collection include photographs of participants at national conventions: 1914, 1956; photograph, programs of State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs; City Federation of Colored Women's Club; brochures and leaflets; newsclippings; badges.
Eartha White was an astute businesswoman. Early in her adult years, she established a successful business modus operandi - buying small operations, improving and building them up and then selling them at a profit. The latter included: a dry goods store, employment and house-cleaning bureau, taxi company, and a steam laundry with the catchy motto: "Put your duds in our suds, we wash anything but a dirty conscience." The collection contains numerous business cards from her companies as well as others in Jacksonville.
Her versatility and determination also enabled her to become a licensed real estate broker, the first woman employee of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, and a charter member of the National Negro Business League and Jacksonville Business League.
Eartha White established a nursing home for elderly African Americans in Jacksonville in 1902. A major achievement and fulfillment of a lifelong dream was the dedication of the Eartha M. M. White Nursing Home in 1967 to replace the Mercy Hospital for the Aged. To assure its construction, she doggedly pursued and was approved for a $300,000 loan.
Eartha White was active in Duval County Republican political groups. Congratulatory letters from the Collection attest to her success as President of the Republican Executive Committee of Duval County in 1920.
Items in the White Collection include: Correspondence; minutes of meeting, November 6, 1920, Duval County Group; newsclippings; list of registered Republicans, Duval County, Precinct no. 3-A.
Clara English White, born at Amelia Island, Florida in 1845, was the daughter of two former slaves. She worked as a domestic and married Lafayette White, also an ex-slave. The Whites adopted Eartha shortly after she was born to Mollie Chapman. Tragically, Lafayette White died only five years after Eartha's adoption. Clara White supported herself and her daughter by working as a maid and later as a stewardess on steamships cruising the St. Johns River and northeastern ports.
Items in the White Collection include photographs; correspondence from Eartha to her mother, 1896, 1919; booklet of Clara White quotes.
Souvenir Program: 75th diamond birthday observance of useful life of Eartha Mary Magdalene White. Jacksonville, Fla.? : Eartha Mary Magdalene White Diamond (75th) Birthday Observance Committee of the Florida State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, 1951.
Eartha White was active during both World Wars in organizing Red Cross programs and later USO functions at the Mission in Jacksonville. In World War I she was in charge of the War Camp Community Services, Southern Division, in Savannah, Georgia. During World War II, she organized Clara White Mission social activities for local military personnel and was appointed to the Women's National Defense Program and the War Camp Community Service Conference.
Items in the White Collection include photographs of USO functions, Savannah, Georgia Community Center (World War I); correspondence; newsclippings.
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