Hartford Courant

Are Rep. White and Rep. Franks cousins?

- By Gary Franks

I did not realize that Rep. George White, R-N.C., the last Black Member of Congress in the 19th Century, was very likely my cousin. It is my Black History Month surprise.

George White and I have had a common mission. In his last speech on the House Floor which was titled, “The Negro’s Farewell to Congress,” he complained about Black people not being allowed to hold certain jobs by law. Today I argue that some bad white people in powerful positions are doing the same in a de facto manner.

Here is an excerpt from White’s speech: “We have done it in the face of lynching, burning at the stake, with the humiliatio­n of “Jim Crow” laws, the disfranchi­sement of our male citizens, slander and degradatio­n of our women, with the factories closed against us, no Negro permitted to be conductor on the railway cars...no Negro permitted to run as engineer on a locomotive, most of the mines closed against us. Labor unions carpenters, painters, brick masons, machinists, hackmen and those supplying nearly every conceivabl­e avocation for livelihood - have banded themselves together to better their condition, but, with few exceptions, the black face has been left out. The Negroes are seldom employed in our mercantile stores...”

Today finding mid-level managers and upper-level executives of color is rare.

Decades later George White’s cousin (me) would work for 10 years in Labor Relations/human Resources for Fortune 500 companies. Among my other duties, every day I fought for people of all hues to have an opportunit­y to compete for employment at the company and advance as their skills and achievemen­ts would warrant. But of equal importance was the overall employment practices by the managers at the company.

Whenever a manager would even think about doing something from an employment perspectiv­e that was outside the policies and procedures of the company - rules establishe­d by the board of directors - I was instructed to treat it as an illegal action. When Black people were involved it was a possible violation of the Civil Rights law of 1964.

For example, you could not pay a person of color below the salary range. Another problem was when a minority would break quantifiab­le monetary goals, but that would not be good enough for a promotion, while for a white person that was the main reason for a

promotion. These practices entailed double standards - like two restrooms or two water fountains. Only Jim Crow lovers would embrace them.

The Equal Employment Opportunit­y Commission is supposed to be the enforcemen­t agency to protect the employment rights of African-americans. Today the EEOC is a shell of itself from the 1980s. It has experience­d deep cuts (been “defunded”) with staffing reductions of nearly 45% over the last 40 years, while the American workplace has grown by over 50% during that same period. The EEOC lacks the teeth to properly wage the fight against those who are determined to discrimina­te against African-americans. When it can be funded better and has the manpower to do its job, we will see more fairness in the workplace.

A few years ago, I was invited to attend a ceremony to recognize my great grandfathe­r George Washington Petteway and his wife, my great grandmothe­r Cecilia Ann White Petteway. In 1870 they were the founders of one of the first schools for freed slaves in

North Carolina. G.W., a pastor, was allowed to read when reading was against the law for most slaves. He convinced the white county leaders to give him the land to build a church and school for former slaves. The church is still active. The school stayed active until the mid-20th century and is a historical landmark in the state.

As a child traveling with my mother, I spent time during the summers in New Bern, N.C. because that is where my great grandmothe­r, Cecilia Ann “White” (maiden name) Petteway was from. I, therefore, had a number of relatives in that area. I did not make the connection until very recently when I learned that George White was a Congressma­n from New Bern (he served two terms from 1897 to 1901).

While teaching at Georgetown, Hampton, and the University of Virginia, I made Congressma­n White’s last speech on the House Floor an integral part of my class. Little did I know we were likely cousins.

When White departed from Congress, it took nearly 30 years to elect another

Black person to Congress. That was Oscar Depriest. Both were Republican­s. However, there would not be another Black Republican elected to Congress again until I was elected in 1990.

In addition to White and my great grandparen­ts, I had remarkable parents who worked hard to raise six children - two doctors, a colonel, an attorney, and a coach/ teacher.

I will always remember - Put God first, work hard, and be thankful to God for your achievemen­ts. And, look in the mirror when you hit a bump in the road. Don’t blame others.

I have been blessed.

Gary Franks served three terms as U.S. representa­tive for Connecticu­t’s 5th District. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years and New England’s first Black member of the House. Host: podcast “We Speak Frankly.” Author: “With God, For God, and For Country.” @ Garyfranks

 ?? COURTESY ?? An enslaved person slave who became a successful businessma­n, Blanche Kelso Bruce was the second Black American to serve in the U.S. Senate and the first to be elected to a full term. He focused on protecting the rights of freedmen and other minorities.
COURTESY An enslaved person slave who became a successful businessma­n, Blanche Kelso Bruce was the second Black American to serve in the U.S. Senate and the first to be elected to a full term. He focused on protecting the rights of freedmen and other minorities.

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