Monday, February 27, 2012

John W. White

Today's Montana moment celebrates Black History Month with a look back at the life of John W. White of Kalispell.

Kalispell’s historic Central School today is home to the Northwest Montana Historical Society and serves as a community center and museum. But from 1894 to 1991, Central served students. Back in 1932 during the Great Depression, students of social science and history were studying the Civil War. The school’s longtime janitor, John W. White, knew a thing or two firsthand about one of the main issues. White was born a slave in North Carolina. He was ten when the war ended and freedom changed his life. He came west where he and his wife, Helen, settled in Demersville. They moved to Kalispell with its founding in 1891. White worked at Central School for more than thirty-five years. He had no formal schooling, but he was a self-taught scholar, an avid reader, and believed in education. He began his long workday at four A.M., and at the end of every day when the halls were quiet, he would take up his place by the furnace with a book in his hand and do some serious reading.

Image from the Museum at Central School
White, beloved by generations of Central children, saved his money to send four of his own children to college. But this special day in May, 1932, as White neared the end of his long life, he set aside his mops and brooms to tell the children about his own personal experiences. White’s lectures on slavery that day had the children riveted to their seats. He passed away two years later in 1934, but he left Central students with a perspective they did not forget.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

1 comment:

  1. The MHS Research Center has his dictated memoir in its holdings: "Mr. White: a very short story of his life as told by himself" in its collection, the call no. is
    B W5838N.