Skip to main content



“George H. White: Searching for Freedom” premieres Tuesday, June 14, on PBS NC. 

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC, 5/31/2022 — PBS North Carolina presents George H. White: Searching for Freedom, a new original documentary about the life and legacy of one of the most significant African American leaders of the Reconstruction Era. From humble beginnings in Eastern North Carolina, George H. White ascended through the ranks of state politics to serve in the United States Congress as its sole Black voice little more than two decades after Emancipation. The thirty-minute film, which premieres Tuesday, June 14, at 8 PM, on PBS NC, charts White’s remarkable career as an educator, lawyer, politician and civil rights pioneer, the rise of racist Jim Crow laws in North Carolina and his establishment of an all-Black community in Whitesboro, New Jersey. The documentary will also stream on the PBS Video app and YouTube. PBS North Carolina will offer a sneak preview of the film at a free virtual screening and panel discussion on Thursday, June 9, at 7:00 PM. 

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Mike O’Connell and narrated by Grammy-nominated jazz singer/composer and Durham resident Nnenna Freelon, George H. White: Searching for Freedom features remarks by former President Barack Obama, educator Stedman Graham of the Whitesboro Historical Foundation and historians Crystal R. Sanders, Benjamin R. Justesen, Earl Ijames and David Cecelski. 

“George Henry White’s considerable contributions to American history have been under-told,” says PBS North Carolina’s Director of Original Productions Heather Burgiss. “In this documentary, we see White’s important impact in Congress and as a community leader amid racial strife and disenfranchisement. We hope our audiences will see his story as a bridge to the present day and learn how his legacy lives on.” 

Born in 1852 in Bladen County to a family of turpentine farmers, George Henry White was raised to believe that education was the path to progress. After graduating from Howard University in 1877 with a degree in education, he settled in New Bern, where he became a school principal and studied law. Soon after passing the North Carolina State Bar, he won a seat in the state’s House of Representatives and proposed a bill to make education mandatory for all children. He later served on the North Carolina Senate, where he continued to champion public education, and as solicitor of his judicial district, the only African American solicitor in the United States. He quickly earned a reputation as a gifted attorney and charismatic orator, gaining the support of Black voters in Eastern North Carolina. 

In 1896, White was elected to the US Congress, where he was the only Black voice. Following a white supremacist insurrection in Wilmington in 1898, he proposed the nation’s first anti-lynching bill, a version of which was passed in 2022 as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. White was reelected to a second term but departed in 1901 as a wave of racial terror and Black disenfranchisement swept North Carolina. In his farewell address to Congress, later recalled by President Barack Obama in a 2009 speech, White predicted the “Phoenixlike” return of Black representation in the federal government. 27 years would pass before another African American would serve in the US Congress. 

At a free virtual screening on Thursday, June 9, at 7:00 PM, PBS NC’s Deborah Holt Noel, host of Black Issues Forum and NC Weekend, will moderate a conversation with the film’s director/writer, Mike O’Connell, and historians Crystal R. Sanders of Pennsylvania State University, Earl Ijames of the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh and Benjamin R. Justesen, author of George Henry White: An Even Chance in the Race of Life. The documentary will also be shown at the North Carolina Museum of History on Friday, June 17. More details can be found on its website

For more information on this documentary and our complete collection of programming in honor of Juneteenth, please visit

About PBS North Carolina  

As North Carolina’s statewide PBS network serving the country’s third-largest public media market, PBS NC educates, informs, entertains and inspires its statewide audience on-air, online and in-person. Through its unique partnership of public investment and private support, the statewide network includes in-person engagement, digital-first social and online content delivery, and four over-the-air channels—PBS NC, the North Carolina Channel, Rootle 24/7 PBS Kids and the Explorer Channel. Its transformational events and content spark curiosity and wonder for all North Carolinians. Additionally, PBS NC serves as the backbone for North Carolina’s state’s emergency services. Visit and join the conversation at and @MyPBSNC on Instagram and Twitter.  


Media Contacts: 
Kathleen Kramer, PBS North Carolina Marketing & Communications