*Eartha White alongside residents of the Clara White Old Folks Home, later the Eartha White Nursing Home. (University of North Florida Digital Commons)**
Nicknamed the “Angel of Mercy,” White is most widely celebrated for her social welfare work. Throughout her lifetime, she worked with prison inmates, established a home for unwed mothers and a nursery for working ones. In 1928, White founded the Clara White Mission in honor of her mother, who had died in 1920. The White Mission really began informally in the 1880s when White and her mother would volunteer in soup kitchens together, but it was during The Great Depression that White recognized the wave of poverty eating away at her community. Moving The Mission to its current Downtown Ashley Street location, White and her friends worked devotedly for the sake of Jacksonville’s poor, feeding over 2,500 people in February of 1933. Known for her charitable efforts, White’s Mission was visited by notable figures such as James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mary McLeod Bethune. One of White’s proudest accomplishments, the Eartha M. White Nursing Home was completed in 1967 with federal funds and offered 120 beds for the state’s welfare patients.
1947 dedication ceremony of Clara White Mission. (University of North Florida Digital Commons)
White died on January 18th, 1974, having given her community far more than it had ever asked for. A true angel of mercy, devoted teacher, patriot, activist, intelligent businesswoman, and exemplary citizen, White took her mother’s teachings and practiced them everywhere her life could reach. She received numerous awards and honors for her philanthropy, including the Lane Bryan Volunteer Award, an appointment to the President’s National Center for Voluntary Action (for which she attended a White House reception held by President Nixon), and in 2000, White was named a “Great Floridian” by the Florida Department of State. Today, White’s records, including personal letters, business plans, and more are housed at the University of North Florida, who also works on editing the Eartha M.M White Collection.
White in her later years. (University of North Florida Digital Commons)
White’s legacy is one that lives on through these physical gestures and awards, but most importantly, it is her service that runs deep through Jacksonville’s memory and roots. Eartha M.M White will be remembered for her fight: as a philanthropist, as an African-American woman, and as an endlessly giving soul.
Sources: “Eartha Mary Magdalene White: Teacher, Buissnesswoman, Enumerator, and Philanthropist.” Census, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/eartha-mm-white.pdf.
“Eartha M.M. White: Biographical Highlights.” Unf, https://www.unf.edu/library/specialcollections/manuscripts/eartha-white/Eartha_White_Biography.aspx.
“White, Eartha M. (1876-1974).” Encyclopedia, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/white-eartha-m-1876-1974.