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Clara & Eartha M. M. White Mission

2009, April

Papers, books, personal correspondence, business records and correspondence of the Clara White Mission, photographs, art, furniture, other three dimensional objects, printed materials and memorabilia of Eartha M.M. White. Included in the collection are recordings, photographs and business records of the Hollywood Music Store, a business located next to the Clara White Mission in operation ca. 1930′s – 1990′s.


The Eartha M.M. White Historical Museum is located at the Clara White Mission in the LaVilla section of Jacksonville, Florida. The Museum was originally conceived of by Miss Eartha M.M. White sometime in the 1930′s as a repository for African American history and the history of Jacksonville’s African American community. The Museum’s collection consists of over 2,000 objects including furniture, art, decorative arts, photographs, Miss White’s personal papers, business records of the Clara White Mission as well as papers and printed materials related to the various agencies founded by Miss White.

Eartha Mary Magdalene White was born in Jacksonville, Florida on November 8, 1876. She was adopted by Lafayette and Clara English White. Mr. White died in 1881 when Eartha was five years old. Clara White, who was born a slave on Harrison Plantation in Nassau County, Florida, worked at various times as a maid and as a stewardess at hotels in Jacksonville and on steamboats operating from Jacksonville to various ports north at the height of the tourist industry in north Florida. A charter member of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Clara White was a dedicated humanitarian who had an enormous influence on her daughter. In the 1880′s, Clara White began operating a soup kitchen at her residence to feed underprivileged people in the community. This activity continued in various locations and was eventually moved to 611-15 Ashley Street in the early 1930′s. The facility was named the Clara White Mission by Miss Eartha White to honor her mother who had died in 1920.

Eartha White graduated from the Stanton School in 1893 and moved to New York City to avoid a Yellow Fever outbreak in Jacksonville. There, she attended the Madam Hall Beauty School and the National Conservatory of Music. She was selected as a member of the Oriental American Opera Company, the first African American opera company in the United States. The Oriental American included Madam Plato and Sidney Woodward and was directed by J. Rosamond Johnson, a native of Jacksonville and brother of James Weldon Johnson. The Company opened on Broadway in New York and then toured extensively for a year throughout the United States and Europe. In 1896, Miss White returned to Jacksonville to attend classes at and graduate from Florida Baptist Academy. After graduating with a college degree, she began a sixteen year teaching career in Bayard, Florida and later at her alma mater, the Stanton School in Jacksonville.

During this period, Miss White also engaged in various business enterprises including the ownership of a dry goods store on the east side of Jacksonville, an employment and housekeeping bureau, a steam laundry and a taxi company. She was a charter member of the National Negro Business League, the first woman employee of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company and a real estate broker. She had extensive real estate holdings throughout these years and used them to partially finance her businesses and settlement work activities.

In 1902, Eartha White established the Colored Old Folks’ home for indigent, elderly African Americans in Duval County that eventually became the Eartha M. M. White Nursing Home in 1967. On the same campus with the Home, she operated the only orphanage for African-American children in the State of Florida at that time. She also sponsored a home for unwed mothers, established Mercy Hospital for tuberculosis patients, pioneered public recreation programs for African American children in Jacksonville and did extensive work with prisoners. She was a member of and leader in the Negro Women’s Club Movement working along side Mrs. Booker T. Washington and Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune among others. She was a member of the Republican Party and was a well recognized political “power broker” throughout her long life.

The Clara White Mission was headquarters for the WPA’s Negro Division and ran numerous programs to help relieve the effects of the Depression. Cultural programs, including music and art activities, occurred at that time. During WWII, Miss White established a USO for Colored servicemen and women and participated in the activities of the Red Cross. After the War and into the 1970′s, the Clara White Mission continued to provide programs for the needy, adapting to the changes in the national and local political landscape, and the social changes taking place around it.

Miss White received the 1970 Lane Bryant Award for Volunteer Service, a national award presented to her by President Richard M. Nixon. The award was accompanied by a cash gift which Miss White used for the Clara White Mission’s work. She was appointed to the President’s National Center for Volunteer Action in 1971. Eartha M.M. White never married. She died on January 18, 1974, in Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of 97.


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