Numerous associates, comrades, friends and relatives converged at Harlem’s Abyssinia Baptist Church during the morning of Saturday Nov. 9, 2019, to reflect on the legacy of native Harlemite David White, who joined the ancestors Oct. 29, at 78 years-young. For many decades he was one of Harlem’s cornerstones, consistently contributing to its glorious African American heritage, whether on the frontlines as a community activist during his youth, or by attending local functions and disseminating informative literature in his later years.
Born May 29, 1941, at Harlem Hospital, he resided in Central Harlem during his formative years, attending P.S. 89 and the Harlem Boys Club, and was a Cub Scout at Abyssinia Baptist Church, before moving to the Harlem River Houses in the late 1950s. During the past decade and change he was wheelchair-bound after being afflicted with lead poisoning from peeling paint at his home.
As a teen he witnessed many of that era’s progressive activists––namely Carlos Cooks, Malcolm X and Mustafa Bashier––as they delivered their motivational messages at Harlem’s African Square. By the spring of 1966 he and several comrades had established the original Black Panthers, a.k.a. The Fair Play Committee, at Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park during that June, preceding the organization by the same name (which started out in Oakland, CA that October) by several months.
The group protected prominent Black musicians from being extorted by Italian and Jewish mobsters, and avoided the payola method, which was common during that time, thus the name ‘The Fair Play Committee.’ James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding were some artists they worked with. Many Black-owned independent labels sprung from this arrangement.
Rev. Calvin Butts opened the memorial services by saying: “This is an especially sad moment for me because I knew David from the very moment I stepped foot in this church in 1972,” before going into more about the history the two shared throughout the decades.
Fellow Fair Play Committee alumni, Bob Law, mentioned knowing David “for many years” and how they “were engaged in the liberation struggle” before laying out how White, along with several comrades, established “the first Black Panther Party in the country, here in Harlem. Brothers from the West Coast came here to talk about forming a BPP on the West Coast. It was David White who was at the very beginning of it, doing some of the initial work that brought the BPP into existence, as it came out of Lyons County, AL.”
Brother Leroy Baylor recalled the two of them running track in high school, saying White was “a warrior. His competitiveness never gave up until he made his transition. When you lose a brother like David you not only lose an army and library, we lose a legacy of collecting information passed on by J.A. Rogers, Arturo Schomburg, which exposes in the minds of our people letting us know that we are great people, we are not garbage. By carrying on his faithfulness and cause for the resurrection of our people is how we finish this race. Brother David White, God bless you.”
Sam Anderson recalled “53 years ago we became friends. We bonded” like “the bond between brothers.” He reflected on the overt racism the two encountered when they visited Lyons County during the mid-1960s and came in contact with several SNCC activists which inspired them to initiate the Harlem Black Panthers.
Next up, Al Pertilla noted: “David White, he’s out of sight. That was his hallmark.” He then delivered a brief history of the group’s formation before commenting about “David’s determination, and warrior spirit.”
Another member, Ted Wilson, recalled knowing David since 1955-56, and the immense influences David made locally. “He loved the Harlem community.”
Tony Greer revealed a story from 1957, about when David persuaded him to not beat up another youth due to a previous conflict. “I would like to say to the family, David saved me. Thank you.”
Tony Morris recalled them having a public school scuffle and then becoming tight friends ever since.
Nephew Shawn Thomas said his uncle was “a man full of wisdom. Even in his wheelchair, he always brought me information, a lot of Black history.”
Wilson read a statement from former BP Chairman Muhammad Ahmed (f.k.a. Max Stanford): “Without David, the Party wouldn’t have been. David was one of our strongest warriors.
Cousin Bobby Hunter said that David had asked him to join the Black Panthers during the late 1960s and responded: ‘What basketball team is that?’” causing laughter. Then said: “He started an organic farming program and had plans to bring people back to the land so we can feed them. I’m still going to continue it, until my dying breath.”
Luther Gales recalled how White worked with Jackie Robinson’s son, David, and acquired several brownstones along 136th Street via “sweat equity” which they renovated
His brother-in-law Robert Knowles mentioned being married to White’s sister, Doris, for 52 years before saying that “David could deal with any situation. He had a PhD in human relations. He’s a people’s person; a community leader. Even being confined to a wheelchair did not stop him from having a positive upbeat attitude and an active life. There was no quit in this guy.”