Leon H. White, 81, pastor, Arundel civil rights leader

February 03, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Leon Harvingthau White, who was pastor of several United Methodist churches and was a civil rights leader in Anne Arundel County, died of leukemia Thursday at his home in Glen Burnie. He was 81.

His condition was diagnosed as leukemia in 1990, but he remained active until last year.

"His original thought was to be a lawyer," said his son, Maurice E. White, 46, of Washington. "But then he got the call to be a minister, so I became the lawyer."

"De facto, he became like a black lawyer in the county back then," the son said.

Mr. White was president of the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and of a black national Council of PTAs. In the latter two positions, he fought to end segregation in county schools.

In a 1993 interview in The Sun, Mr. White recalled that when he and his wife, Evelyn, moved to Anne Arundel in 1950, they were astonished to find that blacks were expected to pay the light bills, make the desks and provide supplies for the public schools their children attended.

Maurice White recalled attending a wooden two-room school -- with outdoor toilets -- in Marley Neck from the time he was 5 until he was 8. When there was no coal for the stove, Mr. White said, "we would march around the classroom with our coats on, singing songs to keep warm."

His father said in the Sun interview, "I couldn't understand why we were being taxed and receiving little, and I was angry."

His prodding led to black schools' getting needed supplies, then to integration and transportation for minority students.

Mr. White, who was born in Elizabeth City, N.C., said he learned the value of education and religion from his father, a Baptist minister.

Mr. White earned bachelor's degrees in theology and science at Morris College in Sumter, S.C., and did graduate work at Wesley Theological Seminary, Drew University and the University of Maryland. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in sacred theology from the Family Bible Seminary in Baltimore.

He moved to Baltimore in the 1930s and sold medicinal ointments. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served in Germany and France.

After being honorably discharged in 1945, he took a civilian job with the Department of the Army at Fort Meade, where he was chief of the Procurement Division of the Commissary for the 2nd Army. He also was contract administrator for the Engineers Division.

During his federal career, he received several awards for outstanding service. He retired in 1972.

As a clergyman, Mr. White, who was ordained a Methodist minister in 1958, was co-pastor of churches in Baltimore and Andover. From 1968 to 1980, he was pastor of Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Queenstown, a small black community near Severn where he led the campaign to build a church. From 1980 to 1984, he was pastor of Asbury-Broadneck United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

Although he retired from the full-time ministry in 1984, Mr. White continued to serve as minister of visitation for shut-ins from Sharp Street United Methodist Church in Baltimore. He also was called back to serve as pastor of other United Methodist churches -- Lincoln Park in Washington in 1988 and 1989, Grace in Fairmont Heights in 1990 and Mount Winans in Baltimore from 1991 to 1993.

In October, the Metropolitan United Methodist Church named him pastor emeritus.

Among his other awards were the Leadership Award for Clergy from the Kunta Kinte Heritage Celebration, which he received from the late Alex Haley; a Governor's Citation for service to the state; and an Anne Arundel County Executive's Award for his service to the Human Relations Commission.

Of his lifetime spent working for change, Mr. White said, "Dreams like Martin Luther King's are always slow-moving. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but justice will roll down like many waters, faster and faster."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Asbury-Broadneck United Methodist Church, 657 Broadneck Road.

Other survivors include his wife of 54 years, the former Evelyn Greene, a daughter, Barbara W. Williams of Rockville; a brother, Earl A. White of Elizabeth City; a grandson; and many nieces and nephews, including two whom he helped to raise, Sandra Bridges and Hudson T. Mayberry Jr., both of Glen Burnie.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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