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Born in 1876, Eartha M.M. White grew up in the Hansontown area immediately north of downtown. After attending local schools, Eartha M.M. White went on to enroll at Madam Hall’s Beauty Culture School in New York City, as well as the National Conservatory of Music, where she was tutored by Harry T. Burleigh and J. Rosamond Johnson. Returning to Jacksonville, Eartha M.M. White dedicated her life to continuing the humanitarian work started by her mother, Clara White. For years, Clara White had been providing food and assistance to the needy from her own kitchen.
Eartha White continued her mother’s work by organizing the Clara White Mission in 1932. Housed at 611-615 West Ashley Street, the Clara White Mission has indiscriminately assisted Jacksonville’s less fortunate by providing hot meals, clothing, shoes, and temporary shelter for transients and the aged. Over the years, the mission became a major hub of activities in LaVilla, and accommodated numerous community projects and programs including Works Project administration (WPA) sponsored cultural activities, the New Deal’s Federal Writer’s Project, as well as serving as a USO for African American service men during World War II.
As president of the Union Benevolent Association, Eartha M. M. White assisted in the establishment of the first retirement home for Jacksonville’s African American seniors. She later assisted in the establishment of the Milnor Street Nursery, a tuberculosis sanitarium for African Americans, and Oakland Park, the first municipal playground reserved for African American children. In the mid-1940’s, Eartha M. M. White acquired the Moncrief Springs property from the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. Eartha White renovated the spring-fed swimming pool and constructed large bathhouses. The resort was used for numerous special outings organized by Eartha White, as well as the site of religious camp meetings and baptisms. In later years, she donated the Moncrief Springs property for the construction of the Eartha M. M. White Nursing Home.
During her long life, Eartha M.M. White had many careers and businesses. While in New York City, she was a member of the touring Oriental American Opera Company. Eartha White was the first paid employee of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, and is credited with saving the company’s records during the Great Fire of 1901. In addition to teaching for 16 years, she was also one of the first paid social workers for Duval County and the first African American census taker. Eartha M. M. White was a licensed real estate broker, and at different times operated a department store, laundry, and house cleaning service.
During her long and illustrious career, Eartha M. M. White has received numerous awards and honors including an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Edward Waters University, a Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Florida Memorial Institute, the Booker T. Washington Symbol of Service Award from the National Business League, the Better Life Award from the American Nursing Home Association, and the prestigious Lane Bryant Volunteer Award presented to her in 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon.
Eartha White transcended the barrier of race and gender through her service to the community and remained a tenacious advocate for the “poor and the halt” until her death in 1974; she was 97.