Historical Markers
Jacob C. White, Jr. (1837-1902) Historical Marker
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Jacob C. White, Jr. (1837-1902)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
1032 Lombard St., Philadelphia

Behind the Marker

Formal, black and white portrait of Jacob C. White, Jr.
Jacob C. White, Jr.
In 1868, two former classmates and best friends founded the Pythians, one of Philadelphia's first African-American baseball nines, and a team that would be the first in the nation to petition for membership in an organized baseball league. Jacob "Jake" White Jr. (1837-1902) and markerOctavius Catto had been friends since childhood. Both were sons of prominent black Philadelphians.

Jake's father was director of the Sunday school at First African Presbyterian Church, whose pastor was Catto's father. The two boys had gone to school together at the Institute for Colored Youth, a school for African-American youths founded by Philadelphia Quakers in 1851, where they received outstanding liberal arts educations and an introduction to baseball's precursor, the game of cricket.

After graduation, both friends taught there as well. White's father, Jacob White Sr., was one of Philadelphia's most prominent black businessmen. The owner of Mount Lebanon Cemetery, one of the largest black business enterprises in the city, he invested wisely in Philadelphia real estate, and started his son working at an early age. While still in school, Jake became Philadelphia agent for two African-American weeklies and helped his father run the cemetery.

In 1864, Lincoln was elected to his second term as president of the war-torn United States, and Jake, at the age of twenty-seven, was appointed principal of the all-black Vaux elementary school, and thus became the first black school principal in the City of Philadelphia. Vaux wasn't much of a school when White took over. The forty-nine students met in the wet basement of the Zoar Methodist Church in the old 7th Ward. White quickly expanded the student body to more than 200 students and established himself as one of the city's most prominent African-American educators and civic leaders. That same year he and Catto helped organize the Pennsylvanian Equal Rights League, to lobby for the extension of full civil and political rights to black Pennsylvanians.

The end of the Civil War marked a new beginning for African Americans. Slavery was over in the South, and in Philadelphia African Americans were enjoying expanded opportunities and an optimism about a bright future. Still in their twenties, White and Catto were outgoing, energetic, prominent young men on the move, and both emerging as major figures in the city's African-American community. In 1868, they formed the Pythian baseball club, which soon became the first black nine to play - and win - against a white team. With Catto as the star second baseman, and White as the secretary and sometimes manager, the Pythians quickly became the best black baseball team in America.

After Catto's murder in 1871, the Pythians folded and White focused his energies on other activities. As the first African-American principal appointed to any of Philadelphia's local school boards, he fought for better educational opportunities for black children and more jobs for black teachers at a time when Philadelphia's African-American population was steadily growing. White also devoted his attention to a variety of businesses and to numerous civic and social organizations. He managed the Mount Lebanon Cemetery, and was active in the ICY Alumni Association, the African-American owned and operated Douglass Hospital, and the Progressive Workingman's Club.

In the 1890s White helped found the American Negro Historical Society - one of the first in the country to collect materials that documented the history of African Americans - and placed in its care the records of the Pythians, which he had held onto for more than twenty years. When markerW. E. B. Du Bois came to Philadelphia in 1896 to research his pathbreaking sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro, White was one of his most important contacts and sources of information.
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