By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Alexander Jefferson had no idea he was connected to Morehouse College.
But a few years ago, the 87-year-old former Tuskegee Airman and prisoner-of-war found out something very interesting: his great-grandfather is William Jefferson White, the founder of Morehouse College.
“Old-fashioned people never talked much about history,” Jefferson said during a campus visit in July. “My mother and father never talked about history. Nobody ever talked about slavery…So I had no idea.”
Because of the cultural mores during the early part of the 20th century, very few people in his family did know.
White, a Baptist minister who founded Morehouse as Augusta Institute in 1867, was married to someone else when he met Jefferson’s great-grandmother. The two had a relationship, leaving White with two families in Augusta, something that wasn’t uncommon during the time.
The couple eventually went their separate ways (“W.J. was Baptist and she was Methodist,” Jefferson explained), with Jefferson’s side of the family ending up in Atlanta. Jefferson’s grandfather, Henry Montgomery White, graduated from Clark in 1880 and became a minister. His mother, Jane White Jefferson, and two aunts also went to Clark. Jefferson followed, graduating in 1942.
Jefferson joined the Army Reserves, was called into active duty and became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He was shot down by the Germans and spent a year as a prisoner-of-war before being released at the end of World War II.
He left active duty, married and began a 31-year teaching career in Michigan where his family had moved. He spent 21 years in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as lieutenant colonel.
So with time on his hands between leisure travel, Jefferson decided to research his family history. After poring through the Georgia State Archives, he found out that William Jefferson White was his great-grandfather.
Since then, Jefferson has visited Augusta to see Springfield Baptist Church where Morehouse was founded. He also stopped in Atlanta to see Morehouse.
“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” he said as President Robert M. Franklin Jr. ’75 shook his hand. “I wished I had known all of this 50 or 60 years ago!”
“This is a great opportunity,” Franklin said. “To meet a relative of our founder is extraordinary.”
So is the story, Jefferson said.
“It’s a great pride in saying that my family has been a part of all this, Morehouse College,” he said. “And Morehouse being such a part of the tradition of the civil rights movement, it’s just wonderful.”