William A. White

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Reverend William A. White

William Andrew White, II (June 16, 1874 – September 1936) was a Nova Scotian who became the first black officer in the British army.[1] He served in World War I as a chaplain, the only black chaplain in the entire British Army during the war. He was the father of singer Portia White and politicians Bill White and Jack White. In 1936, White was awarded an honorary doctorate from Acadia University, the first Canadian Black to be given an honorary doctorate.[2]

Early years[edit]

He was born to former slaves in King and Queen County, Virginia. He came to Nova Scotia in 1900 after a Canadian school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland impressed him with descriptions of the province.[3] He pictured this land as his key to freedom. He became the second black man accepted by Acadia University and the first to be later honoured with a Doctorate of Divinity. White graduated from Acadia in 1903 with an arts degree in theology, was ordained a minister, and spent the next two years as a travelling missionary for the African Baptist churches of Nova Scotia.[3]

World War 1[edit]

In 1916, White enlisted in the No. 2 Construction Battalion, an all black segregated unit serving in World War I.[4] He was the only black chaplain in the entire British Army and was a commissioned officer serving with the rank of Captain.[4]


Following the war, White returned home to Halifax and was called to Cornwallis Street Baptist Church, a position he held for over 17 years. During the early 1930s, his services were broadcast over the radio every month, and they were heard throughout the Maritimes.[3] He died of cancer in September 1936.[3]


White met and married Izie Dora White (coincidentally she had the same last name) of Mill Village, Nova Scotia and together they raised a family of thirteen children. One of their children, Portia White, grew to become a world-famous singer.[3] Another, Bill Jr., became the first Black Canadian to run for federal political office in Canada when he stood as a candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in the 1949 federal election. A third, Jack, was a noted Canadian labour union activist and the second black candidate to run for office in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

His grandchildren include Senator Donald Oliver, politician and activist Sheila White and folk musician Chris White. The novelist and playwright George Elliott Clarke is his great-grandson.

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "George Elliott Clarke First black officer in British Army blazed trail but dreams were thwarted". The Globe and Mail. 1 August 2014
  2. ^ Our Roots.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Pictorial on black history, Nova Scotia; William A. White". Our Roots. University of Calgary, Université Laval. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  4. ^ a b Chaplin-Thomas, Charmion (2006-04-14). "July 5, 1916". Fourth Dimension. Canadian Military Engineers Association (CMEA) and The Department of National Defence. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 

External links[edit]