Mississippi native Frank White (1847-1922) served in the Confederate army under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and then was instrumental in returning Democrats to power in the Mississippi state government during the Reconstruction years. He relocated to Birmingham, Jefferson County, in the 1880s to benefit from the city's industrial boom. He served only a year as a U.S. senator from Alabama, after winning the election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Joseph F. Johnston.
Francis (Frank) Shelley White was born March 13, 1847, at Prairie Point, Noxubee County, Mississippi, to Kelly and Margaret Shelley White. White attended local schools and was tutored at home. During the Civil War, he served as a private in Company F, First Mississippi Cavalry, under the command of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. White was captured at Selma, Dallas County, in April 1865. After the war, he studied law in the office of William B. Brack of West Point, Mississippi and opened a practice there in 1868. White married Octavia Anna Collins in 1873; they would have five children.
White was elected to the Mississippi State Legislature in 1875 and played an active role in regaining Democratic control of the state government from the Republican Reconstruction government. He was chairman of a committee that organized and oversaw impeachment proceedings against Republican officeholders in the Mississippi Reconstruction government, including former Union officer Gov. Adelbert Ames, and also Lt. Gov. A. K. Davis and Superintendent of Education T. W. Cardozo, both among the first African Americans to hold political office in the state. All were removed from office.
In 1886, White saw new opportunities for himself in the booming industrial city of Birmingham and relocated there. In addition to establishing his law practice, he continued with his political endeavors. He served as campaign manager in 1899 for U.S. Senator John Tyler Morgan; as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1900; as chair of the Democratic State Convention that same year; and as a member of the 1901 Constitutional Convention. These and other activities gained White many supporters statewide, leading to his nomination in April 1914 for the Democratic primary to fill Sen. Joseph F. Johnston's vacant seat, who had died the previous November. White's election in May made him the first U.S. senator in Alabama elected by a direct vote of the people. After completing Johnston's term on March 3. 1915, he returned to his Birmingham law practice.
White attempted runs for a Senate seat two more times: against John Hollis Bankhead in 1918 and J. Thomas Heflin in 1920. Two years later, on August 1, 1922, White died in Birmingham and was buried in the city's Elmwood Cemetery.
Note: This entry was adapted with permission from Alabama United States Senators by Elbert L. Watson (Huntsville, Ala: Strode Publishers, 1982)
Elbert L. Watson
Easley, South Carolina
Published November 9, 2010
Last updated March 8, 2011