Winnie White (right) receives WV Civil Rights Award in
Charleston from Mary Jo Thompson, Director of Constituent
Services for Gov. Manchin, 7th Annual Civil Rights Day
By Bob Weaver 2009
A Calhoun woman's work and journey received recognition last week in Charleston, joining a number of outstanding West Virginians who have been honored on West Virginia's Civil Rights Day.
Winifred "Winnie" White of Walnut Road was recognized for her outstanding work in civil rights, which she describes as "appreciating people for who they are."
Fifteen West Virginians were honored, with Gov. Joe Manchin telling White, "Your commitment and passion to the struggle for equality and justice will not be forgotten."
Her social justice journey likely began while growing up in Rochester New York, where she and her seven siblings were often separated on segregated buses, the blacks required to ride in the back.
"Every other of my siblings looked white," Winnie said, "and they could sit up front. Those of us who were dark sat in the rear, often yelling and talking across the bus to each other," with someone often saying, "I wish those black kids would leave those white kids alone."
Winnie (far right) in 1978 with her parents, George
and Claudia Watson of Rochester NY and her six siblings
When high-achieving Winnie entered nursing school in Rochester in 1957, she was the only black student.
"When it was time for older students to adopt 'little sisters' in the lower grades, no one wanted to adopt me," Winnie said. One woman, a senior, came forth and took Winnie under her wing. She was a member of the Baha'i Faith, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind.
Winnie shortly thereafter embraced the Baha'i faith, and for over 50 years has been impressed by the Baha'i beliefs of unity of God, unity of religion, and the unity of humankind.
As a child, she said, "I knew the meaning of Winnie meant peace in German, and it has been a vision I have used throughout my life."
She went on to receive the Florence Nightingale Award for academic achievement, seldom received by black students at the time, and began a career in nursing spanning 41 years.
Her illustrious nursing career in Canada and the United States has been coupled with traveling around the world promoting race unity.
She is currently president of the Kanawha Valley Interfaith Council Coordinating Board and is a five year member of the Charleston Job Corp Center board, and active in the Family Resource Network in Calhoun.
Winnie said it was a moving experience watching Barack Obama being inaugurated, saying "Tears streamed down my face, my father and mother would never have believed it."
Winnie and her husband Laurence White have been married for 23 years, retiring to a farm on Walnut Creek 13 years ago. Laurence, a native of Kanawha County and Navy veteran, retired from the City of Detroit.
They are proud parents of six children and seven grandchildren.
Wedding day for Winnie and Laurence (left) in 1985, and in 2009,
practicing the Baha'i faith on Walnut Creek, Calhoun County