Upon graduation, White signed with the Chicago Cubs organization. However, four days before leaving for spring training, he was drafted by the United States Army, where he attended jump school and was trained as a paratrooper. White was soon assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. After his discharge in 1959, White returned to Chicago, where he finally began his professional baseball career, playing for several seasons with the Chicago Cubs organization.
When Secretary of State Jesse White was a young Chicago Cubs prospect in the early 1960s, legendary slugger Ernie Banks would hold court at spring training dinners with other black players. White says Banks was "our godfather," a player "who we rallied around. And we would meet at this restaurant, and we'd talk baseball. And he'd give us guidance about how to conduct ourselves." The Cubs' playoff run means a little more to the 24 year government officeholder, who played from 1959 to 1966 in the Cubs farm system. He made it close to the major leagues but never got that coveted call. Still, the advice White says Banks relayed about hard work and moving up in the world could apply as neatly to politics as it does to baseball. "You cannot just expect a promotion to come from the sky," White said.
He says the only time he played at Wrigley Field aside from a softball game among lawmakers was at a tryout in 1956, 11 years after the team's last World Series appearance. After that tryout, he was signed by the Cubs organization but would be drafted by the Army shortly afterward. "Instead of going to spring training, I went to basic training," White said. In 1959, White started playing for the low-level Potashers of Carlsbad, New Mexico. He eventually made it to the highest levels of the minor leagues, playing a couple of years for the AAA Salt Lake City Bees in the early 1960s.
|Jesse White played for the Cubs' AAA team, the Salt Lake City Bees, in the early 1960s.|
Off-season, White also worked as a physical education instructor at Schiller Elementary School, the school that he attended as a child, as well as with the Chicago Park District. In December 1959, White was asked to organize a gym show at the Rockwell Garden Housing Project. This show laid the foundation for what would become known worldwide as the "Jesse White Tumblers." Team members must stay away from gangs, drug, alcohol, stay in school and maintain a minimum “C” average. The team consists of male and female participants as young as age 6.
|Jesse White Tumblers|
Because the organization requires its student athletes to maintain at least a “C” average, team members and trainees who fall below this standard must attend tutoring classes or show proof that they are enrolled in a tutoring program. Our program assists with homework, encourages independent reading, improves writing skills, spelling and handwriting, and practices basic math facts.The program also helps to improve science and social studies grades through study skills and develops a higher level of thinking skills through group and individual work. So far, the Tumblers have served as a positive alternative for over 16,500 underprivileged Chicago children.
As White continued to juggle teaching and tumbling, he was approached to run for a seat in the state legislature, replacing Robert Thompson, who was retiring. In 1974, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served on the Committees on Aging, Elementary & Secondary Education, Public Utilities, and chaired the Committee on Children and Human Services. Among the bills proposed by White in the House was the Good Samaritan Bill, which allowed hotels to offer leftover food to soup kitchens without threat of liability.
With the exception of the 1977-79 term, White served in the Illinois General Assembly until 1992 when he was elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds. In 1996, he was reelected to the same office and served until 1998, when he made history by being the first Black elected Secretary of State for Illinois.
|Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.|
In May 1995, White was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame. He was an all-city baseball and basketball star at Chicago’s Waller High School (now Lincoln Park Academy) and was inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in June 1995.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.