MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — On the northeast corner of the intersection of Route 9 and Main Street, set amid a small patch of neatly mown grass and tended shrubs stands a sign memorializing the life of George Henry White.
The sign, set close to the center of the community that bears his name, describes White as an “American Phoenix,” the last African-American congressman of the reconstruction era and a founding member of Whitesboro, started more than a century ago as a planned community focused on black empowerment.
Two densely overgrown lots behind the monument could become the site of a new post office for Whitesboro. On Monday, May 6, Township Committee approved a resolution allowing township administrator Kimberly Krauss to begin negotiations with the United States Postal Service for a lease of the property.
In a recent interview, Mayor Tim Donohue said if the township reaches an agreement on the site, the sign honoring White would remain in place. In fact, he said, officials are pushing for the new post office to carry White’s name.
“We’re trying to get the post office named for George Henry White,” Donohue said. “It’s one of the few things that Congress can still get done.”
Last summer, the postal service removed the trailer that long served as Whitesboro’s post office at 207 Main St., citing its poor condition. Since then, Whitesboro postal customers have been able to collect their mail at temporary boxes in the neighboring Martin Luther King Center, which also serves as a meeting place, a recreation center and many other community purposes.
Postal service officials have said they planned to keep the Whitesboro post office open, and that the former trailer would be replaced with a new modular building. But first, they had to find a new site.
At a community meeting last January, David M. Wolff, a real estate specialist with the United States Postal Service, told a room full of residents that the search was underway for a new and better site for the post office, which he said would look a lot better than the former building.
Many in the community believed the new site would be at the Whitesboro School at the end of Main Street. The school served the black community from 1910 until 1967, and now houses the offices of the Concern Citizens of Whitesboro and serves other uses.
But Donohue said there were issues with that site, including concerns over the available parking. The site on the intersection is owned by the township and sits about halfway between the MLK center and the former school.
Donohue said the site is highly visible and the township property is large enough to accommodate the proposed post office.
“I think that would be an excellent spot,” he said. The entrance to the parking lot would likely be on Main Street rather than Route 9, which is a heavily traveled road in that area.
The recent resolution allows Krauss to begin negotiations for the lease of the property. Donohue said the township will be reasonable and is not looking to make a killing on the price.
“We’re looking to solve a problem and to ensure that the Whitesboro ZIP Code remains intact,” he said. “That is important to the people that live there.”
The ZIP Code, 08252, has been brought up by many Whitesboro community members. Some fear a loss of a unique sense of identity for one of the historic communities in Middle Township, especially for one founded as a black community in specific defiance of rising discrimination after the Civil War.
White was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican in North Carolina, the final example of a black man elected after the new freedoms of the post-Civil War Reconstruction before the repression of Jim Crow laws took hold throughout the South. He moved to the North in the early 20th century, and he and others founded Whitesboro after that, as part of a deliberate effort to build black economic and political independence.
But for some in Whitesboro, the loss of the ZIP Code would present more prosaic concerns in the 21st century. At public meetings, residents raised issues about mis-delivered packages from Amazon and GPS and smartphone apps that are unable to find Whitesboro.
According to Donohue, the new post office will protect the Whitesboro ZIP Code. Once an agreement is reached on the lot, plans would likely be presented to the Middle Township Planning Board for what is known as a courtesy review before work could commence.
Postal Service officials say the new building is to be built off-site and delivered, with additional details and landscaping added once it is in position. It is expected to be 40 feet long and a little over 11 feet wide. In April, township officials gave an update on the project, saying the Postal Service would pay a nominal fee for the land and that a public presentation would be set at the MLK Center once plans were finalized.
“There was some bad information floating around that this wasn’t going to happen. It was creating a bad vibe,” Donohue said about the decision to make a public statement. He said the new post office will be a nice addition. “It’s a little premature but I think we’re pretty close to locking this down.”