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Albert White was an African American building contractor who lived and worked in Kalamazoo from the s until his death in He and his men helped build a of well known structures in Kalamazoo history. White and his workers built an addition to the original Borgess Hospital, which at that time was in a house on Portage Street.
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He also constructed the third Kalamazoo Central High School inand supervised the masonry work in the construction of the Administration Building East Hall which was the first building of the original campus of Western Michigan University then called Western State Normal School. It was built in and still stands. White achieved a level of success unusual for that time. White was born in Canton, Indiana on February 6, According to family legend, his parents were freed slaves who settled in Indiana after walking there from South Carolina. At seven years of age, Albert White was sent to work for a farmer.
He worked on this farm until he was fifteen. He moved to Michigan to work for another farm for a year.
At this point he moved to Kalamazoo and began working for a mason. He pleaded with his employer to teach him the trade but was initially rebuffed. His employer finally consented after White offered to work for free for several months in exchange for learning the trade.
This agreement eventually evolved into an apprenticeship that lasted for seven years, followed by two years of working as a journeyman. Albert White was 25 years old when he started his own construction contracting business.
Over the next 30 years he would be involved in many important projects, including building the third Kalamazoo Central High School, as well as additions to the Kalamazoo Paper Mill, Plainwell High School, and the first Borgess Hospital on Portage Street. Employee Herbert Bush remembered White as a nice man.
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Bush recalled that White paid his employees by leaving money on top of a mortarboard and placing a brick on top to hold it down. Employees simply took out their pay. During the early s he had about 50 employees, both black and white.
Albert White was not the only member of his family who was active in the Kalamazoo community. Albert White died in White is not one of the better remembered builders of Kalamazoo. Perhaps this is because many of the structures that White built were torn down long ago. Decades before the Civil Rights era, Albert and Fannie White played an important role in the community life of Kalamazoo. Local History.