Durbin Honors Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's Service With Speech On Senate Floor

Durbin’s speech honored Secretary White for his more than 22 years of service

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor to honor Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as he prepares to retire after six terms in the position.

“Secretary White is a rare leader: a living legend and a truly humble man. He loves his work because he works for who he loves, the people of Illinois. Throughout his life, he has been a model of integrity, compassion, and unwavering commitment to public service...On behalf of everyone in Illinois, I want to say thank you to one of the most beloved leaders in our state’s history, my friend Jesse White,” said Durbin. 

Durbin continued on, highlighting Secretary White’s leadership in the civil rights movement.

“In every role Secretary White has undertaken, he has done his part to build the ‘Beloved Community’ envisioned by the man who mentored him in his early life – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a student at Alabama State in the 1950s, Jesse White leaned on the wisdom of Dr. King, who was his minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church,” Durbin said. “In fact, under Dr. King’s leadership, Secretary White participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the earliest demonstrations in our country of the power of nonviolent direct action. It was a formative experience that molded Jesse White into the inspiring and unifying leader he is today.”

Durbin went on to emphasize the lasting impact Secretary White has had on Illinois government, particularly in his efforts to modernize and restore integrity to the offices he served in.  

“In 1992, [he] moved up to become Cook County Recorder of Deeds…Secretary White put painstaking efforts into modernizing the office,” Durbin said.  “Jesse White was first elected as our Secretary of State in 1998. He was the first Black Illinoisan to occupy the office. Today, he remains the longest-serving Secretary of State. He transformed an office that had been marred by corruption and greed into one of the most effective agencies…His integrity has shined every step of the way.”

Outside of politics, Secretary White was well known for founding the Jesse White Tumbling Team in 1959 to provide extracurricular programing for underserved kids in Chicago. Having become world-renowned, the Jesse White Tumbling Team has performed everywhere from Canada to China.

“With his Tumbling Team, Secretary White has created a safe, welcoming space for Chicago’s children to grow and flourish…Previous Tumblers have gone on to become doctors, teachers, accountants, community leaders, and more. That’s countless lives changed for the better,” Durbin said.

Durbin also noted that before Secretary White served in office, he served his country in the military despite his plans to enter minor league baseball.

“When he was a young man, he was a pretty good baseball player. After he graduated from Alabama State, he was recruited by the Chicago Cubs to play in the minor leagues…Days before he was set to leave for Spring Training for the Cubs and begin his minor league baseball career, he was drafted into the Army. He went to jump school and trained as a paratrooper, serving in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and eventually completing 35 jumps,” Durbin said.

Durbin concluded his tribute to Secretary White by thanking him for his years of service in government and for remaining a loyal friend through the years. 

“To Secretary White, you have been every Illinoisan’s Happy Warrior, championing the needs of our families and defending the rights of those who have been left behind. Thank you for your leadership and your lifetime of friendship. Loretta and I are wishing you a long, happy retirement,” said Durbin.

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.

Secretary White began his political career in 1974 when he was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly. He served in the General Assembly for 16 years until he was elected as Cook County Recorder of Deeds in 1992. In 1998, he was elected as Secretary of State, the first Black Illinoisan to hold the seat. Secretary White is the longest-serving Secretary of State in Illinois history.