James G. White was the Ethical Culture Leader of the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture since 2009. He retired in June, 2015, and remains a member of our community.
Jim grew up in a large, Virginia farm family and was educated in effective public schools. His religious-social consciousness was shaped fundamentally by being nurtured in a small Episcopal parish which was part of a string of missions developed to meet the material as well as spiritual needs of poor Appalachian people. The vision for this mountain ministry was deeply shaped by the same Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition that was foundational to Felix Adler’s lifelong efforts.
Hearing his first freedom songs and Martin Luther King sermons in his priest’s rectory, Jim became supportive of the Civil Rights Movement as a high school student. He helped his mother circulate a petition that supported integration of his high school and organized fellow students to campaign for progressive Democratic Party candidates.
In his first term at Harvard, Jim met Jerome Frank, MD, a founder of the Baltimore Ethical Society and a leader in the anti-nuclear peace movement. Dr. Frank introduced him to Ethical Culture and made Jim a life-long convert! As a government major Jim became distressed to learn that his department chairman, Samuel P. Huntington was a leading strategist for prosecuting the Viet Nam war. Huntington assigned his students to study the Communist Manifesto (as an “inoculation”) but much of its analysis rang true for Jim in light of his country’s retreat from the commitment to equality and its horrific acts in foreign war. In particular, the goal of a society committed to the principle “From each according to ability, to each according to need” became Jim’s most cherished social ethic always guiding his activism going forward.
Coming to New York for graduate school, Jim continued his activism in Students for a Democratic Society where he met and married Eileen Karlson — a wonderful singer, nurse, wife, and mother. Their sons Jacob and Paul became Ethical Sunday School graduates as well as performers and caregiving professionals. Both have married and delightfully expanded the family with four terrific grandkids!
Jim studied at New York Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary and received a masters from Columbia University Teachers College. After teaching for five years he received his JD from New York Law School and has practiced full time “pastoral law” representing psychiatric patients since 1981. His second career as an Ethical Culture Leader began with involvement in the Bergen Society and acceptance into AEU Leadership Training and the Humanist Institute. After certification, he served as Leader of the Essex County Society until 1995, taught several classes a year, and co-created USEEK, the Urban Suburban Committee for Equal Excellent Education.
Jim retired in June 2015 after serving as RYSEC’s Leader for six years. In his last year he helped to spearhead to creation of the Bronx Climate Justice North coalition. He will continue as co-chair of Congregations for Justice and Peace which he helped to found in Harlem after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and serves on the AEU Ethical Action Committee.
You can use this contact form to send Jim an email. Note that he doesn’t access email regularly.