A strong voice for Hilton Head Island’s Gullah community has been silenced with the death of Francetta J. “Fran” White.
White, 71, died last Saturday at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah. The funeral will be at noon Saturday at St. James Baptist Church with burial in the Union Cemetery.
While she was not a native of Hilton Head, White married into one of its most prominent families. And as soon as she and David White retired from Columbia, Md., to his family land off Union Cemetery Road, Fran White jumped hand and foot into local issues.
She chaired the board of the Mitchelville Preservation Project at a critical time for planning and broader community involvement in recognizing the significance of the site of the Civil War freedman’s village on today’s Beach City Road.
“Planning was her thing,” said Thomas C. Barnwell Jr., who preceded her on the board.
She was an eloquent, forceful and well-reasoned voice against Hilton Head Island Airport encroachment on St. James Baptist Church and historic sites near it. She was elected by the church to be its spokesperson on the long-running controversy of airport runway expansion, which is pushing ever closer to the church.
“She did her homework,” said her husband, David White.
Fran White paid close attention to the Town of Hilton Head Island’s rewrite of its Land Management Ordinance and what it might mean to the native island community.
She served on the board of Legal Aid Volunteers, her husband said, and was involved with the NAACP and the Native Island Business & Community Affairs Association.
The first work of the Whites after retiring to the island was in voter registration, something they worked on in Maryland.
Fran White’s activism was slowed by a stroke in December 2013. After that, her energies were focused on St. James Baptist Church.
She was born in Jackson, Tenn., and grew up in Memphis. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and a master’s in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
Her career focused on policy development with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
She and David White met at a wedding. They were married for 48 years, and they had two daughters and a son.
She visited Hilton Head regularly, particularly when his mother, Nellie Johnson White, was alive.
“I did not have to twist her arm to move here,” David White said. “She loved Hilton Head. She was embraced here. One time Emory Campbell teased me that, between us, it was hard to tell who grew up here.”
On Monday, David White also lost his brother, Napoleon White of Philadelphia. He was an island native, Penn School graduate and retired junior high school science teacher.