Jesse White is Illinois’ 37th Secretary of State. White was first elected to the office in 1998 and won landslide victories in 2002, in which he won all 102 counties, and again in 2006. On November 2, 2010, White was reelected to a fourth term, winning another landslide victory in which he earned over 2.5 million votes statewide — more than any statewide constitutional candidate in over 30 years.

Known for his engaging demeanor, White was born June 23, 1934, in Alton and moved with his family to Chicago as a child. For nearly a decade, White’s economically disadvantaged family had to rely on public assistance. However, White’s determination and hard work helped him become a top athlete, once scoring 69 points in a basketball game at Waller High (now Lincoln Park Academy). His athletic prowess helped him earn a basketball and baseball scholarship to Alabama State University, where he graduated in 1957. He remains the school’s career scoring leader in basketball. He was inducted into both the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame and the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995. 1

White signed a contract to play with the Chicago Cubs organization in 1956 but was drafted into the U.S. Army before spring training. From 1957 to 1959, he served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne and returned to Chicago to teach physical education at Jenner Elementary. Four years later, he joined the teaching staff at Schiller Academy, where he had attended elementary school. 2

While working for the Chicago Park District in 1959, White was asked to stage a gymnastics show. He rounded up some talented young people and paid for their uniforms out of his own savings account. The show was a success, and soon he was deluged with requests for more performances. 3

From that informal display, the Jesse White Tumbling Team was born. The Tumblers grew from White’s desire to create a “recreational, athletic, educational, and cultural enrichment experience” for economically  disadvantaged youth as an alternative to juvenile delinquency. Many of the Tumblers are from Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, such as the Cabrini Green and Henry Horner housing developments. All team members must adhere to White’s strict rules: stay in school with at least a C average, stay away from drugs, alcohol, and gangs, and keep out of trouble with the law. 4

Over 11,500 young men and women have been members of the Jesse White Tumbling Team. The group makes over 1,500 appearances a year and has been on many national television shows, including several movie cameos. The Tumblers have also performed in two Presidential inaugural parades and have attracted fans around the world. White has never taken a salary for his work with the Tumblers and has remained active in the group despite increasing professional demands. 5

In 1974, White was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives from the 8th District in Chicago, which has been described as the “most culturally, economically, and racially diverse district in Illinois.” He served in the House from 1975 to 1977, and again from 1979 to 1993, also serving as chair of the Human Services Committee. While in office, White worked to fight crime, improve education, and protect senior citizens. In 1992, he was elected to the first of two terms as Recorder of Deeds of Cook County, the country’s second-largest Recorder of Deeds office. 6

First elected in 1998, White has maintained widespread popularity while working to improve traffic safety, reducing teen driving deaths by 50 percent, tightening up commercial truck driver standards, strengthening DUI laws and improving customer service through streamlined operations and the use of innovative technology. 7

White runs the largest and most diverse Secretary of State’s office in the nation. The office provides more direct services to the people of Illinois than any other public agency. White’s office issues state ID cards, vehicle license plates and titles; registers corporations; enforces the Illinois Securities Act; administers the Organ Donor Program; and licenses drivers and maintains driver records. As State Librarian, Secretary White oversees the State Library and literacy programs, and as State Archivist, he maintains records of legal or historic value. 8

  2. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.