The “White John” is the son of a powerful white Judge in Altamaha, Georgia. The White John was the childhood playmate of John Jones (who is black), but the two grew apart and now have very different lives and opportunities as young adults: Jones leaves Altamaha to go to the Wells Institute (a fictional black college), while the White John attends the prestigious Princeton University. The two eventually cross paths in New York City when they both go to see the same show at a concert hall. It's here that the White John reveals his racism through underhanded comments to his date about black people, and he has Jones ushered out of the theater, only recognizing his childhood friend after the fact. When the White John and Jones both return home to Altamaha, the Judge pressures the White John to make something of himself as a government figure. However, the White John is embittered by having to associate with Altamaha’s black community and annoyed by the lack of eligible women around him. When he spots Jones’s sister, Jennie, who works in their home as a maid, he pursues her into the woods and assaults her. Jones eventually comes upon them and murders the White John in a blind rage, after which the Judge forms an angry mob and accosts Jones on horseback to avenge his son’s death. Much like his influential father, the White John is an example of the exclusionary mindset that black people still face from white people in the late 19th century. As a symbolic counterpart to Jones, The White John (and his family) represent the lingering influence of slavery that still divides white and black communities during this time.
The "White John" Character Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk
The timeline below shows where the character The "White John" appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13: Of the Coming of John
...son named John, who was a childhood playmate of John Jones. Like Jones, the “ White John ” has left Altamaha—he now attends Princeton University. The Judge believes that college is essential... (full context)
...he be escorted out is the fair-haired man from the hallway—none other than the “ White John ” he knew as a child. The White John seems to recognize John Jones for... (full context)
A month after the black school opens, the White John returns home as well. His family, along with the entire white half of town, is... (full context)
As the Judge and the White John talk, neighbors begin to wander by, and the local postmaster comments that John Jones is... (full context)
Meanwhile, the White John wanders around the house in the wake of the Judge’s sudden departure. He goes out... (full context)
...feels as though he’s been awoken from a dream. He sees Jennie struggling in the White John ’s arms. John grabs a fallen tree branch and wordlessly beats the White John to... (full context)
After gazing down at the surreal sight of at the White John ’s “white and still” body lying beneath the pine trees, Jones hurriedly walks back to... (full context)