George Edmund Haynes

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George Edmund Haynes (1881-1959/1960) was a sociology scholar and federal civil servant, a co-founder and first executive director of the National Urban League, serving 1911 to 1918.[1][2][3] A graduate of Fisk University, he earned a master's degree at Yale University,[1] and was the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Columbia University, where he completed one in sociology.

During the Woodrow Wilson administration, Haynes was appointed in 1918 as director of the newly established Division of Negro Economics in the Department of Labor, as part of an effort by the Democratic administration to build support from blacks for the war effort. (They had been disfranchised by Democratic-dominated state governments across the South around the turn of the 20th century). Haynes was one of the first analysts to write about black labor economics.

He later founded the Social Sciences Department of Fisk University.[2] Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, he moved with his mother and sister to New York City during the Great Migration, and lived and worked from there for most of his life.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1881 and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Haynes attended segregated schools as a child. His mother was a domestic servant. He had a sister. He completed an undergraduate degree at Fisk University, a historically black college. With his mother and sister, he moved to New York City as part of the Great Migration. More than 1.5 million African Americans moved from the rural South to the North and Midwest in this period and up until 1940. Haynes was one of the first to write about that movement. In the second wave of the Great Migration, from the 1940s through 1970, another 4.5 million African Americans left the South, many going to the West Coast where the defense industry had grown.

He was living in New York City, working to support his mother and sister while taking sociology classes. For a time he taught at Fisk while completing his doctoral degree, as was customary at the time. During the summers of 1906 and 1907, he studied at the University of Chicago, and became interested in issues related to the migration of rural African Americans to the cities.[1] Haynes helped found the National Urban League, from three organizations, to assist in the urbanization of African Americans that was taking place. He served as its first executive director from 1911 to 1918.

Haynes received a sociology PhD in 1912 from Columbia University, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate from that university. He lived in New York for most of remainder of his life, serving as professor of economics and sociology at Fisk.[2]


After completing his master's, Haynes studied in Chicago for two summers, also serving as secretary to the Colored Men's Department of the International Committee of the YMCA. During this period, he visited Black colleges that had been founded in the southern states since the Civil War. He worked to encourage students in academic success and helped the colleges to set high academic standards, in a period in which there was tension between vocational and classical academic education. From his interest in education, Haynes established the Association of Negro Colleges and Secondary Schools, serving as secretary of that organization from 1910 to 1918.[1]

During the Great War, the Woodrow Wilson administration worked to build African-American support for the war effort. In addition, in the early years of his term, Wilson had lost support by enabling segregation of federal offices, which had been desegregated for decades. This action was strongly protested by individual blacks and whites, as well as by leading organizations such as the NAACP and church groups. Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson led the new War Labor Administration, where he tried to mobilize black workers in the national war effort. In the buildup of the defense industries, both black and white workers were attracted to new, high paying jobs, and there were often tensions between them. In 1918 the National Urban League held a conference urging appointment of Negro leaders to the Department of Labor; Haynes was its education secretary.[2]

Wilson appointed George Haynes to direct the newly established Division of Negro Economics, where he served from 1918 to 1921. With Wilson, Haynes developed a three-part program:[2] 1) organizing inter-racial committees of Negroes and whites from local bodies to promote mutual understanding and deal with problems of discrimination; 2) mounting a national publicity campaign to promote racial harmony and cooperation with the Department's war effort; and 3) developing a competent staff of Negro professionals to operate the Division.

Haynes operated through state and local organizations, concentrating in the South, Northeast and Midwest, the major areas affected by the Great Migration where rapid social change was occurring in major cities. A total of 11 states had program committees by November 1918. They investigated "conditions of Negro workers, educated Negroes and whites on the need for good race relations, helped in job placements, alleviating discrimination and race friction, and developing recommendations for federal action."[2]

After the war, there was considerable social tension as returning veterans of all races tried to find work, and black veterans tried to gain better treatment after their war service. During the Red Summer of 1919, racial riots of whites against blacks broke out in numerous industrial cities during these tensions and economic strife. At that time, the Democratic-dominated Congress suspended funding for Haynes' division. Even with such opposition, Haynes proposed a major government program to help the nation's working Negroes; his vision would not be realized for many years, but he was a trailblazer.[2]

After retiring from Fisk, Haynes continued to teach at City College of New York until his death. He continued to be affiliated with the YMCA, surveying its work in South Africa in 1930 (before apartheid was legally established), and in other African nations in 1947.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e KIHM, "George E. Haynes at Silver Bay", 3 February 2011, Silver Bay Blog; accessed 1 June 2016
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Judson MacLaury, U.S. Department of Labor Historian, "The Federal Government and Negro Workers Under President Woodrow Wilson", Paper Delivered at Annual Meeting, Society for History in the Federal Government, Washington, D.C., March 16, 2000, accessed 10 March 2016
  3. ^ Sam Roberts, "Discovering a grandfather's link to civil rights", CityRoom blog, 15 December 2010, The New York Times

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