Haynes, George Edmund 1880–1960

views updated

George Edmund Haynes 18801960

Sociologist educator

Pursued an Education

Studied Urban Migration

Birth of the National Urban League

Developed Idea of Interracial Clinics


During the early years of the twentieth-century, thousands of black Americans fled the rural South in search of better jobs and higher wages in the industrial North. What they found, however, was often far less than what they had expected, and in many cases as bad, or worse, than what they had left behind. The new arrivals faced discrimination and exploitation on the job, in housing, and in education, and their arrival in large numbers heightened racial tensions in cities across the nation.

While many politicians and business leaders believed that government efforts to improve conditions for black Americans should focus on rural issues, such as land ownership and agricultural training, George Edmund Haynes, then a graduate student in economics and sociology at Columbia University, disagreed. In a major investigation of the causes, process, and effect of black migration to urban centers, published in 1912, he argued that the movement of blacks away from the land was more than a temporary phenomenon. Haynes, wrote Nancy J. Weiss in The National Urban League, 1910-1940, was convinced that blacks, however ill-prepared they were to handle the strains of city life, were coming to the city to stay, and that it was up to Negro and white leaders to ease the adjustment migrants had to make.

Cofounder and first executive director of the National Urban League, an organization formed in 1911 to provide support and leadership to migrant blacks in New York City, Haynes devoted his life to improving interracial relations. Following his resignation from the Urban League in 1918, he became director of Negro Economics for the U.S. Department of Labor, a position which allowed him to study the living and working conditions of urban blacks and suggest positive changes. Later, as head of the department of race relations for the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, he developed an innovative program of interracial clinics designed to combat racial tensions following World War II. These were used successfully in more than 30 American cities. He also introduced the concept of Race Relations Sunday, which was widely observed by churches throughout the nation.

Pursued an Education

George Edmund Haynes was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1880. After he had completed his elementary education in the local schools, his mother moved with him and his

At a Glance

Born George Edmund Haynes, 1880, in Pine Bluff, AR; died January 8, 1960; son of Louis (a laborer) and Mattie (a domestic; maiden name, Sloan) Haynes; married Elizabeth Ross, December 14, 1910 (died 1953); married Olyve Love Jeter, 1955; children: George Edmund Jr. Education: Fisk University, B.A., 1903; Yale University, M.A., 1904; attended University of Chicago, 1906-07; received graduate degree from New York School of Philanthropy, 1910; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1912.

International Committee of the Young Mens Christian Associations (YMCA), student secretary, 1905-08; worked for the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York and the Association for the Protection of Colored Women, 1908-10; Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, cofounder and executive director, 1910; Fisk University, Nashville, TN, professor of economics and director of training program for social workers, 1910-18; National Urban League, cofounder and director, 1911-18; U.S. Department of Labor, director of Negro economics, 1918-21; Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, executive secretary, department of race relations, 1921-47; World Committee of the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA), consultant on Africa, 1948-55; State University of New York, board of trustees, 1948-53; City College of New York, professor of sociology, 1950-59.

Member: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People {charter member).

Awards: Alumni Award, Fisk University, 1959.

sister, Birdye, to the larger, more cosmopolitan city of Hot Springs, which offered better educational, social, and vocational opportunities for blacks. From the beginning, his mother instilled in him a desire for self-improvement, and a belief in formal education as a means of escaping poverty and discrimination. Her strong support, combined with his own natural curiosity and ambition, prompted him to pursue a college degree.

A visit to Chicago in 1893, gave Haynes additional encouragement. Here, for the very first time, he encountered a close-knit community of black people engaged in stimulating, intellectual conversations about contemporary issues affecting blacks, including the questions of migration and emigration. He was surprised and dismayed to hear the suggestion that emigration to Africa, where blacks could build their own society free of prejudice and discrimination, offered the best solution to the Negro problem in the United States. At the young age of 13, he was convinced that this was the wrong approach, and that interracial cooperation in America could lead to equity and justice for all.

After he had exhausted the educational resources available to blacks in Hot Springs, Haynes completed a year of high school-level courses at the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama, followed by another year of college preparation at the academy at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon completion of his secondary education, he was admitted to Fisk, from which he obtained his bachelors degree in 1903. His excellent academic record won him a scholarship to Yale Graduate School, where he was one of only a handful of black students. He earned his masters degree in sociology within a year, waiting tables and stoking furnaces to pay his living expenses.

Haynes was offered a scholarship to continue his studies at Yale Divinity School, but turned it down in favor of a full-time job as traveling student secretary with the International Committee of the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA). By this time he needed money to help support his widowed mother and his college-age sister. He spent the next three years visiting Negro colleges and YMCA units throughout the South, combining his role as an administrator with that of a moral and spiritual leader for young, black students. His work brought him into contact with dozens of prominent black educators, churchmen, and business leaders, many of whom proved helpful to him in his later work.

Studied Urban Migration

After two years with the YMCA, Haynes decided that in order to bring about real improvement in the social and economic conditions of black people, he would need to acquire additional knowledge in the areas of economics and sociology. He completed two summers of graduate work at the University of Chicago, then moved to what he later described as the great laboratory of New York to continue his studies at the New York School of Social Work at Columbia University. Two years later, in 1912, he became the schools first black graduate. Upon completion of his degree, he married Elizabeth Ross, a fellow student and social worker whom he had met while working for the YMCA. She was to prove an invaluable partner in all of his scholarly and professional endeavors. Following her death in 1953, he married Olyve Love Jeter, who also supported him in his work.

Shortly after his arrival in New York, Haynes had become involved with the work of the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York (CIICNNY), one of a number of agencies formed to protect the rights of black workers and combat the social problems caused by their rapid migration to the city. His job was to help secure employment for black high school and vocational school graduates. In the course of his work, he conducted detailed investigations into the number of skilled black workers in New York and the attitudes and hiring practices of white employers and labor unions.

Around the same time Haynes accepted a fellowship at the Charity Organization Societys Bureau of Social Research, and was asked by its director, Dr. Edward T. Devine, to participate in a major study of Negro migration to northern cities. He soon discovered that the information he was collecting would be useful material for a doctoral dissertation. The causes and patterns of black migration were clear, but what happened to the migrants once they arrived in the cities? A report by one of Hayness contemporaries revealed that in 1908, as many as two out of every seven black infants in the Bronx and Manhattan died before they reached their first birthdays, mainly as a result of poor nutrition. Neither churches nor existing social service agencies could do enough to help.

Following in the footsteps of pioneering sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, who had published a scholarly investigation into the problems of blacks in turn-of-the-century Philadelphia, Haynes took a scholarly, systematic approach to the study of the sociological ills caused by migration. According to Weiss, it was Hayness intention to construct an increasing body of scientifically ascertained fact in an effort to replace outmoded judgments and generalizations about so-called Negro problems. His thesis, entitled The Negro at Work in New York City, was published by Columbia University Press in 1912. That same year he became the first black person in the universitys history to be awarded a Ph.D.

Haynes was working for the CIICNNY and gathering material for his doctoral thesis when he happened to meet Ruth Standish Baldwin, the wealthy widow and white social activist with whom he was to found the National Urban League. At the time, Baldwin was an active member of both the CIICNNY and another New York-based social service agency known as the Association for the Protection of Colored Women (APCW). The APCW was founded in 1905 by a group of educated women of both races in an effort to combat the exploitation of poor, uneducated black women by unscrupulous employment agencies. Many of the women the organization sought to protect had migrated to the city in search of better wages and working conditions, only to find themselves laboring for less than subsistence income, living in squalid surroundings, and in many cases, being drawn unwittingly into prostitution.

Birth of the National Urban League

Through her work with both agencies, Baldwin had become keenly aware of the need for a formal network of social workers to counsel blacks in New York City. She and one of her associates, lawyer and sociologist Frances Kellor, urged Haynes to join forces with them and other members of the CIICNNY in a drive to expand the work of the CIICNNY beyond industrial concerns in New York City to educational, vocational, and sociological needs throughout the country.

Hayness logic, academic background, and force of character struck Ruth Standish Baldwin and Frances Kellor favorably and his conclusions about black migration and the need for social work for blacks mirrored their own, wrote Guichard Parris and Lester Brooks in Blacks in the City: A History of the National Urban League. His emphasis on the need to train black social workers was eminently sensible. All three of them agreed that such efforts were overdue. It soon became clear, however, that their ideas were too advanced and too elaborate to be integrated into the framework of the existing CIICNNY. In September of 1910, Haynes and Baldwin formed a new organization, the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (CUC), and Haynes became its executive director. By 1911, the organization had merged with both the CIICNNY and the NLPCW and was officially renamed the National Urban League.

Near the same time that he began his work with the CUC, Haynes was offered a job as professor of economics at his alma mater, Fisk University. He quickly realized that the appointment provided him with an ideal opportunity to combine his dual objectives of serving disadvantaged blacks and training black social workers to help them. With the support and encouragement of Dr. Devine, his mentor from the New York School of Philanthropy, he established a creative training program for black social workers at Fisk which combined classroom study with practical fieldwork in the offices and branches of the CUC.

Over the next few years this unique and highly successful program produced settlement workers, probation officers, missionaries, and social workers, and contributed greatly to the formation of the National Urban League. Although Haynes served as director of the National Urban League for seven years, he spent most of his time in Nashville, developing and supervising the educational component of the program. The leagues day-to-day operations were handled by Eugene Kinckle Jones, who in 1918 succeeded Haynes as executive director. Jones went on to build the National Urban League into a national organization with hundreds of local branches.

In May of 1918, Haynes moved to Washington to accept a three-year post as director of Negro Economics for the U.S. Department of Labor. At the end of World War I, critical labor shortages had made it necessary for northern industries to recruit thousands of Negro workers. Their rapid migration to the cities resulted in intense racial and economic conflicts, which social workers from the National Urban League attempted to resolve. Hayness new job with the Department of Labor was to analyze the living and working conditions of urban Negroes and make concrete recommendations for improvements. Among the important studies he produced during this time was The Negro at Work During the World War and During Reconstruction. On the strength of this and his other reports, he was asked to serve on the Presidents Unemployment Conference.

Developed Idea of Interracial Clinics

When the Division of Negro Economics was dissolved in 1921, Haynes was named executive secretary of the new department of race relations of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. He remained in the position for the next 25 years. During this time he introduced a variety of innovative programs designed to combine religious commitment with practical action. In addition to promoting the idea of Race Relations Sunday, the second Sunday of each February, he developed the concept of the interracial clinic. These clinics, which brought together people of both races for mediated discussion on a church and community level, proved an effective means of diffusing racial tensions in more than 30 American cities during and immediately following World War II.

Haynes also turned his attention to interracial conflict and cooperation outside the United States. In 1930, while on leave from his position with the Federal Council of Churches, he traveled to South Africa to conduct a survey of the YMCAs work there. In 1947 he conducted a similar survey of the organizations programs in other African countries, and offered proposals for additional activities to improve race relations. The following year he was asked to serve as a consultant on the Africa for the World Committee of the YMCA.

Even after his retirement, Haynes remained active in the drive to promote education and improve interracial relations. The depth of his commitment to education as a force for positive change was reflected in a letter he wrote to the New York Times while serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of the newly established State University of New York during the late 1940s and early 1950s. We should face the fact that making a life is even more important than making a living, he wrote. Our present social order is suffering because we have a great army of people in industry, agriculture, commerce, and government who are making good incomes for living, but their education has not given them the training and the inspiration of liberal learning which would enrich their lives.

During the last nine years of his life, Haynes taught courses in history and sociology at New Yorks City College. He also served on the boards of numerous organizations concerned with social work, education, and vocational opportunities for black people. In addition to his doctoral thesis, The Negro at Work in New York City, and The Negro at Work During the World War he was the author of The Trend of the Races and Africa, Continent of the Future.



Parris, Guichard, and Lester Brooks, Blacks in the City: A History of the National Urban League, Little, Brown, 1971.

Weiss, Nancy J., The National Urban League, 1910-1940, Oxford University Press, 1974.


New York Times, January 10, 1960, p. 87.

Southern Workman, April 1913.

Caroline B. D. Smith