George Edmund Haynes (1880–1960)

George Edmund Haynes, the first African American to earn a PhD from Columbia University, was a pioneering sociologist, a social worker, a policy expert, and cofounder of the National Urban League.

George Haynes was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on May 11, 1880, to Louis and Mattie Haynes. His father was a laborer and his mother a domestic worker. He graduated from the Richard Allen Institute and, in 1903, earned a BA in sociology at Fisk University. He earned an MA in the same field at Yale University a year later and continued his studies at the University of Chicago, the New York School of Philanthropy, and Columbia University. Meanwhile, he was employed by the Colored Men’s Department of the International Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), earning money to support his mother and sister. Haynes became the first black scholar to earn a PhD from Columbia University in 1912, completing his dissertation, “The Negro at Work in New York: A Study in Economic Progress.”

Haynes advocated for schools to produce more black social workers in order to better analyze and address conditions related to families, crime, health, housing, and employment. He cofounded, with white philanthropist Ruth Standish Baldwin, the Committee for Improving Industrial Conditions of Negroes in New York in 1910. Shortly thereafter, Haynes and Baldwin led efforts to merge the committee and local welfare agencies to form the National League on Urban Conditions among Negroes (NCLUCAN), which later became the National Urban League. Haynes became the new organization’s first executive director.

He further assisted in coordinating a collaboration between the New York School of Philanthropy and the NCLUCAN, which led to the creation of the nation’s first social work training program for black graduate students, located at Fisk University. He directed this program from 1910 to 1918. At Fisk, Haynes trained a skilled cadre of students in social science and social work; these students went on to excel in those fields and assist him in his academic research. Sometime around 1914, Haynes developed the first course in a U.S. college related to African-American history. As his research on the changing dynamics of race at the turn of the twentieth century expanded, his reputation as an expert grew.

By 1918, President Woodrow Wilson had taken notice of Haynes’s work and tapped him to serve as the first African American selected to a sub-cabinet-level position, in the capacity of Director of Negro Economics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Haynes was to advise Wilson in “all matters affecting Negroes.” Haynes developed ways to improve the labor conditions of black workers, and he began a series of discussions with black leaders and others to gauge the most effective ways the federal government could help achieve this. However, within a year of his arrival, race riots had broken out across the country, due in part to demographic shifts and changing social attitudes following World War I. Because of these race riots in 1919 and a backlash against modest racial reform, Southern Democrats undertook several initiatives that diminished African-American progress at the federal government level, including de-funding Haynes’s new agency. Haynes’s term ended in 1921.

During the 1930s, Haynes turned his attention to research in conjunction with the YMCA, conducting surveys related to interracial cooperation on that organization’s effectiveness in South Africa and other African nations. He was selected as a consultant on Africa by the World Committee of YMCAs.

Upon retirement in the 1940s, Haynes continued efforts related to interracial understanding and education. He served on the board of trustees of State University of New York, taught history and sociology classes at New York’s City College, and served as an officer of the American Committee on Africa. He authored two books: Trend of the Races and Africa, Continent of the Future. Haynes was married twice, to Elizabeth Ross and later to Olyve Love Jeter, and had one child, George Edmund Jr.

Haynes died on January 8, 1960.

For additional information:
“George Edmund Haynes.” National Association of Social Workers Foundation. (accessed September 28, 2021).

“George Edmund Haynes.” The Social Welfare History Project. (accessed September 28, 2021).

Jimmy Cunningham
Nashville, Tennessee


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