George Edmund Haynes died in 1960, 10 months before his grandson, Bruce D. Haynes, was born. Growing up in Harlem, Bruce was never told much about him.
“When I was growing up, my father rarely spoke about Pop Haynes or even about his own childhood,” Bruce Haynes recalled. “The subject brought up too many hurts and resentments that he still held tight.”
A weighty portrait of George Haynes, painted by Laura Wheeler Waring, a Harlem Renaissance artist, was hidden in the attic of the Haynes family home on Convent Avenue until 1995, when Bruce’s father was dying.
“He passed it on to me like a torch that I had finally earned the right to carry,” Bruce Haynes recalled recently. “My father’s parting gift set me on a quest to learn more about George Haynes.”
Bruce Haynes knew, of course, that his grandfather had been involved with the National Urban League, the venerable civil rights organization that is celebrating its centennial this year. But in fact, George Haynes was one of the league’s founders and was its first executive director. And Mr. Haynes’s grandfather had also been a prominent scholar in fields in which blacks were largely invisible.
“My grandfather, a black migrant from Pine Bluff, Ark., and Mrs. Ruth Standish Baldwin, a white philanthropist and social activist, stepped across the color line to challenge the status quo for Negro workers,” Bruce Haynes said. Mrs. Baldwin worked with Mr. Haynes to start the Urban League.
“Many political and business leaders of the day focused on rural solutions, such as agricultural training, to alleviate the labor problems of blacks,” Mr. Haynes said, “but Haynes understood that the movement of blacks away from the farm was more than a temporary phenomenon and that economic empowerment in the industrial labor force was the key to their future success.”
The National Urban League is headquartered in New York with affiliates in 36 states. Its mission is to provide direct services and conduct research and advocacy “to provide economic empowerment, educational opportunities and the guarantee of civil rights for African Americans.”
“I had majored in sociology,” Bruce Haynes said, “without even knowing that my grandfather had been one of the first black urban sociologists in the country and the first Negro to serve in a sub-cabinet post (directing the Division of Negro Economics in the United States Department of Labor from 1918 to 1921). I was amazed to discover that he had written about race relations and cities.”
In 2001, after receiving a doctorate from the City University of New York and working as an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Yale University, Bruce Haynes and his wife, Syma Solovitch, a former public-school teacher in Harlem, moved to California, where he is an associate sociology professor at the University of California, Davis, and, along with his wife, is writing a book about his grandfather.
“I learned that Haynes had been a protégé of W. E. B. Du Bois, who used to visit our house,” Bruce Haynes said. “He was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He was also the first prominent black labor economist and one of the first black urban sociologists in the country. I learned that he was the first scholar to examine the Great Migration in sociological terms and to predict the flood of southern Negro migrants to the urban North, and that he founded the Social Sciences Department at Fisk University.”
“I also discovered that he had played a crucial role in the Harlem Renaissance, connecting the Negro artists and writers to the important benefactors and institutions of the period,” Mr. Haynes added. “None of these findings had been prominently documented. In fact, he’s become a mere footnote to the very institution he created. Through the book that I’m currently writing with my wife, I hope to restore George Haynes to his rightful place in history.”
George Haynes was born in Arkansas in 1881, but spent most of his adult life in New York. In his doctoral dissertation at Columbia, he wrote that the plight of blacks in the city in 1912 was similar to that of other rural migrants but that it was “made more acute because he has greater handicaps due to his previous condition of servitude and to the prejudiced opposition of the white world that surrounds him.”
As a trustee of the State University of New York and later teaching at City College, he championed higher education for working people — “making a life is even more important than making a living,” he wrote — and also warned that in a world that was predominantly composed of people of color, Americans might be jeopardizing their own democracy because of prejudice.