Dr. George Edmund Haynes: Social Crusader in Black Economics

Today’s post was written by Gabrielle Hutchins, Ph.D, an archivist at the National Archives in College Park, MD

portrait of George Edmund Haynes
George Edmund Haynes

Dr. George Edmund Haynes is one of many remarkable figures in the history of the African American labor movement.  During the 1920s, Dr. Haynes truthfully captured Black laborers’ stories as he traveled throughout the United States to study why Blacks migrated north, the working conditions of the laborers, and to assist with their overall social welfare. In this Memorandum to the Assistant Secretary of Labor from 1920, Dr. Haynes (as Director of Negro Economics) proposes undertaking a special study of Black agricultural communities in Northern and Border States.

memo proposing a study of Black farming communities and settlement
Memorandum to the Assistant Secretary from Director of Negro Economics George Edmund Haynes, Sept 20, 1920 (NAID 74894454), RG 174

George Edmund Haynes (1880-1960) was a prominent social scientist, educator, and crusader. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Fisk University, Master’s degree from Yale University, and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. His education and passion to help inspire people was a catalyst of motivation to bridge the gap in social inequality. He was the co-founder of the National Urban League, which champions against racial discrimination and fought for African Americans economically and socially. His objectives carried on through his work as the Director of Negro Economics for the U.S. Department of Labor. Dr. Haynes studied the living conditions of Black people primarily in the farm and manufacturing industries. The Director of Negro Economics was created to gather information from state and federal government to report the findings related to the work and living conditions of Blacks and the relationships between white employers and their Black employees. Dr. Haynes’ position as the Director of Negro Economics was important in terms of bringing awareness to state and federal government leadership about the racial inequality and labor issues across the United States. His research on migration and movements of supplies, labor shortages, and the high demand for equal and fair pay, amongst other issues was conducted throughout the United States. Dr. Haynes’ report The Negro at Work during the World War and During Reconstruction (NAID 74895275) was significant for the study of the Great Migration.  This report illustrated research on the incorporation of Black workers in the industrial and agriculture fields during World War I.

title page
The Negro at Work during the World War and During Reconstruction, title page (NAID 74895275)
letter of transmittal
The Negro at Work during the World War and During Reconstruction, letter of transmittal (NAID 74895275)

The data collected illustrates actual experiences of Black workers in industrial and agricultural labor. His findings were used to build labor programs and plans of action to eliminate the cruel labor conditions and ease racial tensions. His report brought more attention to the hard working conditions of laborers, wage inconsistency, and social disparities of the Black community. Haynes’ main goals were to promote the well-being of wage earners, improve the relationships between workers and employers, and for the bulletin report to assist the Secretary of Labor with a plan of action to solve the problems. Dr. Haynes collected data from various states, including: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and North Carolina. He gathered information from shipyard laborers, women workers, and laborers in meatpacking and steel industries. He gathered testimonies, newspaper articles, surveys, and visited and reported the relationships between the white and Black workers. Here is a table illustrating the opinions of employers regarding Black employees and their ambitions and opportunities for promotion.

survey table
Opinions of 38 Employers of Black workers showing the attitude of firms towards Black labor… (NAID 74895275)

This table illustrates the difference between hours and earnings of Black and White employees in steel and meat packing industries. Results vary where in some occupations African American men earn slightly more than their white counterparts, but in others white laborers are given more hours of work.

table comparing earnings/hours of white and black employees
Comparative table of “average hours of work” and “average earnings”… (NAID 74895275)

Dr. Haynes’ concluded that racial tension and disparity were so omnipresent in the U.S. that it required attention from state and federal authorities. Dr. Haynes was an advocate for laborers and fought for the betterment of social welfare in the Black community. He made sure he gathered information from their viewpoint, he made sure his findings were presented, and that communities were aware of the local labor issues. He was a social crusader who brought attention to the study of the population that participated in the Great Migration. His journey to fight to end racial discrimination, and advance social and economic equality will forever be appreciated.

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