Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, George E. Haynes was the only child of Louis and Mattie Sloan Haynes. At a young age he moved with his parents to New York, where he spent his youth. In 1903 he received his B.A. from Fisk University, he earned his M.A. from Yale University in 1904, and in 1912 he became the first African American awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree from Columbia University.
In 1910 George Haynes married Elizabeth Ross of Montgomery, Alabama; they became the parents of one child, George Edmund Haynes Jr. After their marriage, the couple resided in New York, where Haynes studied social science and economics. He developed an acute awareness of the impact of socioeconomic readjustment upon African Americans who migrated northward from the South. Shortly after his marriage in 1910, he joined with Frances Kellor and Ruth Baldwin to establish the National Urban League for assisting those making the transition from agrarian to urban living.
Haynes accepted a faculty position at Fisk University in 1912. His intense interest in America's changing social fabric prompted his leadership in establishing Fisk's department of social sciences and an academic program to train professional social workers. By 1914 he had developed the first college-level course on the history of African Americans. His research on the African American adjustment to a predominately white society earned Haynes acclaim as a leader in the study of racial affairs.
Haynes emerged as a leader in efforts to bring Nashville's white and African American communities together. Bethlehem House, a settlement house first proposed in 1907 by Fisk graduate Sallie Hill Sawyer and enlarged in 1913 by the addition of a kindergarten and clinic, became the “hands-on” training center for Professor Haynes's social science students. The settlement house concept, patterned after the British movement of the 1880s, began to gather momentum in America in the early 1900s. By 1915 the Bethlehem Settlement House was the product of very advanced social theory put into action–especially in the turn-of-the-century South. Fisk University's involvement with Bethlehem House supported the reality of whites and African Americans working together to provide social services.
In 1916, when a fire devastated East Nashville, the African American community suffered extensively. In the charred aftermath of this horrendous fire, Haynes's Fisk University students offered assistance to the fire victims as they struggled to cope with their losses.
Two years later, Haynes left Tennessee for Washington, where he was appointed special assistant to the U.S. secretary of labor, serving until 1921, when he became cofounder and first executive secretary of the Department of Race Relations of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. For the next twenty-six years, he remained with the council in New York City and became a visionary leader of the city's African American community. In the late 1940s, for example, Haynes organized the Interracial Clinic, which promoted interracial understanding and easing of racial tensions. In 1955 he was appointed to the New York University Board of Trustees, becoming the first African American appointed to a major American university's board. After his wife's death in 1953, Haynes remarried in 1955 to Olyve Jeter of Mount Vernon, New York, where the couple made their home. Haynes died in 1960 at Mount Vernon.
Reavis L. Mitchell Jr., Fisk University Since 1866: The Loyal Children Make Their Way (1995)