The George A. Myers Papers
Finding Aid: Table of Contents and Overview
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Box and Folder Description
The George A. Myers papers were donated to the Ohio Historical Society by his daughter, Dorothy Myers Grantham, in 1955. The papers, contained in 18 document boxes, were originally arranged and described by Joyce E. Harman in March 1968. The papers were further arranged by Thomas J. Rieder in May-June 1974 and were filmed at that time by the Ohio Historical Society. The camera operator was Barbara Hammond; the microfilm production supervisor was Robert B. Jones. The reduction radio of the microfilm is 14:1.
The entire George A. Myers collection is open to all researchers. The microfilm edition is available for use in the microfilm reading room of the Ohio Historical Society and may also be purchased from the Order Department of the Society.
The property rights to the George A. Myers papers reside with the Ohio Historical Society. The Society exercises responsibility for the physical custody of both the original collection and the master camera negative of the microfilm edition. No duplication of the microfilm (except paper prints not available for resale) may be made under any circumstances without express written permission of the Ohio Historical Society.
Literary rights to the George A. Myers papers have not been assigned to the Ohio Historical Society or dedicated to the public. Therefore, consideration of the requirements of literary rights is the responsibility of the author and his or her publisher.
In addition to this published inventory, the entire box/folder inventory is reproduced at the beginning of each roll of microfilm.
Current price and order information for the inventory and the microfilm edition may be obtained from the Research Services, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio 43211.
Several staff members were responsible for converting the author's draft into a printed inventory. Andrea Lentz edited the inventory for content; Marilyn Bosen typed the camera ready copy; Bruce Baby designed and illustrated the cover; Nancy Essex edited the inventory for form and proofread the copy; and David Larson supervised production.
About the Author
Thomas J. Rieder, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, joined the staff of the Ohio Historical SocietyOhio Historical Societyas a manuscripts processor in 1970 and is currently working as a public records cataloger. He has processed eight major manuscript collections of twentieth century Ohio political leaders and industrialist Frank A. Seiberling.
The careers of Mark Hanna, William McKinley and James Ford Rhodes are well known to many people, while the career of George Myers, their correspondent and ally, is not. Myers's life, while less distinguished, has been neglected aside from a few sketches in black publications. This is understandable, for in terms of accomplishments his career was significant but not particularly outstanding. However, in terms of illuminating aspects of black middle class life style and the politics of that group, his story is noteworthy. The fact that Myers was nothing more than a barber is more a commentary on racial discrimination in America than on his ability.
George Myers was born in Baltimore, Maryland on March 5, 1859. His father, Isaac Myers, was an important figure in the free black community, and was among the first to attempt to organize black laborers into unions. He was elected president of the National Labor Union in 1870. George spent his first ten years in Baltimore. Upon the death of his mother and because of a planned tour of the south by his father to organize black workers, he then was sent to Providence, Rhode Island, to the home of Reverend J. A. W. Burley. He attended the Providence public schools and later transferred to preparatory school at Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania. When his father remarried, he returned to Baltimore to finish high school.
Myers was unable to enroll at Baltimore's city college because he was black. As a result, he decided to quit school, and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1875 where he became an apprentice house painter. He returned to Baltimore shortly thereafter, however, and became an apprentice barber. This caused his father much displeasure, as the older Myers had wanted his son to enroll at Cornell to study medicine. In 1879 Myers moved to Cleveland and worked at the Weddel House barber shop, becoming its foreman. It was at the Weddel House that he first met Mark Hanna. In 1888, with Liberty E. Holden and other prominent Clevelanders providing the financing, Myers purchased the Hollenden House barbershop.
This was the turning point in his life, for it not only assured him a financially secure future but also brought him into contact with the politically and socially prominent figures of his time. The Hollenden House was Cleveland's finest hotel, with excellent dining facilities and the "longest bar in town." It soon became a "watering hole" for precinct workers and a headquarters for important politicos.
Under Myers's management the barbershop came to rival the bar as a center for political gossip and activity. It became a mark of distinction to have a personal shaving mug in Myers's rack. He also made his shop into one of the most modern in the nation, with porcelain fixtures, individual wash basins, sterilizers, humidors and other equipment. He installed telephones at each chair for customer convenience. Myers even claimed that he pioneered the use of manicurists in barber shops and that it was at his suggestion that the Koken Barber Supply Company developed the modern barber chair. He adopted Elbert Hubbard's description of his shop, "the best barber shop in America," not only for advertising but out of the pride he took in his work. He was eventually to boast of shaving or barbering eight presidents, dozens of congressmen and other luminaries such as Mark Twain, Lloyd George and Marshall Foch.
Myers's involvement in the "game," as he referred to politics, began at the Republican National Convention of 1892. Serving as a convention delegate, Myers cast his vote for the Hanna-McKinley faction of the Ohio delegation, giving them control. In 1896 Myers was again appointed as a delegate, and was placed in charge of the entertainment committee for the black delegates as well as acting as one of Hanna's chief aides in securing southern black votes for McKinley.
Myers soon became a member of the State Central Committee, where he first labored to keep the black vote Republican and second to win it over to the Hanna faction. In 1897, in the wake of the Urbana lynching, Myers's diligence in organizing speakers and the publication of literature proved effective in stemming the tide of black reaction against the Republicans, thus aiding in saving the statewide ticket from defeat. In the state legislative session in January 1898, Myers worked to have Mark Hanna nominated for the senate. His efforts were successful, although he was forced to resort to vote buying of a delegate to ensure victory by the scant majority of one vote.
Myers also served as a delegate to the 1900 Republican National Convention, and was appointed twice more to the State Central Committee, However, after the deaths of McKinley and Hanna, Myers soon lost interest in the "game." For the remainder of his life he contented himself with observing the new crop of politicians and offering his shrewd comments on events to friends like Ralph Tyler, John Green and Daniel Murray. Although his observations on politicians had become more jaundiced, his loyalty to the Republican party never faltered. No matter who the candidate, the party was assured the vote of George A. Myers. From progressive to conservative, they all gained his support because Myers believed the Republican party to be in the best interest of blacks.
In part, this reflected his conservatism. He believed in the gold standard, the protective tariff, respected businessmen and deeply distrusted organized labor. Only in one area, black political and civil rights, was he not conservative. Myers was a reformer and a believer in integration. Separation to him was segregation and nothing more.
George Myers finally retired from the barber business in January 1930 because of a serious heart condition. He sold the shop to the hotel and planned a vacation. It never took place. He died in the ticket office on January 17. Myers was a member of the Elks, Masons and the Caterers Association, a black organization. He was also a member of the City Club of Cleveland. Married in 1896 to Maude Stewart, he was the father of two children, Herbert D. Myers and Dorothy Myers Grantham.
The George A. Myers papers, 1890-1929, consist of approximately 4,000 items of correspondence, newspaper clippings and biographical material. The papers are arranged chronologically and are contained in 18 document boxes. The microfilm edition consists of eight rolls. Two small folders of newspaper clippings and biographical material have not been filmed.
The major portion of the correspondence is incoming. There are also pencil and typewritten copies of a portion of Myers's outgoing personal correspondence. The papers span the period 1890-1929 with the bulk of the correspondence falling between 1896 and 1916.
While the collection is arranged chronologically, it is most easily described topically because the political, business and personal correspondence overlaps.
The political correspondence portrays Myers's activity at the national, state and local levels. It shows his influence and the extent of his contacts with various politicians ranging from Senator Marcus A. Hanna, chairman of the Republican National Committee, to J. Madison Vance, spokesman and delegate for Louisiana's first congressional district Republicans. The correspondence also shows Myers to be concerned with promoting a strong black Republican vote, a fair share of party patronage and representation in policy matters affecting the black vote.
George Myers's influence in national politics spans only eight years, 1896-1904. However, the correspondence contains valuable information on the activities of blacks in the southern Republican party and their relations with southern white Republicans. Most of the correspondence is centered around his activity in the formation of black delegate support for William McKinley at the Republican National Convention of 1896. The letters of Samuel Thompson to Myers provide information on black Republican activities at the party's national headquarters as well. There is also correspondence from J. E. Hawkins pertaining to black Republicans in Washington, D.C. and from C. W. Ferguson and John Lynch covering Mississippi politics and black Republicans in Texas. The correspondence between Mark Hanna, Charles Dick, and Myers relates primarily to party patronage.
On the state level the political correspondence covers the period 1893 through 1914 with the greatest emphasis on the 1897-1903 period, Myers's tenure on the Ohio Republican Central Executive Committee. The correspondence covers all facets of political activity, state conventions, gubernatorial and legislative campaigns, turning out a strong black Republican vote and securing patronage positions for blacks, and lobbying at legislative sessions for the reelection of Mark Hanna to the U.S. Senate and in opposition to discriminatory legislation. After 1904the correspondence consists of exchanges of opinion between Myers, Jere A. Brown, Ralph W. Tyler, Charles Cottrill, John P. Green and William H. Parham about political candidates and the degree of support of black politicians for the Republican party.
The correspondence with Senator Charles Dick, Governor George Nash and John Malloy centers primarily around patronage. However, there are exchanges relating to political conditions and campaigns which suggest Myers's influential role in state politics.
The Ohio campaign of 1897 was crucial to the Republican Party in the state. It also marked Myers's first term on the Central Executive Committee. There is a great deal of correspondence discussing campaign strategy concerning the black vote in the wake of the Urbana lynching. The correspondence includes exchanges between Myers and Governor Asa Bushnell, party chairman George Nash, and reports from black politicians on local conditions and the strength of the Republican Party in their precincts or towns. The letters point out the significance that the Republicans attached to the black vote.
Myers's involvement in Cleveland politics as reflected in the correspondence takes much the same line as his activity on the national and state levels: campaign organizer, consultant on patronage and sage concerning local conditions. There is also material relating to his involvement in improving and opening city educational, medical and social services for blacks. Also included is a review by Myers, presented to the Chamber of Commerce, on conditions in the black community and steps needed to make improvements. The local material also includes information on segregation and discrimination in Cleveland's trade schools, parks and hospitals.
Myers's business correspondence is primarily routine, concerned with ordering equipment and supplies for his barber shop. However, the correspondence with James Bradford contains some of his reflections on how to operate a business and the George Rogers letters contain his ideas on improving a barber's equipment.
The personal correspondence is notable because it contains the opinions and viewpoints of many black middle-class men as they confronted life in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The observations of James Bradford, John P. Green, F. J. Loudin, Ralph W. Tyler and Judge Robert Terrell contain insights into the attitudes of the developing black middle class and are extremely informative. The personal correspondence with Jere A. Brown, C. P. Lancaster and William H. Parham provides additional information on black Elk and Masonic organizations. The pencil and typewritten copies of Myers's letters to James Ford Rhodes contain the best evidence of his personal attitudes and ideas about politics and American society. The correspondence from Reverend William T. Anderson, an army chaplain, provides excellent descriptions of black troops in Cuba during and after the Spanish-American War and equally fine descriptions of social conditions confronting blacks traveling through or living in the South.
The Myers collection provides an excellent opportunity for the researcher to examine the activities and opportunities available to black middle-class politicians in Ohio and the south, and the opportunity to study the response of these men to the rising tide of racism in the United States. At present only two studies have been undertaken on the life of George A. Myers. One is by Professor John A. Garraty, The Barber and the Historian, comprising the edited correspondence between Myers and James Ford Rhodes and published by the Ohio Historical Society nineteen years ago. The second is by Professor Felix James, "The Civic and Political Activities of George Myers," published in the Journal of Negro History in April 1973.
There is no in-depth study of George Myers's patronage power in the national or state Republican party, or of his tenure on the State Central Executive Committee, or his activity in statewide elections in 1897, or his activity in Cleveland on the political and community service levels. Therefore, this collection should continue to be an invaluable primary research tool in documenting the contributions made by blacks to American society and politics during the 1890-1929 period.
|Roll||Box-folder range||Correspondence dates|
|Roll 1||Box 1, Folder 2 through Box 3, Folder 5||
|Roll 2||Box 3, Folder 6 through Box 6, Folder 1|| August |
|Roll 3||Box 6, Folder 2 through Box 8, Folder 3|| March |
|Roll 4||Box 8, Folder 4 through Box 10, Folder 8|| June |
|Roll 5||Box 11, Folder 1 through Box 13, Folder 4|| January |
|Roll 6||Box 13, Folder 5 through Box 15, Folder 5|| January |
|Roll 7||Box 15, Folder 6 through Box 17, Folder 6|| January |
|Roll 8||Box 18, Folder 1 through Box 18, Folder 7|| |
The George A. Myers Papers 1890-1929
Table of Contents and Overview