Skip to comments.George A. Myers
Posted on 11/29/2003 5:55:55 PM PST by William McKinley
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.
My late mother's birthday as well.
We got some bad JuJu, man.