George W Buckner

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A photograph of Buckner's father (Anthony T. Buckner) and daughter (Eileen Woods Buckner) taken by Rufus W. Holsinger in 1918. Reproduced from Jefferson's University.

George W Buckner was a Charlottesville-born citizen and educator who was an influential leader in the Harlem Renaissance (known as the "New Negro Movement" in contemporary times), helping to spread its values across the country.


Buckner was born in Charlottesville around 1886. He was the son of the local grocer Anthony T. Buckner and attended local school, being able to read and write from a young age. He also aided his father in running his grocery store, which was located at 904 West Main Street. Buckner graduated from Hampton University (then known as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute) and subsequently went to Virginia Union University, later taking a special course at the New York School for Social Workers.

Buckner lived in Charlottesville for some time during his adulthood, residing in a house at 322 6th Street SW in Fifeville (with one of his neighbors being Benjamin Tonsler, who lived across the street in the Benjamin Tonsler House at 327 6th Street SW) and continuing the grocery store after his father's retirement.[1] On February 12, 1921, a piece he had written about Black empowerment entitled "The New Negro" was published by The Messenger (Charlottesville's local Black newspaper, edited and published by John G. Shelton from 1910 until around 1927). In this article, Buckner demanded representation for the city's Black community on City Council and the Charlottesville School Board, the formation of a Black public high school, the abolition of 'Jim Crow' street cars, and upgraded street facilities in the city's Black districts. “We are tax payers and law abiding citizens," Buckner wrote, "We know our strength and will accept nothing short of justice!”[2].

Buckner eventually became a one-time instructor of economics and sociology at Tuskegee Institute. He later accepted a position with the National Urban League of St. Louis, at one time even being recognized by 1928 issue of the Southern Workman as “one of the Negro leaders of that city." Buckner was instrumental in organizing the People’s Finance Company for Negroes and became its vice president and general manager, having had a part in organizing a proposed bank for African-Americans.

At the 1921 Conference of the Urban League in Chicago, George outlined his accomplishments as the executive secretary of the organization. Immediately prior to this time, he had been working to organize a program of rehabilitation between whites and blacks for the good of the community in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the aftermath of the Tulsa race massacre. In a 1921 issue of The Broad Ax SLC, George wrote of his assignment in Tulsa:

“The whole colored area has been wiped out with only a few homes here and there remaining - these owned mostly by white people. Several thousand have left, and the M.K. & T. Railroad is offering half fare to all who wish to leave. The situation here is black beyond description. I am staying on a cot in the basement of the Tulsa Hotel. I will stay here until the situation has been worked out. In the meantime, I will be working along heading to an organization. The city is still guarded and I had to show my telegrams in order to get a permit to remain here.”

Buckner died on March 18, 1928 at his home in St. Louis. He was survived by his wife and three children.


Buckner's father, Anthony T. Buckner (1846 - December 24, 1923) was a well-known Charlottesville merchant and former enslaved servant of the Fife family. He had been the body servant of James Fife throughout the Civil War and was married to Mary Churchman Buckner (1859 - 1934). The Charlottesville 1895 "People of Property" record listed him as owning lots and buildings together valued at over $1000. On August 12, 1918, he and his granddaughter Eileen (the daughter of Buckner) were photographed by Rufus W. Holsinger in formal attire. This photograph was featured in the “Visions of Progress: Portraits of Dignity, Style and Racial Uplift” exhibit of Holsinger's photographs that was on display at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library from 2022-2023.

Buckner was married to Geneva Tonsler Buckner, the daughter of Horace and Pocahontas Tonsler. Buckner and Geneva had three children together, including a daughter named Eileen Woods Buckner who had been born on March 11, 1909. Eileen was pictured alongside Anthony T. Buckner in the aforementioned photograph taken by Holsinger.

Anthony T. Buckner, Geneva, Horace, Pocahontas, and Eileen were all buried near each other at the Daughters of Zion Cemetery.[3]