From Black Liberal to Black Conservative: George S. Schuyler, 1923-1935

By Williams, Oscar R. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

From Black Liberal to Black Conservative: George S. Schuyler, 1923-1935


Williams, Oscar R., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


From Black Liberal to Black Conservative: George S. Schuyler, 1923-1935

Since the early 1980's, the group of African American intellectuals labeled "Black Neo-Conservatives" have become a vocal component within the larger American conservative movement of the 1980's and 1990's. Though their white counterparts have received more attention, the Black Neo-Conservatives have gained considerable attention since the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Their platform consists of challenging civil rights programs based on race and social programs they claim encourage dependency. Instead, Black Neo-Conservatives encourage "self-help" as a means for the African American community to solve its problems and a return to "traditional" values. One intriguing fact about Neo-Black Conservatives is that many profess of having liberal origins. Conservatives such as Stanley Crouch, Shelby Steele, Robert Woodson, and Glenn Loury, discuss their sympathies with the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the 1960's and 1970's. Assuming that Black Neo-Conservatives are sincere in their beliefs, one must wonder the reasons for their conversion. One may find clues in analyzing the early career of George Samuel Schuyler.

George Schuyler, journalist, critic, novelist, satirist, and conservative, was one of the most outspoken and productive African American writers during the 1920's and 1930's. Appearing in several publications of the day, Schuyler proceeded to tell the world his view of life. With acidic wit and dogmatic cynicism, he went against the grain of American society and bitterly chastised white and black Americans for failures and mistakes real and imagined. His articles evoked the extreme of emotions from readers. Schuyler also managed to publish two novels in 1931 that brought him critical acclaim (Black No More and Slaves Today). During this productive period, Schuyler was categorized as a radical socialist, yet his writings held conservative philosophies that were more pronounced in the 1950's and 1960's. Unfortunately, little has been written of Schuyler's life and career. In order to analyze the early career and shift from radical socialist to conservative, Schuyler's works from 1923-1935 are examined. These years are chosen because they tend to be Schuyler's most prolific and formative years as a writer. Several factors are observed in order to understand Schuyler's conversion. Among them are the following: 1) A conservative upbringing during his childhood, 2) His prominence as a critic during the Harlem Renaissance, 3) Schuyler's tutelage under critic H.L. Mencken, and 4) His desire for mainstream acceptance.

George Samuel Schuyler was born February 25, 1895 in Providence, Rhode Island and reared in Syracuse, New York. Schuyler contends that his ancestry was free from any experience with slavery. He claimed that "my folks have just been free black citizens of New York state for the last 125 years."(2) Schuyler's maternal ancestry is traced back to a great-grandmother who was an indentured servant in New Jersey, originating from Madagascar. Later she married a Saxe-Coeburg sea captain named Leidendraught. Out of this union came Schuyler's grandmother Helen Louisa Leidendraught, born in 1831. Leidendraught later married Philip Todd Fisher, and out of this union came Schuyler's mother, Eliza Jane Fisher.(3) As for his paternal ancestry, Schuyler boasted of a great-grandfather who fought with Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler. He also speculates that his ancestors may have been servants of General Schuyler. Schuyler's father was George Francis Schuyler, who died when he was three. Later, his mother married Joseph Brown, who became his stepfather.(4)

Reared in Syracuse during the early 1900's, Schuyler grew up in an industrial and manufacturing city with a population of 100,000. Within the population, African Americans numbered approximately 1,000.(5) Competition with larger numbers of European immigrants, coupled with the harsh racial segregation of the day, greatly limited the opportunities of African Americans in Syracuse. …

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