Academic journal article Policy Review

Justice to George S. Schuyler

Academic journal article Policy Review

Justice to George S. Schuyler

Article excerpt

LAST YEAR, Random House republished Black No More, a satirical novel by George S. Schuyler (pronounced sky-ler). First published in 1931, the book is a clever story about what would happen if blacks could change their skin color at will. It sends up both race obsessed whites and the leading black figures of the day. All of this is unremarkable -- that is, until the reader sees the anonymous biographical note on Schuyler that opens the new edition. We learn that Schuyler was born in Rhode Island in 1895, had parents who "stressed the values of hard work, self-reliance, and determination," and that Schuyler was once "one of this country's most eminent black journalists." The title of his autobiography: Black and Conservative.

In fact, Schuyler, who died in 1977, was one of the great anti-communists of the twentieth century -- it would not be an exaggeration to call him the black Whittaker Chambers (Schuyler, like Chambers, even began his career as a socialist) -- as well as a remarkable journalist. In his worldliness and disdain for cant, he was second only to H.L. Mencken, his friend, mentor, and a man who referred to Schuyler as "perhaps the best of all the Aframerican journalists." He was, as one of his old colleagues put it, "a friend to the high priests and the Platos of the streets." Black and Conservative, long out of print, is a classic.

Even in a culture whose media and publishing are dominated by liberal elites, it's remarkable how completely Schuyler's name has disappeared from history. A trip to the Library of Congress reveals that he is nowhere to be found in the Contemporary Black Biography, Who's Who Among African-Americans, or the Dictionary of American Negro Biography. The Internet yields as much information on Schuyler's daughter Philippa, a child prodigy who would grow up to die tragically in Vietnam. There was only one copy of Black and Conservative in the entire Washington, D.C., public library system. Clerks at several area bookstores had never heard of George Schuyler.

There is, however, a long entry for Schuyler in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. The entry was written by Nickieann Fleener of the University of Utah. Fleener does a fair job summarizing Schuyler's life. She itemizes Schuyler's vita: associate editor, columnist, and reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier, once one of the nation's premier black newspapers, from 1924 to 1966; "one of the first black journalists to gain national prominence in the twentieth century"; and a man who thought of himself as "a citizen of the world as well as a black man." Schuyler "traveled extensively during his career of over fifty years," and "was one of the first black reporters to serve as a foreign correspondent for a major metropolitan newspaper," the New York Evening Post. He was "particularly familiar with social, economic, and political conditions in Africa and Latin America. ... Because of [Schuyler's] unique position in the black press, the strength of his satirical style, and the diversity of his subject matter, numero us newspapers and magazines sought his work through the late 1960s. However, Schuyler's dogmatic conservatism ran in absolute contrast to the philosophies expressed by virtually every major spokesperson of the civil rights movement. As the movement grew, the outlets for Schuyler's work shrank until he was in virtual obscurity at the time of his death in 1977."

What Fleener doesn't do, however -- what only a reading of Schuyler can do -- is give a sense of Schuyler's writing style. He was called "the black Mencken," and with good cause: He was astringent, authoritative, patrician, funny, and brutally honest in a way that has become impossible for most working journalists today. Schuyler refused, in the most delightful way, to countenance nonsense. Here, from a piece published in the American Mercury in 1939, he tackles blacks' resistance to the wooing of communists:

Naturally the communists regarded Negroes as sure-fire converts, and have proselyted them these twenty years. …

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