Philippa Duke Schuyler: African American Woman Foreign Correspondent

By Diggs-Brown, Barbara | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 1994 | Go to article overview

Philippa Duke Schuyler: African American Woman Foreign Correspondent


Diggs-Brown, Barbara, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Philippa Duke Schuyler: African American Woman Foreign Correspondent

Among the maze of corridors that make up the Pentagon, the walls of a small alcove bear inscriptions of the names of all Americans killed in Vietnam. One inscription reads: "Philippa Duke Schuyler - May 9, 1967."(2)

Journalism history has no such alcove, but if it did, it would probably fail, as do its chronicles, to include Schuyler. She was the first African American woman journalist to report on the war in Vietnam.(3) As a foreign correspondent for a half dozen news organizations including the Manchester Union Leader and United Press, Schuyler was an African American voice during the middle of this century. Through her journalistic skills and activism, Schuyler supported conservative political ideology and the international crusade for human rights. She is also an example of the many African Americans who felt compelled to live abroad to gain appreciation and recognition for their work.

While journalism history overlooks Schuyler,(4) American history does not exclude her completely. Schuyler, an accomplished classical composer and pianist, journalist, linguist, and author, was the subject of many newspaper articles from age two until her death. Born in New York City's Harlem, Schuyler was a child of superior intellect. When she was nine, The New York City Clinic for Gifted Children rated Schuyler at sixteen mental years. New York University rated her I.Q. at 188, and Fordham University rated it at 185. Both schools rated 140 I. Q. as that of a genius.(5)

The Schuyler family was more affluent than most in the Harlem community. Her father, George S. Schuyler, was editor of the Pittsburgh Courier and a syndicated columnist who wrote several books. Her mother, Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, was a painter and writer. The Schuylers knew and worked with leaders of the Harlem Renaissance period, and they hosted local and world leaders in the arts, politics, and government.(6)

Philippa's fame was so great that her fifth birthday present -- a grand piano -- and her worldwide classical piano tours were reported in the news media around the world.(7) In 1940, Time heralded her as the brightest young composer in the United States.(8) She was an active composer and performer. At age four, she had composed ten pieces, surpassing Mozart's record of only one piece by that age. By age eleven, she had written 100 pieces for piano. At fourteen, she won both first and second prizes in a national competition held by the Grinnell Foundation of Detroit, and her prize-winning work was performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 1950 she made her premier international performance in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Schuyler rediscovered her childhood love for writing while in Haiti and began her journalism career with a five-part series for the Pittsburgh Courier.(9)

She found also she had a talent for encouraging others to relate their stories to her. In 1960 Schuyler wrote in the author's preface to her autobiography: "Wherever I traveled, people confided in me. As if they were still puzzled themselves by what had happened. I listened eagerly, often shocked but fascinated. This was my college education! It all helped me form a more accurate picture of life."(10)

Schuyler made two trips to Vietnam as a correspondent. After completing the second, Schuyler delayed her scheduled departure to the United States. On May 9, 1967 she died a hero while rescuing Vietnamese orphans. She died in a helicopter which exploded in midair and crashed into Da Nang Bay. She was the second American woman correspondent killed in action. American and international dailies announced her death on their front pages, but journalism history reference sources ignore her.(11)

The story of Philippa Duke Schuyler's 36 years deserves a place in journalism history. She covered the world for the Manchester Union Leader, United Press, Spaeda Syndicate, The New York Daily Mirror, Triumph magazine, and the National Catholic Press. …

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