George Schuyler was the preeminent African-American journalist of the early 20th century and considered one of the finest newsmen of any period. Called the "Black Mencken," Schuyler was the first African American to be known primarily as a satirist and the first to serve as a foreign correspondent for a major metropolitan newspaper.
George Samuel Schuyler was born on February 25, 1895, in Providence, Rhode Island, and was raised in Syracuse, New York. His father, George Francis Schuyler, was a chef in a local hotel, and the family lived in a racially mixed middle-class neighborhood. From his mother, Eliza Jane Fischer, George learned to read and write at a young age. He developed a love of books from the modest library that she had collected.
Schuyler attended public school in New York until the age of 17, when he left to enlist in the U.S. Army. From 1912 to 1919, he served in the black 25th U.S. Infantry, earning the rank of first lieutenant and fighting in France during World War I.
In 1921, Schuyler joined the Socialist Party, where he met Asa Philip Randolph, editor of the Messenger, a radical black magazine based in Harlem. Schuyler began his long and prolific career in journalism in 1923 as an assistant editor at the Messenger, and then as a columnist, contributing a monthly piece entitled "Shafts and Darts: A Page of Calumny and Satire." The following year, he became the New York correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier, forming a relationship that would endure for more than 40 years. In that time, he wrote a weekly column, "Views and Reviews," and several investigative pieces, including a series on race relations in Mississippi in 1925–26. He also served as a foreign correspondent in South America, Portugal, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Though Schuyler's work dominated the pages of such esteemed newspapers and journals of the African-American community as the Messenger, the Crisis, and the Pittsburgh Courier, Schuyler also published essays in such notable mainstream publications as the New York Evening Post, the Washington Post, H. L. Mencken's American Mercury, and the Nation. Schuyler's essay "The Negro Art Hokum," published in the Nation in 1926, caused many of his contemporaries, writers of the Harlem Renaissance, to criticize him for his perceived assimilationist views.
His assertion that literature should be judged by literary standards and not on the basis of race prompted a reply by the poet Langston Hughes, a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. In his famous essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Hughes criticizes those black writers "who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration." Schuyler's marriage to a white artist, Josephine Cogdell, in 1928, and his rigorous criticisms of fellow African-American artists and activists contributed to the growing perception among some that Schuyler was an enemy of his race.
In 1931, Schuyler further distanced himself from his contemporaries with the publication of his most successful work, the satirical novel Black No More. In the story, Dr. Junius Crookman makes a landmark discovery: a method to convert black people to white. The novel examines the ramifications of such a change and exposes the myth of racial purity on both sides of the color line. Schuyler includes thinly disguised parodies of many leading African-American figures, including W. E. B. DuBois (Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard), Marcus Garvey (Santop Licorice), and Madame C. J. "Sarah" Walker (Madame Sisseretta Blandish).
Although Schuyler's reputation has rested primarily on his contributions to journalism and his novel Black No More, recent scholarship has revealed that between 1933 and 1939, he published some 54 short stories and four serialized novels in the pages of the Pittsburgh Courier under various pseudonyms. The novels included The Black Internationale and Black Empire, published together in 1991 by Northeastern University Press under the title Black Empire. The nationalist tone of this work, in which the charismatic and diabolical Dr. Belsidus leads a worldwide revolt against white society to reclaim Africa and establish a dominant black society, contrasts sharply with Schuyler's negative characterization of nationalist leaders such as Marcus Garvey.
In his later years, Schuyler grew increasingly conservative, eschewing his former ties to the Socialist Party and becoming something of a red-baiter in his militant stance against communism, which he perceived was misleading African Americans with a false sense of solidarity. He published his autobiography, Black and Conservative, in 1966 and continued to stir up controversy with his criticism of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement as a whole, prompting the Pittsburgh Courier to disavow any agreement with his editorial opinions and eventually to drop him as a correspondent.
Schuyler ended his long and distinguished career in journalism with the ultraconservative Manchester Union Leader, a New Hampshire–based daily. His daughter Philippa, an accomplished concert pianist and also a correspondent for the Union Leader, died on May 9, 1967, in a helicopter crash while on assignment in Vietnam, and his wife died two years later. George Samuel Schuyler died in 1977.
Despite the alienation he suffered as a result of his extreme political and racial views, Schuyler remains an intriguing and influential figure in African-American literature. He was a pioneer in the genre of science fiction, leading the way for later authors such as Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler, and certainly one of the finest journalists of the early 20th century.
Ferguson, Jeffrey B. The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "A Fragmented Man: George Schuyler and the Claims of Race." New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1992, pp. 42–43.
Schuyler, George S. Black and Conservative: The Autobiography of George S. Schuyler. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991.
Williams, Oscar R. George S. Schuyler: Portrait of a Black Conservative. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007.
Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):
Bader, Philip, and Catherine Reef. "Schuyler, George." African-American Writers, Revised Edition, A to Z of African Americans. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2011. African-American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE01&iPin=AAW0121&SingleRecord=True (accessed August 30, 2014).
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