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Mon, 02.25.1895

George Schuyler born

George Schuyler

*On this date in 1895 George Schuyler was born.  He was an African American author, journalist, and conservative social commentator after he had supported socialism.  

George Samuel Schuyler was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to George Francis Schuyler, a chef, and Eliza Jane Schuyler.  Schuyler's paternal great-grandfather was believed to be a Black soldier working for general Philip Schuyler, whose surname the soldier adopted. Schuyler's maternal great-grandmother was a Malagasy servant who married a ship captain from Saxe-Coburg in Bavaria.  Schuyler's father died when he was young.  George spent his early years in Syracuse, New York, where his mother moved their family after she remarried.

In 1912, Schuyler, at the age of 17, enlisted in the U.S. Army and was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, serving in Seattle and Hawaii. He went AWOL after a Greek immigrant, who had been instructed to shine Schuyler's shoes, refused to do so because he was Black. After turning himself in, Schuyler was convicted by a military court and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released after nine months as a model prisoner.  After his discharge, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a handyman, doing odd jobs. During this period, he read many books which sparked his interest in socialism.

He lived for a period in the Phyllis Wheatley Hotel, run by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and attended UNIA meetings. Schuyler dissented from Garvey's philosophy and began writing about his perspectives.  He engaged himself in a circle of socialist friends, including the Black socialist group Friends of Negro Freedom. This connection led to his employment by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen's magazine, The Messenger, the group's journal. Schuyler's column, "Shafts and Darts: A Page of Calumny and Satire", came to the attention of Ira F. Lewis, manager of the Pittsburgh Courier. In 1924, Schuyler accepted an offer from the Courier to author a weekly column.  By the mid-1920s, Schuyler had come to disdain socialism, believing that socialists were frauds who actually cared very little about Negroes.

Schuyler's writing caught the eye of journalist/social critic H. L. Mencken, who wrote, "I am more and more convinced that [Schuyler] is the most competent editorial writer now in practice in this great free republic." Schuyler contributed ten articlesto the American Mercury during Mencken's tenure as editor, all dealing with Black issues, and all notable for Schuyler's wit and incisive analysis.  In 1926, Schuyler became the Chief Editorial Writer at the Courier. That year, he published a controversial article entitled "The Negro-Art Hokum" in The Nation, in which he claimed that because Blacks have been influenced by Euro-American culture for 300 years, "the Afro-American is merely a lamp blacked Anglo-Saxon" and that no distinctly "negro" style of art exists in the USA Langston Hughes's "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain", a response to Schuyler's piece, appeared in the same magazine.  

Schuyler married Josephine Lewis Cogdell, a liberal white Texan heiress and writer, in New York City on January 6, 1928.  Their daughter, Philippa Schuyler was a child prodigy and noted concert pianist, who later followed her father's footsteps and embarked on a career in journalism.   In 1929, Schuyler's pamphlet Racial Inter-Marriage in the United States called for solving the country's race problem through miscegenation, which was then illegal in most states.  In 1931, Schuyler published Black No More, which tells the story of a scientist who develops a process that turns Black people to white, a book that has since been reprinted twice. Two of Schuyler's targets in the book were Christianity and organized religion, reflecting his innate skepticism of both. His mother had been religious but not a regular churchgoer.

As Schuyler aged, he held both white and black churches in contempt.  Between 1936 and 1938 Schuyler the highly controversial book Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia.  From 1937 to 1944, Schuyler was the business manager of the NAACP. During the McCarthy Era, Schuyler moved sharply to the political right and would later contribute to American Opinion, the journal of the John Birch Society.  In 1947, he published The Communist Conspiracy against the Negroes. His conservatism was a counterpoint to the predominant liberal philosophy of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964, while working for the Pittsburgh Courier, Schuyler expressed opposition to Martin Luther King Jr.'s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, writing: "Dr. King's principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable Typhoid Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed with perversions of Christian doctrine, and grabbing fat lecture fees from the shallow-pated."  The Courier editorial and publishing staff refused to publish the essay.

Schuyler opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While acknowledging that white discrimination against blacks was “morally wrong, nonsensical, unfair, un-Christian and cruelly unjust,” he opposed federal action to coerce changes in public attitudes. “New countries have a passion for novelty," he wrote, "and a country like America, which grew out of conquest, immigration, revolution and civil war, is prone to speed social change by law, or try to do so, on the assumption that by such legerdemain it is possible to make people better by force.” Despite the inherent unfairness of racial discrimination, he considered federal intrusion into private affairs an infringement on individual liberty, explaining that "it takes lots of time to change social mores, especially with regard to such hardy perennials as religion, race and nationality, to say nothing of social classes.”  

In the 1960s, Schuyler, who had earlier supported the rights of Black South Africans, was led by his anticommunism to oppose taking any action against South African Apartheid, saying in a radio broadcast, "In South Africa you have a system of apartheid. That's their business. I don’t think it’s the business of other people to change their society."   Schuyler's autobiography, Black and Conservative, was published in 1966.  In 1967 his daughter, Phillipa was killed on an assignment in Vietnam for Loeb's publication. His wife committed suicide two years later.  Outlets for Schuyler's written work diminished until he was an obscure figure by the time of his death on August 31, 1977.

As the liberal Black writer Ishmael Reed notes in his introduction to a 1999 republication of Black No More, Schuyler's 1931 race satire, in the final years of Schuyler's life, it was considered taboo in black circles even to interview the aging writer.  

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