It’s Black History Month again.
And this means that it is an occasion to attend to matters that have become impossible to discuss in polite society.
For example, odds are that relatively few people are aware of the name of George S. Schuyler.
Born in upstate New York in 1895, Schuyler was a black American writer, once associated with “the Harlem Renaissance,” who was perhaps one of the twentieth century’s most perceptive and wittiest observers. The famed iconoclast H.L. Mencken, of whom Schuyler was a protégé of sorts, seconds this estimation. Mencken described Schuyler as perhaps the ablest writer, black or white, of his generation.
Schuyler’s career was as extensive as it was illustrious. For over four decades, Schuyler wrote for and edited The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest black newspaper publications in the country. Yet during this time and well into the ‘70s, the decade in which Schuyler would meet his death, publications from across the ideological and racial spectrums eagerly sought to conscript Schuyler’s talents.
He authored what had become recognized as the first racially-oriented science fiction novel, Black No More, and his 1966 autobiography, Black and Conservative, has been credited by no less a figure than the black Ivy League left-wing scholar Cornel West as a “‘minor classic’ in African-American letters.”
While in the earlier decades of his career he leaned left politically, Schuyler, particularly as the Civil Rights era began to take off, began gravitating rightward. He even became a member of the John Birch Society at one point. His political conversion aside, two things about Schuyler remained constant: His passion for racial equality and his equally intense passion for anti-Communism.
Schuyler recognized that the communist left aimed to weaponize American blacks in its assault against America and, by implication, the “capitalist” and “democratic” West.He spared no occasion to fight this effort.
In 1950, Schuyler was invited to be a United States delegate to the Congress of Cultural Freedom in Berlin.While delivering his speech, “The Negro Question without Propaganda,” Schuyler took to task those “totalitarian slave states” that have waged “a vicious propaganda campaign of lies and distortions” regarding America’s treatment of its “Negro citizens [.]” These communist propagandists “have presented a picture of Negro existence in America so fantastic, so false, so contrary to the facts of his everyday life in the 48 states as to be unrecognizable by anyone familiar with the Nation.”
Schuyler was adamant, insisting that “the stereotype is so grotesque as to be at once amusing and deplorable.” Thus, those who “so readily believe it” must be lacking in “intelligence and integrity.”
He proceeded to provide an ample supply of numbers that forcefully substantiates his contention that “the progressive improvement of interracial relations in the United States is the most flattering of the many examples of the superiority of the free American civilization over the soul-shackling reactionism of totalitarian regimes.”
Indeed, Schuyler decisively made the case that courtesy of “the system of individual initiative and decentralized authority,” as well as the good will of many a white philanthropist—including white Southern philanthropists—American “Negroes” have experienced “unprecedented economic, social, and educational progress” in the United States.
This “amazing” progress in every area, including, importantly, the area of health and life expectancy, “would not have been possible had race hatred been as prevalent as reported.” Schuyler reiterated: “Such well-being could scarcely obtain in an atmosphere of terror.”
In 1963, Schuyler argued against the Civil Rights bill that would become law the following year. He made at least three arguments against it, but his “principal case” against it pertained to “the dangerous purpose it may serve.”
Namely, the proposed legislation promised to undermine “the federalized structure of our society” by allocating to the “central government,” in the name of “improve[ing] the lot of a tenth of the population,” the power to “enslave the rest of” it. Schuyler denied that he was being hyperbolic:
“Under such a law the individual everywhere is told what he must do and what he cannot do, regardless of the laws and ordinances of his state or community.”
The Civil Rights bill, Schuyler maintained, struck “a blow at the very basis of American society,” a society “founded on state sovereignty and individual liberty and preference.”
It may shock contemporary audiences to discover that Schuyler recognized in the Civil Rights movement communist control. It will doubtless shock more to learn that he had little regard for the Civil Rights leaders of the day, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
When King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Schuyler wrote that “though accustomed to seeing” this award bestowed upon “a succession of pious frauds for the purposes of political propaganda,” he shared the “shock” of the Norwegian media in learning that King would be its next recipient.
In “King: No Help to Peace,” Schuyler wrote that “neither directly nor indirectly has Dr. King made a contribution to the world (or even domestic) peace.” Alluding to King’s Communist Party “mentors,” Schuyler added: “Methinks the Lenin Prize would have been more appropriate [than the Nobel Prize] for him, for it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire sixty Communist-front citations [.]”
According to Schuyler, King’s “principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable typhoid-Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed with the perversion of Christian doctrine, and grabbing lecture fees from the shallow-pated.”
King’s “incitement,” he charged, “packed jails with Negroes and some whites, getting them beaten, bitten and firehosed, thereby bankrupting communities, raising bail and fines, to the vast enrichment of Southern Law and order.”
King “persistently entered cities… after local Negro leadership had begged” him and his entourage “to get lost.” “In none of them [these cities] was anything gained.”
Even the Montgomery bus strike, which Schuyler reluctantly acknowledges may be King’s singular “meritorious service,” was ultimately “won by the much-derided NAACP legalism which ended Jim Crow bus service everywhere by federal court order.” That is, it was not won by boycotts.
There is much more that can be said about George S. Schuyler.
And it will be said in a future essay.