Friday, February 17, 2012

George S. Schuyler and His Many Selves

NRO Weekend, February 3-4, 2001
Forgotten One
By Nicholas Stix, a New York-based freelance writer
[Corrected on February 17, 2012]

During Black History Month, mainstream and black media outlets will ignore many important names. Names like Samuel I. Brooks, Rachel Call, Edgecombe Wright, John Kitchen, William Stockton, Verne Caldwell and D. Johnson.

Who were those people? Why, they weren't "people" at all, but rather pseudonyms used by George S. Schuyler.

George Samuel Schuyler (1895-1977) was the most prolific, influential journalist of the golden age of what was known as the Negro press, and one of the most important journalists America has ever produced. From 1924-1966, he dominated the pages of the weekly Pittsburgh Courier, America's leading black newspaper. And yet, you'll hear Schuyler's name mentioned during February — if at all — only in passing, and accompanied by a warning, say, "conservative columnist George S. Schuyler."

In a typical 1930s edition of the Courier, Schuyler would have written his column, "Views and Reviews," the paper's unsigned editorial, and might have contributed a dispatch from South America, the Caribbean, Africa, or the Deep South, or a chapter of a serialized novel using one of the above-listed pseudonyms. All for $50 per week.

Meanwhile, Schuyler also wrote for the most prestigious black journals, including A. Philip Randolph's The Messenger, and W.E.B. DuBois's The Crisis.

During the same period, Schuyler's work also appeared in leading white publications, e.g., the New York Evening Post (now known as the New York Post), Washington Post, The Nation, and The American Mercury. One of the stories that made him famous beyond the black press was a series he wrote, from Liberia, on slave labor. As Schuyler wrote, that was "the first time anything like this had happened to a Negro newspaperman…. So far as I know a colored writer had never before served as a foreign correspondent for an important metropolitan newspaper."

H.L. Mencken, who frequently published Schuyler's essays in The American Mercury, said of him, "I am more and more convinced that he is the most competent editorial writer now in practice in this great free republic."

The discovery, after his death, that Schuyler was the author of the serialized novels that were the Pittsburgh Courier's most popular feature, should have heightened the fame of the man known in his day as the "Negro Mencken." But Schuyler will not be lionized. A socialist as a young man, by his forties, he'd gotten it "right." In the title of his 1966 autobiography, Schuyler proclaimed himself Black and Conservative.

Today's conformist, multicultural vision is blind to George Schuyler's heroic talent.

Already in 1926, in his famous essay, "The Negro Art Hokum," in The Nation, Schuyler argued that there could be no separate, "black" aesthetic. Returning to that theme in 1936, he observed, "As the mountain labored and brought forth a mouse, so all of this hullabaloo about the Negro Renaissance in art and literature did stimulate the writing of some literature of importance which will live. The amount, however, is very small, but such as it is, it is meritorious because it is literature and not Negro literature. It is judged by literary and not by racial standards, which is as it should be.

Although contemptuous of all racial chauvinism, the mercurial Schuyler's own nationalistic feelings sometimes bubbled to the surface, as when, in 1936, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, and he called for a black expeditionary force to wreak revenge on the Fascists. And Schuyler, who observed the fall of Back-to-Africa black supremacist Marcus Garvey, and the rise of the Nation of Islam, entered into the black nationalist mindset with ease. His black nationalist serial novellas, The Black Internationale and Black Empire, which ran from 1936-1938, caused the Courier's circulation to double to 250,000.

The stories chronicle the machinations of evil genius Dr. Henry Belsidus, who is part Marcus Garvey, part Dr. Mabuse, and part Nation of Islam-founder, Wallace Fard. A debonair doctor and abortionist to white society ladies by day, Belsidus is the diabolical leader of a black church/business/criminal/military empire, with which he plans to free Africa from white colonialism, and eventually, in a racial Armageddon, conquer the world.

As Belsidus confides to his protege, reporter Carl Slater, "It sounds mad, doesn't it?"

"Yes, rather Garveyistic…"

"My son," he continued gravely, "all great schemes appear mad in the beginning. Christians, Communists, Fascists, and Nazis were at first called scary. Success made them sane…. My ideal and objective is very frankly to cast down the Caucasians and elevate the colored people in their places….

"I use their women to aid in their destruction. As long as they succeed in carrying out my mission, I spare them. When they fail, I destroy them…."

In Dr. Belsidus' Church of Love, his mouthpiece, the Rev. Samson Binks sermonizes, "Leave your so-called Christian churches. Force them to close their doors. Christianity is a religion for slaves. You are no longer slaves. You are free men. You are warriors. You are rulers…. You longer bow down to the white man…. You no longer turn the other cheek when smitten. You no longer forgive your enemies."

George S. Schuyler likened race relations in America to a "lunatic asylum." Using his own name, in 1931 he published to critical acclaim his satirical, H. G. Wells-inspired novel, Black No More.

Black No More's protagonist, Dr. Junius Crookman, invents a machine that turns black folks white. In short order, Crookman becomes a millionaire, as eventually all blacks, Crookman included, undergo the treatment. Adopting new names, they all marry unsuspecting whites. Comic complications ensue when Crookman's treatment fails to change his patients' genetic racial code, which reappears unexpectedly in their children.

Black No More lampooned black nationalists and civil rights activists' claims to racial solidarity, the lunacy of white supremacists, and the progressive pretenses of wealthy white females, who only seek out sex with black men, in order to scandalize their parents. I believe Black No More is also the source for the Nation of Islam's "Myth of Yacub," which insists that the white race was created by an evil black scientist 6,000 years ago.

In 1964, when Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize, Schuyler gored him:

"Neither directly nor indirectly has Dr. King made any contribution to world (or even domestic) peace. Methinks the Lenin Prize would have been more appropriate, since it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire 60 communist front citations…. Dr. King's principle 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 refused to publish Schuyler's attack on King; William Loeb ran it instead in the Manchester Union-Leader.

As if to ensure his exile from the black press he had once dominated, Schuyler had a dead reckoning with Malcolm X:

"It is not hard to imagine the ultimate fate of a society in which a pixilated criminal like Malcolm X is almost universally praised, and has hospitals, schools, and highways named in his memory!… We might as well call out the schoolchildren to celebrate the birthday of Benedict Arnold. Or to raise a monument to Alger Hiss. We would do well to remember that all societies are destroyed from within — through weakness, immorality, crime, debauchery, and failing mentality."

We would do well to remember…George S. Schuyler.

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