Well, here it is
the third Black History Month, and I'll bet you haven't heard one thing about
George S. Schuyler (1895-1977). What's that, you say -- there's only ONE
Black History Month? Where have you been?
New Year's Day signals the beginning of Black History Month I, and last summer
in New York, for several weeks, some Harlem institutions held celebrations
that certainly made it sound like we were in BHM. And on March 8, Newsday published a typical BHM puff piece, by Associated Press
reporter William Kates, on the call, by descendants of “underground railroad”
heroine Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), “the Moses of her people,” for a national
holiday in her honor in March.
About 12 years ago, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)
said that every month should be Black History Month, and we're well on our
way towards realizing that dubious goal. Note, too, that while for years,
racist black activists and second-rate comics have complained, “You see that
they give us the shortest month!,” the celebration was founded in 1926 by
black nationalist scholar-activist Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) as Negro
History Week in February, to coincide with the Great Emancipator's birthday.
That all that time devoted to celebration and alleged learning has led to
racist myths rather than enlightenment, is typical of contemporary racial
S. Schuyler was, simply, the greatest black journalist this country has ever
produced. From 1924-1966, he bestrode the negro press like a colossus. Working
for Robert Lee Vann's (1879-1940) Pittsburgh Courier weekly newspaper,
under his own name, Schuyler penned a column, “Views and Reviews,” of which
H.L. Mencken remarked, “I am more and more convinced that he is the most
competent editorial writer now in practice in this great free republic.”
Schuyler was in turn known as “the Negro's Mencken.” Schuyler wrote the Courier's weekly unsigned, house editorial. He traveled the world, investigating stories, which he wired back to the Courier,
such as his world scoop on the return of slavery to Liberia, which had been
founded in 1847 by American freedmen. (He was also the first black journalist
to write, as a freelancer, for leading white publications, such as the New York Evening Post (now the New York Post), Washington Post, The Nation and The American Mercury).
And under no less than seven pseudonyms, in addition to occasional work under
his own name, he wrote the serial pulp fiction that proved to be the Courier's
most popular feature (Samuel I. Brooks, Rachel Call, Edgecombe Wright, John
Kitchen, William Stockton, Verne Caldwell and D. Johnson).
Schuyler was also the greatest racial satirist this country has ever seen, whose classic 1931 novel, Black No More has twice been reprinted in the past 15 years.
In the same year that Black No More appeared, Schuyler's novel, Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia, was published, in which he presented, in fictional form, his discovery of the very real Liberian slave trade.
journalist, I can't carry Schuyler's jock strap. And yet, on some days, this
giant has fewer google entries than even I do! Usually, the only time he
gets noticed during one of the Black History Months, is when I write about
him. And when Schuyler does get mentioned by what journalist Tony Brown calls,
in The Truth According to Tony Brown, the “Black Unaccountable Machine” (B.U.M.), it is to slight him, to insult him, to misrepresent him.
George Schuyler's problem was that he was (gasp) … a conservative!
In the mid-1990s, the New York Times hired Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. to do a hit piece on Schuyler in the Book Review,
in which Gates, who fancies himself the second coming of W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963),
derided Schuyler as a self-hating black, a “fragmented” man.
when the alleged newspaper of record commissioned Phyllis Rose to review
Kathryn Talalay's 1995 biography of Schuyler's daughter, Philippa, Composition in Black and White,
the reviewer devoted only one sentence to the father, whom she reduced to
a crank. But when Philippa Schuyler died in 1967 in a helicopter crash, during
a humanitarian mission in Vietnam, she was working as a journalist, following
in her father’s footsteps, both professionally and politically. How, then,
could Rose deride the father as a crank, while praising the daughter?
In 1998, when Long Island University gave a special George Polk Award to the Pittsburgh Courier (not the black newspaper that currently uses its name), and feted its few living former staffers, LIU, the New York Times and the Daily News (and Daily News
columnist E.R. Shipp) celebrated aged mediocrities, while assiduously refusing
to so much as mention the one person responsible for the award: George Schuyler.
(The newspapers both refused, as well, to publish my letters mentioning Schuyler.)
And in 1999, the PBS “documentary,” The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,
written by Jill and Stanley Nelson, Lou Potter and Marcia A. Smith, and directe