BY JACK KERWICK
You simply—and sadly—don’t hear much about George Schuyler these days.
Schuyler was born in Rhode Island in 1895. From the 1920’s to the 1960’s, he was widely regarded as perhaps the most prominent black columnist in the country. Yet it is probably safer to say that he was among the ablest of writers, black or white, of the twentieth century. This, at any rate, is how his good friend and quasi-mentor, the famed H.L. Mencken, once described him.
Schuyler was one of the editors of The Pittsburgh Courier, the second largest “Negro” publication in America, in which he published a weekly column. He also published widely in magazines black and white, right and left. Schuyler was part of that circle of black intellectuals that later became identified with “the Harlem Renaissance.”
So, why do we not hear more about this accomplished figure?
The answer to this question is straightforward enough: over the span of his long and illustrious career, Schuyler evolved into a conservative.
But he wasn’t just any old kind of conservative. Schuyler relished in dragging the mushy minded heads of utopian dreamers to the guillotine of his razor sharp wit. The thing is, the folly on which he most often set his sights is the racially correct orthodoxy of today.
Take, for example, his position on Malcolm X. On more than one occasion, and with the greatest of ease, he took the former minister of the Nation of Islam (NOI)—as well as the Nation of Islam itself—to the proverbial woodshed.
Once, during a radio broadcasted discussion on black American Muslims, Schuyler and Malcolm X were members of a panel along with James Baldwin and some other notable figures of the day. Schuyler wasted no time in trimming Malcolm down to size. The Nation’s worldview is “anti-Christian” and “anti-white,” Schuyler abruptly declared. Worse, among “the many falsehoods upon which this movement is founded” is the fiction that “white Christians were responsible for slavery in the world.” In reality, however, “the Moslems carried on slavery for something like twelve or thirteen hundred years before the white European Christians started it.”
During this same exchange, Schuyler observed the contradiction at the very core of Malcolm’s NOI philosophy. On the one hand, the NOI insists that it is apolitical. On the other hand, it demands a separate territory within the continental United States for itself. Schuyler pointed out to Malcolm the impossibility of reconciling these two claims. Facetiously, the former asserted his desire to “know how any group in the United States is going to separate part of” the country “to live in without having something to do with politics.”
Eight years after Malcolm X’s assassination, a movement was afoot to memorialize him. Schuyler responded by saying that we may as well memorialize Benedict Arnold. He said that Malcolm, like his one time mentor and the man who would eventually be the death of him—Elijah Muhammad—was “an underworld character.” Schuyler admits to having been “astonished” by Malcolm’s “wide ignorance” of history generally and Islamic history in particular. Malcolm had “the all black complex”—at least until Elijah Muhammad and the Nation cut him loose and he spent eleven days traveling to Mecca. There, he claimed to have experienced for himself what Schuyler told him years earlier: some of the very same “white devils” who Malcolm became famous for demonizing were also Muslims!
Schuyler is skeptical that Malcolm’s worldview was really revolutionized within less than two weeks. He noted that while “it was good to learn” that Malcolm “now believed whites were human beings,” he also pointed out that Malcolm did not learn that “slavery was widespread in Arabia.” Neither did he learn “about the slave traffic from Africa to Mecca where ‘pilgrims’ are still sold for payment of their passage to the Holy City.” Finally, Malcolm failed to mention to the press that he had met with “radical and black racist groups in Africa [.]”
Before no time, Schuyler remarked, Malcolm’s “five-cent sheet, The Blacklash,” was headlining “the same old racist bilge [.]”
Malcolm had not changed his spots, as far as Schuyler was concerned. “During the past generation,” Schuyler wrote, “the black ‘leaders’ afflicting the nation have been mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs [.]” Malcolm X, he concluded, was no exception. To the end, he remained “a pixilated criminal [.]”
Malcolm X has assumed a cultural significance of legendary proportions. Schuyler’s withering critique of him is sufficient to account for the state of neglect into he has fallen. However, for as large as Malcolm has become, he still hasn’t usurped the privileged place of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pantheon of politically correct heroes.
In my next article, we will see that Schuyler was no more merciful toward King than he was toward Malcolm.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Jack Kerwick, holds a BA in religious studies and philosophy from Wingate University, a MA in philosophy from Baylor University, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Temple University, and is currently adjunct professor of philosophy at Rowan University; Penn State University; and Burlington County College. Mr. Kerwick writes from the classical liberal perspective inspired by Edmund Burke. He blogs at www.jackkerwick.com. You can contact him at [email protected]