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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

George Samuel Schuyler

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Schuyler received a public school education in Syracuse, New York, before enlisting in the army at age 17. During World War I, he produced satirical sketches for The Service, a military publication. When he mustered out as a first lieutenant in 1919, he began his long career as a professional journalist and wrote satirical columns for a series of black newspapers, including The Messenger (New York City) and the Pittsburgh Courier, the publication with which he was longest associated. At the same time he published essays, sketches, and satirical pieces in influential magazines such as The Nation, The American Mercury, and Reader’s Digest. Schuyler also traveled overseas, especially to West Africa and Latin America, as a foreign correspondent. In his later years he moved away from his earlier socialistic bent to become a conservative anti-Communist, joining the John Birch Society and writing for William Loeb’s Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader.

Best known for the stinging satires he published in the 1920s and 1930s, he ridiculed the “colorphobia” of both black and white Americans in articles such as “The Negro-Art Hokum” (1926), “Blessed Are the Sons of Ham” (1927), and “Our White Folks” (1927). Black No More, the first full-length satiric novel by a black American, hypothesizes an America in which a black doctor discovers a formula that makes blacks white. Chaos results as whites try to become as black as possible to distinguish themselves from their (formerly) black brethren. Schuyler’s next novel, Slaves Today, savagely attacked the slave trade in Liberia in the 1920s. His autobiographical Black and Conservative, besides containing a wealth of information on just about every political, social, literary, and journalistic black personality of the first half of the century, is a shrill anti-Communist tract.

Because he maintained there was essentially no difference between black and white Americans except in color (“the Aframerican is merely a lampblacked Anglo-Saxon,” he once wrote), and because he ridiculed black leaders from W.E.B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King, Schuyler was labeled in the heat of the 1960s as an “assimilationist” or “Uncle Tom” who thought “white” and sold out to the establishment. It was an unfair assessment; during his long career Schuyler demonstrated pride in his black heritage—a fact his critics too often ignored, mistaking his iconoclastic stance as race hatred.

Of course Schuyler was perversely proud of his reputation as a shatterer of idols. Such an attitude placed him in the company of several journalistic satirists of last century—Ambrose Bierce, for example, and H. L. Mencken, who befriended him and published some of his articles in the American Mercury. The NAACP’s newspaper, The Crisis—in which he had once been praised by its founder, W.E.B. Du Bois—lamented in 1965 that Schuyler had become “a veteran dissenter and incurable iconoclast” who “dips his pen in his ever-handy bottle of acid.” “The Negro Art-Hokum” appeared in the Nation in 1926 and is noteworthy because it constitutes yet another of Schuyler’s sarcastic assaults on claims that there exist fundamental differences between blacks and whites. The essay also elicted from Langston Hughes one of the most important critical statements on black art of the time—“The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”

“Our Greatest Gift to America” was first published in Ebony and Topaz in 1927 and reprinted in V. F. Calverton’s Anthology of American Negro Literature (1929). As a period piece, Schuyler’s essay presents a dismal view of the racial situation in the 1920s. Its ironic, even savage, tone makes it uncomfortable reading. Slashing Juvenalian satire usually is. Yet underlying the attack is a more optimistic appeal to reason. In this as in his other works Schuyler seems to say, “If Americans would only realize how absurd their colorphobia is, then perhaps they would put it aside and behave like human beings.” It is a message as relevant today as it was in 1927.

During the 1930s, Schuyler published a number of non-satirical pieces, some of them pseudonymously. These included eight African novellas, which were serialized in the Pittsburgh Courier. Two of them were innovative pieces of science fiction, “The Black Internationale” and “Black Empire,” and were published together in 1991 as Black Empire. Two more novellas, a murder mystery (“The Ethiopian Murder Mystery”), and an international adventure story (“Revolt in Ethiopia”) were collected under the title Ethiopian Stories in 1994.

Michael W. Peplow

In the Heath Anthology
The Negro-Art Hokum (1926)
Our Greatest Gift to America (1927)

Other Works
Black No More (1931)
Slaves Today (1931)
Fifty Years of Progress in Negro Journalism (1950)
Black and Conservative (1966)

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A Research and Reference Guide
A bibliography of primary and secondary materials from the Perspectives in American Literature Project.

Secondary Sources

Peter M. and Mort N. Bergman, The Chronological History of the Negro in America, 1969

A.P. Davis and Michael W. Peplow, comps, The New Negro Renaissance, 1975

Nickieann Fleener, "George S. Schuyler," Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 29: American Newspaper Journalists, 1926-1950, 1984

Nathan I. Huggins, ed., Voices from the Harlem Renaissance, 1976

Norma R. Jones, "George Samuel Schuyler," Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 51: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940, 1987

Michael W. Peplow, George Schuyler, 1980