Forgotten conservative: Remembering George Schuyler

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.

It was 40 years ago, August 31, 1977, that George Schuyler died. He has been largely forgotten, and that’s a shame. At one point, Schuyler was one of the most recognized and read columnists in America, particularly from his platform at one of America’s great African-American newspapers—the Pittsburgh Courier. He was also one of the nation’s top conservative voices.

My colleague Mary Grabar, who is writing a book on Schuyler and has done some of the best research and public speaking on the man, tells me about contacting two leading modern African-American conservatives about Schuyler. I’ll leave them unnamed, but it pained me to hear that one of them hadn’t even heard of Schuyler. It pains me more to know how many conservatives generally (black or white) have never heard of the man.

Raised in Syracuse, New York, George S. Schuyler would spend a crucial formative period in his 20s in the ideological asylum of New York City, where he devoted some time and energies to the left’s gods that failed: socialism and communism.

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Schuyler was never a communist, which he excoriated with his brilliant, colorful flare. He was especially aghast at vigorous communist recruitment of African-Americans.

“The Negro had difficulties enough being black without becoming Red,” wrote Schuyler in his autobiography, Black and Conservative. He warned fellow African-Americans that “an attempt was being made by Communists to make a dupe out of the Negro which could only end in race war and his extermination.”

That was precisely what happened to Lovett Fort-Whiteman, the leading black American communist in the 1920s, who a decade later—after following his heart to Stalin’s USSR—perished in the Gulag. In the end, Lovett Fort-Whiteman was a black man treated the same way as a white man under Soviet communism: he was killed.

“With Communism bringing only misery to white people,” asked Schuyler, “what could it offer non-whites?” He saw right through communists and how they were seeking “viable tactics for corralling Negroes.”

Schuyler as early as June 1923, even before writing columns exposing communism, was publicly debating the likes of Soviet Comintern lackey Otto Huiswood, who Schuyler dubbed “a Red Uncle Tom always ready to do the Kremlin master’s bidding.” He blasted other black communists, from W.E.B. DuBois to Paul Robeson to Langston Hughes, and even called out (eventual) Obama mentor Frank Marshall Davis. He lit up white socialists like Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, the English Fabians, and John Dewey, founding father of American public education.

“I never had any of the prevalent enthusiasm for the murderous Soviet regime,” explained Schuyler, referring specifically to American leftists/progressives of the day who thrilled over the “Soviet experiment.” He saw the Bolshevik regime “as a combined Asiatic Tammany and Mafia, much less democratic than Czarism had been. Many I encountered saw the Communists as the heralds of freedom, but to me they were a murderous gang, and I hoped they would be suppressed.”

This is good to remember today, as our universities and public schools teach our youth the extraordinary claim that—yeah, sure—the communists may have killed 100 million people or so, but they were good fighters for civil rights. That’s utter rubbish—a red herring. One wishes that George Schuyler were still around to eviscerate such nonsense.

Schuyler had no use for Bolshevism, but he did early in his formative years (1921) briefly join the Socialist Party. He learned the error of that way. He would soon come to reject “Socialist bilge” as much he spurned “Bolshevist twaddle.” And he didn’t hold back in blasting pro-Soviet leftists.

In response, Soviet sympathizers and “parlor pinks” (as Schuyler called them) teamed up in writing a letter to the Pittsburgh Courier demanding that Schuyler be immediately fired. Schuyler publicly responded to them (“appropriately,” he noted) on April Fools’ Day 1938. There, he marveled at “the stampede to Communism by so-called intellectuals,” which he said was “no more intelligent than a stampede of cattle.” These intellectuals had been “hypnotized by the sonorous and hollow hokum of revolutionary psychopaths” in Moscow who promised to “usher in a world of love by increasing the volume of hatred.” These “goose-stepping ‘intellectuals’ began to yammer the praises of Stalin,” and saw “everything in America as bad and everything in Russia as good.” Said Schuyler, “they are the most disillusioned people in the country.”

Schuyler was particularly scathing in denouncing the Comintern-Communist Party USA efforts to create a separate, segregated African-American state in the South. Yes, that’s right. In 1930, at a Comintern conference in Moscow, a resolution was passed calling for a Soviet-directed and controlled “Negro Republic” among America’s Southern states. The Soviet Comintern, working through American communists, actually crafted plans for a “separate Negro state.” The strategy was to foment an African-American rebellion within the South, which would join forces with a workers’ uprising in the North. As Mary Grabar notes, Schuyler wrote brilliantly against what he dubbed “The Separate State Hokum.”

Schuyler instead preferred African-American voices like the great Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington rather than gushing admirers of Stalin like Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes, the latter of whom had urged his fellow Americans to “put one more ‘S’ in the USA to make it Soviet. The USA when we take control will be the USSA.”

While blasting collectivism, Schuyler extolled the virtues of conservatism, which he spoke of in very American terms, and which he applied to race. He wrote in Black and Conservative:

The American Negro is a prime example of the survival of the fittest…. He has been the outstanding example of American conservatism: adjustable, resourceful, adaptable, patient, restrained…. This has been the despair of the reformers who have tried to lead him up on the mountain and who have promised him eternal salvation. Through the succeeding uproars and upheavals that have attended our national development, the Negro has adjusted himself to every change with the basic aim of survival and advancement…. The ability to conserve, consolidate, and change when expedient is the hallmark of individual and group intelligence.

He said that black Americans “have less reason than any others to harbor any feelings of inferiority.”

Schuyler wrote those words in 1966. Think of all the black Americans who since that time have persevered and truly achieved the American dream. If ever there was a group that survived and thrived with government directly stacked against them—from legalized slavery to Dred Scott—it has been African-Americans. They embody the conservative philosophy of looking to oneself and one’s God rather than to one’s government.

Schuyler affirmed: “I learned very early in life that I was colored but from the beginning this fact of life did not distress, restrain, or overburden me. One takes things as they are, lives with them, and tries to turn them to one’s advantage or seeks another locale where the opportunities are more favorable. This was the conservative viewpoint of my parents and my family. It has been mine through life.”

Schuyler was, in that sense, American above all else.

“The more I read about him, the more I see that Americanism was the consistent element in Schuyler’s thought,” says Mary Grabar. “He did flirt with socialism and even some communist ideas, but he never once entertained the thought that he was less than 100 percent American.”

And throughout that American life, George Schuyler’s columns were read by millions of Americans. He was a leading voice of conservatism, and arguably the top (at least in his time) black conservative. We should pause to remember the man, his mighty pen, and his contributions.