George S. Schuyler was among the most distinguished American writers and pundits of the twentieth century.
He was also a conservative.
And he was black.
Today, it is on the rare occasion indeed that his name is mentioned. Most of the members of our generation, black and white, have never heard of him.
There is a reason for this.
Schuyler, you see, had no patience for what he perceived to be the foolhardiness, opportunism, and utopianism of those of his fellow blacks who have secured for themselves a place in the pantheon of “civil rights” heroes.
For instance, of Malcolm X, Schuyler said: “Malcolm was a bold, outspoken, ignorant man of no occupation after he gave up pimping, gambling, and dope-selling to follow Mr. [Elijah] Muhammad [of the Nation of the Islam].” Blacks who would transform him into “a great Negro leader” invite “a serious indictment” of themselves. Schuyler numbered Malcolm among the “mediocrities, criminals, plotters, and poseurs” who he believed composed “the past generation” of “black ‘leaders’ afflicting the nation [.]”
Schuyler also had little regard for “the peripatetic parson,” Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1964, when King was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Schuyler identified him as but the latest in “a succession of pious frauds” to be awarded the coveted prize “for the purposes of political propaganda [.]” That King didn’t deserve this recognition owed to the fact that “neither directly nor indirectly” did he make a single “contribution to the world (or even domestic) peace.” Schuyler added: “Methinks the Lenin Prize would have been more appropriate for him, since it is no mean feat for one so young to acquire sixty Communist-front citations, according to the U.S. government.”
King’s “principal contribution to world peace has been to roam the country like some sable typhoid-Mary, infecting the mentally disturbed” while “grabbing lecture fees from the shallow-pated.” The unrest for which King was responsible “packed jails with Negroes and some whites, getting them beaten, bitten and firehosed,” an endeavor that consisted in “bankrupting communities” and “raising bail and fines, to the vast enrichment of Southern law and order.”
Upon King’s death, Schuyler was not without some kind words. King was “talented and adroit,” he remarked, and “evidently,” he was “dedicated to the cause of improving race relations.” Yet these compliments Schuyler made within the context of a reasonably lengthy critique entitled, “Dr. King: Nonviolence Always Ends Violently.”
It was Schuyler’s position that King actually exacerbated race relations. “Countless mass demonstrations which started to advance a good cause have ended in clashes with police, looting, vandalism and killing rather than the goodwill and understanding originally intended.” Race-related problems are such that their resolution lies “in moderation and…innumerable compromises”—not “abrasive tactics that produce irritation and ill will rather than understanding and cooperation.”
Schuyler thought that King was “demagogic” and opportunistic. More than once, he “persisted stubbornly” to “the point of irresponsibility” in inserting himself in local situations that he was encouraged to avoid. Black activists from Alabama andFlorida implored King to stay away from Birmingham and St. Augustine, respectively—but King did not listen. As a consequence, his “persistence aided by the atmosphere of mob-mindedness among colored and white led directly to the deplorable events that followed.”
Schuyler notes that while no one can say “what help” any of this “was to race relations,” one thing is for certain: the publicity assured “more speaking engagements for Dr. King.”
King’s ends, Schuyler believed, were noble enough. “It was the methods he used which, considering the high emotionalism which surrounded his goals, were objectionable.” Simply put, “there are too many retardate, half-witted, criminally-inclined people in our population whose expectations have to be kept in check,” for it is they who “provide the fuel for great social conflagrations.”
Schuyler was a great lover of liberty. There is much else that he did for the cause of freedom. But here it is important to understand that it wasn’t primarily his conservatism that accounts for his being made to vanish from our collective memory.
First and foremost, it was his unrelenting criticism of contemporary racial orthodoxy and its heroes that explains this.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.