A Reviewer's Notebook - 1966/12
DECEMBER 01, 1966 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
Black and Conservative
The word has gone out in advanced "liberal" circles that George S. Schuyler, whose autobiography, Black and Conservative (Arlington House, $5.95), makes delightful reading, is just another "Uncle Tom" Negro. The reason for putting Mr. Schuyler in this category is that he has always taken a dim view of the "pied pipers" who lead "the lunatic fringe astray" by such tactics as disrupting traffic, tossing garbage on streets and lawns, and "sprawling on courthouse steps yammering spirituals and the slogan ‘We Shall Overcome,’ first popularized by the Castro forces." Three years ago Mr. Schuyler said this sort of thing, which easily edges into violence, would lead to the emergence of uncompromising "black power" leaders such as Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick who, in turn, would provoke a dangerous backlash that might undo all the patient advances made by the Negro race since World War II.
Mr. Schuyler, of course, is getting no thanks today for his gift of accurate prophecy, but it is noteworthy that such old favorites of the "liberals" as the Rev. Martin Luther King are now warning their followers to avoid the provocativeness of extreme "black power" statements. What Dr. King is saying in 1966 is what George Schuyler was saying in 1964 — or, indeed, in 1934.
When the Stokely Carmichaels talk about "black power," their phraseology creates the impression that they mean political power that is unshared by whites. George Schuyler has all along advocated a different sort of "black power," the power of individual Negro economic ownership based on self-help. He has observed, correctly, that other minority groups in the nation —the Jews, the Italians, the Irish —achieved political and cultural freedom by putting individualist economics first. As long as a minority remains a beggar-caste, depending on handouts from a political source, it will possess no strength beyond its power of numbers as a pressure group.
Pressure groups with economic power behind them can sometimes do something of lasting value for themselves: they can force other groups to get off their necks. But when a group has only numbers to support it, it must deal away most of its real power to political brokers who are mainly interested in advancing their own fortunes. The pressure group that depends solely on its vote becomes the pawn of demagogues whose careers are best advanced by keeping their supporters in an abject state of living on political charity. This is the rule that has created the phenomenon of families that have been living on relief for three generations. If persisted in, it means that the central cores of our big cities will be just as badly off a generation hence as they are now.
Examples of Progress
In his Black and Conservative George Schuyler tells of his many southern tours. Sometimes they were made for his newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, sometimes they were in behalf of such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Schuyler was properly outraged when he couldn’t find a good lodging for the night, and he hated the demagoguery of the so-called Red Necks who kept their power by denying Negroes the elemental civil liberties that are supposedly guaranteed by the American Constitution. But he also ran up against the communists when they were pushing their policy of "self-determination for the black belt." With his sociologist’s eye Mr. Schuyler saw that the communist tactic provoked a blind fear among whites. His researches in North Carolina brought him to conclude that "most of the Negro’s difficulties and problems could be greatly ameliorated through his own efforts in cooperation with willing whites who recognized that such would be mutually advantageous."
In a notable passage in the middle of his autobiography, Mr. Schuyler says: "I had seen where this had been done on many occasions in real estate, insurance companies, and banks. There was no lack of ‘communication’ between members of the two ‘races’ who had anything to communicate…. Durham was an outstanding example of what Negroes could accomplish for themselves. It was headquarters of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the largest Negro-owned business in the country. There was also a flourishing bank, a fire insurance company, many successful smaller businesses, and the impressive North Carolina College for Negroes. There were numerous Negro-owned tobacco farms in the vicinity."
It has all along been George Schuyler’s contention that if this sort of progress could be had in North Carolina, which is below the Mason-Dixon line, it could also be achieved in the cities of the North. He points out that the so-called "talented tenth" among the Negroes are great generators of capital funds. The earnings of ball players like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, singers like Leontyne Price and Marian Anderson, pianists like Mr. Schuyler’s own talented daughter, Philippa, and entertainers like Sammy Davis, could, if deployed through Negro financial institutions, create new businesses and solve some acute real estate problems. Mr. Schuyler’s ideas have been picked up by a few Negro leaders, but the diversion of the "Negro revolution" into political channels has had a depressing effect on the sort of thing that Mr. Schuyler saw flourishing in Durham, North Carolina, a generation and more ago.
Through His Own Efforts
The really encouraging thing about Mr. Schuyler’s book is the proof it offers that a good man can rise, and have his effect on the American world, in spite of the most terrifying obstacles. Mr. Schuyler seized his opportunities where he found them. He spent a long time in the U.S. Army, serving at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and training recruits at Camp Meade and other places during World War I. He found plenty of prejudices in the Army, and he fought actively against them when he could. But, with his happy and sardonic temperament, Mr. Schuyler refused to develop a martyr complex. He used the Army as a means of getting an education in realities. When he moved into the Negroes’ world of Harlem, in New York City, by way of a temporary civil service job on Governor’s Island in New York harbor, he was ready for the breaks.
The immediate future wasn’t promising: Mr. Schuyler lost his job just when the short post-World War I depression was beginning, and he had to return to his childhood home in Syracuse for a time. He used the Syracuse interlude to read Marx, Engels, Plechanov, Kautsky, Hyndman, Edward Bellamy, and H. G. Wells, but a tentative association with the socialists in active political work soon disillusioned him. Returning to New York City, he ran into the Marcus Garvey Back-to-Africa movement. This seemed nonsensical to him, for the Negroes he knew had no desire to go to Africa when the "old country," to them, meant Virginia, the Carolinas, and the Deep South.
In deciding to fight for Negro rights at home, George Schuyler found his way to the office of A. Philip Randolph, a co-editor of an impecunious magazine called The Messenger. Randolph hired Mr. Schuyler to sweep the floor, open the mail, read proofs, handle subscriptions, run over to the Brooklyn Eagle job press, and distribute magazines to the newsstands. With a foot in the door, Mr. Schuyler was soon writing satirical articles for Mr. Randolph. The career that is so engagingly summed up in Black and Conservative was launched.