Born in Rhode Island and raised in Syracuse, New York, George S. Schuyler dropped out of high school to join the Army. There, as a member of the famous Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry regiment, he served seven years before being discharged as a first lieutenant in 1919. After several odd jobs in New York City, Schuyler returned home and joined the Socialist Party, for which he held several offices.
Schuyler was later involved with Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, but became disillusioned with Garvey’s plan to return to Africa. Schuyler often spoke publicly on political and cultural issues, and by the 1920’s, he had joined a black socialist group, Friends of Negro Freedom, and had accepted a job on the staff of the organization’s official magazine, The Messenger. He also wrote as the New York correspondent for an African American weekly newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier. He continued to live in New York and write for The Pittsburgh Courier until 1966.
Schuyler’s literary identity evolves from his career as a journalist and from his deep respect for his mother’s ideas and values. The product of a middle-class family, Schuyler comments in his autobiography, Black and Conservative, that his mother taught him to consider all sides of a question and to establish and stand by principles of personal conduct whether others agreed or not. True to his mother’s teaching, Schuyler seldom opted for the popular road. His public actions and political views were often regarded as extremely conservative and iconoclastic.
His cynical view of race in America led to razor-sharp attacks upon racial patriots (black leaders he perceived as self-interested and bigoted) and upon white supremacists, who, he believed, exploited racism for economic reasons. In his autobiography he asserts that blacks never thought themselves inferior to whites; rather, blacks “are simply aware that their socio-economic position is inferior, which is a different thing.” In chiding race organizations as perpetuating the problems of racism, Schuyler contended that ridding the country of racial hatred would absolutely disrupt the national economy.
His irreverent attacks on the traditional values and cherished beliefs of black and white society earned him much notoriety during his forty-year career, which spanned from the Harlem Renaissance to the 1960’s.