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The Sage of Sugar Hill

The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Sage of Sugar Hill
    Book Description:

    This book is the first to focus a bright light on the life and early career of George S. Schuyler, one of the most important intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. A popular journalist in black America, Schuyler wielded a sharp, double-edged wit to attack the foibles of both blacks and whites throughout the 1920s. Jeffrey B. Ferguson presents a new understanding of Schuyler as public intellectual while also offering insights into the relations between race and satire during a formative period of African-American cultural history.

    Ferguson discusses Schuyler's controversial career and reputation and examines the paradoxical ideas at the center of his message. The author also addresses Schuyler's drift toward the political right in his later years and how this has affected his legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13346-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Problem of George S. Schuyler
    (pp. 1-29)

    FOR MOST READERS THE problem of George Samuel Schuyler seems simple. Specialists in African American literature or twentieth-century American intellectual history may know a few facts about him. Otherwise, very few people are familiar with him at all. Although Schuyler did much to earn this obscurity, we might still wonder whether he deserves it. If measures of sheer public exposure and numbers of pages written in a lifetime determined the amount of scholarly attention given to a thinker, he would already be the subject of extensive study.

    During Schuyler’s years at thePittsburgh Courier,from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Ten Commandments
    (pp. 30-62)

    “PERSONALLY, I AM ONLY interested in getting our folks thinking all around the problems confronting them rather than following blindly our two-by-four leaders. Get people to thinking and they will work out their own salvation.”¹ This was George Schuyler’s answer in 1926 to readers who wanted more from him than the satirical name-calling and negative critique that had, up until that time, made his reputation. Recognizing Schuyler’s status as a leading voice in the black press, and secretly hoping that he might open himself up to ridicule, his readers wanted to hear him express his solution to the “Negro Problem”...

  7. CHAPTER THREE “The Right to Laugh”
    (pp. 63-93)

    WHEN ASKED DURING AN interview in the late 1960s about George Schuyler, A. Philip Randolph, the leader of theMessengercircle in the 1920s, declared: “Schuyler was a socialist when I met him. But he never took it seriously. He made fun of everything — including socialism. But he had an attractive writing style.” This statement might have been less dismissive if a political chasm had not developed between Schuyler and Randolph during and after the 1930s.¹ Had Schuyler remained on the left throughout his career, Randolph probably would not have found it necessary to distance him by recalling what marked...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Debunking Blackness
    (pp. 94-124)

    INTHE OUTLINE OF BUNK,E. Haldeman-Julius—the publisher of George Schuyler’s 1928 Little Blue Book series pamphletRacial Intermarriage in the United States—pays homage to a long line of 1920s journalistic satirists, including H. L. Mencken, William E. Woodward, James Thurber, and Donald Ogden Stewart, by attempting to capture their collective philosophy. He traces the origin of the term “buncombe” to a nineteenth-century congressman and “man of the people” from Buncombe County, North Carolina, who achieved distinction for the “flood of bombastic nonsense that he poured forth.”¹ So exemplary were the efforts of this politician to swindle the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE “The Rising Tide of Color”
    (pp. 125-153)

    ALTHOUGH GEORGE SCHUYLER APPEARED most often as the author of editorials in thePittsburgh Courierwritten for and about blacks, he made his biggest impression in the black press for what he said in a mainstream publication about whites. By the time Schuyler published “Our White Folks” as the lead article in the December 1927 edition of theAmerican Mercury,he had already established himself as a star among black columnists for his provocative views and muscular writing style. Yet before 1927, even his most artful, insightful, and vitriolic statements failed to inspire more than occasional commentary among his peers....

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Black Mencken
    (pp. 154-182)

    GEORGE SCHUYLER’S FIRST EDITORIAL for thePittsburgh Courierin his new column called “This Simian World” features among its short satirical sketches a fictional interview with Mr. G. Orilla, dean of the Simians, held at Mr. Orilla’s uptown residence in the Bronx Zoological Garden. Although Schuyler had shown no indication in his previous writings of any ability to speak the Simian tongue, his conversation with Mr. Orilla on the occasion of William Jennings Bryan’s retirement from the podium demonstrates clearly his skill in cross-species communication. Upon hearing the news of the great man’s retirement, Mr. Orilla leans against the bars...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Hokum and Beyond
    (pp. 183-211)

    IF STUDENTS OF BLACK LITERATURE recognize George Schuyler for nothing else, they know him as a notorious naysayer to the general ideological thrust of the Harlem Renaissance. Yet a close analysis of his varied statements on culture during the period reveals this as a half-truth. Schuyler did indeed denounce many aspects of the Renaissance, especially its faddish and nationalistic dimensions, but he also affirmed many of its individual artists as he made his own contribution to its diverse outpourings. In large part the perception of Schuyler as a stark opponent of black cultural progress during the Harlem Renaissance stems from...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT “Black No More”
    (pp. 212-244)

    BY THE END OF the 1920s George Schuyler had established himself as a major critical voice on the race question in the most important publications on both sides of the color line. Yet he had not made a reputation as a full-fledged artist. Although he had written a few small fictional pieces for themessengerand penned some of the most artful essays of the Harlem Renaissance, he had yet to join the company of such poets and novelists as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Jean Toomer, who had produced one or more lengthy works demonstrating extensive...

    (pp. 245-254)

    THE IDEA OF AMERICA as a good and exceptional nation — synonymous with its symbolic status as a haven for individual aspiration — has always carried with it an implicit commitment to sincerity as a mark of personal virtue. This powerful, popular, and paradoxical version of national ideology imagines American freedom as a function of each individual pursuing his or her “dream” or truest self, whose achievement presumably corresponds with the deepest existential contentment. The peculiar value of the sincere individual to this framework derives precisely from an insistence on the oneness of avowal and actual feeling; or, in other words, from...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 255-288)
    (pp. 289-290)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 291-304)