Date of Publication:
Nov. 1917 (1.11) – May/Jun. 1928 (10.5)
Place(s) of Publication:
New York, NY
Frequency of Publication:
Monthly and bimonthly
Messenger Publishing Co. Inc., New York City
11.6″ x 8.75″ Woodpulp acid paper. Approx. 20-40 pages. Black and white.
15 cents per issue / $1.50 per year
Originally A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen
George Schuyler and Theophilis Lewis
Libraries with Original Issues:
We have been unable to find a library with a complete collection. Many libraries have microfilm collections, including the New York Public Library and University of California, Berkeley.
University of California, Davis and Harvard University via Hathi Trust
After meeting in New York City and joining the Socialist Party of America, A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen formed The Messenger in 1917. Unfulfilled by the popular African American periodicals of the time, Randolph and Chandler asserted that their magazine was “the only magazine of scientific radicalism in the world published by Negroes.” This claim generated its tagline for the first half of its run – the “Only Radical Negro Magazine in America.” The editors and contributors challenged ideas of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, whom they considered to be part of an older generation of civil rights leaders. In contrast, Randolph and Owen called themselves “New Crowd Negroes” who spoke out against wartime conscription of African Americans, encouraged self-defense by African Americans against lynchers, and considered labor exploitation a dominant component of early twentieth century racism. Because of the magazine’s outspoken race protest and socialist beliefs, the U.S. Justice Department claimed The Messenger to be one of “the most able and the most dangerous” publications of its time (Kreiger).
The Messenger published diverse topics, focusing heavily on politics, but also included poems, stories, editorials, book and theater reviews, political cartoons, illustrations, and photographs. Popular sections included “Editorials,” “Economic and Politics,” “Education and Literature,” “Who’s Who,” and “Poet’s Corner.” The weakening of the Socialist Party in the 1920s contributed to a drastic decrease in circulation of the magazine, which prompted its attempt to reinvent itself. Randolph and Owen worried that they were alienating black workers with their socialist propaganda, and instead promoted union news and artistic commentary. Owen left in 1923 to pursue newspaper editing in Chicago, and George Schuyler and Theophilis Lewis took over editorial control. Under their guidance, the magazine shifted away from politics and focused more heavily on its literary and artistic tradition. Due to lack of funding Randolph and Schuyler were forced to fold The Messenger after its May/June 1928 edition.
Halfway through the first issue of the magazine, A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen include a declaration of purpose:
IS THE ONLY MAGAZINE OF SCIENTIFIC RADICALISM IN THE WORLD PUBLISHED BY NEGROES
It is written in fine style; its matter is logically presented; its interpretations are made calmly and dispassionately – without prejudice in favor of the Negro or against the White Man.
Our aim is to appeal to reason, to lift our pens above the cringing demagogy of the times and above the cheap, peanut politics of the old, reactionary Negro leaders.
Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has. Party has no weight with us; principle does. Loyalty is meaningless; it depends on what one is loyal to. Prayer is not one of our remedies; it depends on what one is praying for. We consider prayer as nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is. Still we never forget that all wishes, desires, hopes – must be realized thru the adoption of sound methods. This requires scientific educations – a knowledge of the means by which the end aimed at may be attained.
Test us on any question. Write us letters for comment. Suggest subjects you desire to have us discuss. THE MESSENGER will take a courageous and sound position without regard to race, creed, color, sex or political party.
(Signed) THE EDITORS”
Messenger. 1.11 (November 1917): 21.
Asa Philip Randolph (Apr. 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979)
Considered one of the most influential African American leaders of the twentieth century, A. Philip Randolph was driven by his mission to unite all African Americans against workplace discrimination. Randolph was born in the small town of Crescent City, Florida to a minister and seamstress, and the family moved to Jacksonville, FL, soon after his birth. He attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, one of the few African American high schools in Florida at the time, where he excelled in literature, drama, and public speaking. He was drawn to civil rights after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk and moved to New York City in 1911.
While taking classes at New York University, Randolph met Chandler Owen, who was attending Columbia University, and the two formed The Messenger. Simultaneously, Randolph worked to create a union for New York elevator operators. In 1925 he began the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Pullman Company, the largest employer of African Americans, recognized Randolph in 1935 for his efforts toward increasing wages, championing a shorter work week, and gaining overtime pay. He served President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the National Negro Congress, and founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, which achieved integration of the military in 1948 under President Truman. Randolph led a 10,000-person March on Washington in 1941, resulting in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee, and was named the chair of the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. President Johnson awarded Randolph the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 for the strides Randolph made toward civil rights during the twentieth century.
Chandler Owen (Apr. 5, 1889 – Nov. 1967)
Chandler Owen was born in Warrenton, North Carolina; graduated from Virginia Union University in 1913; and soon after moved to New York City to enroll in Columbia University. Once in New York, Owen joined the Socialist Party of America and became a follower of Hubert. H. Harrison, a radical socialist writer and orator. During World War I, Owen was arrested for breaking the Espionage Act for stating in The Messenger that it was hypocritical for the United States to be fighting for freedom abroad while African American soldiers were denied rights at home.
Toward the end of The Messenger’s run, Owen grew wary of socialism and joined the Republican party. He left the magazine in 1923 and moved to Chicago to work as the managing editor of the African American newspaper, the Chicago Bee. He became a speechwriter for local Republican candidates and ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 1928. In contrast to his opposition to World War I, Owen supported World War II, and published Negroes and the War, a political tract in support of African Americans fighting, based on the argument that blacks would lose freedom if Nazi Germany won the war. He continued to write speeches for political candidates including Wendell Willkie, Thomas Dewey, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Shortly before his death from kidney disease in 1967, Owen wrote to Randolph, “Our long friendship, never soiled, is nearing its close. I’ve been in pain. If you were not living. I would commit suicide today.”
George Schuyler (Feb. 25, 1895 – Aug. 31, 1977)
George Schuyler was born in Providence, Rhode Island and moved to Syracuse, New York soon after his father’s death in 1898. At seventeen he enlisted in the all-black 25th US Infantry in 1912, working his way to achieve the rank of lieutenant. He encountered rampant racism in the army, and deserted his post after a Greek immigrant in Des Moines, Iowa refused to shine his shoes. He was found in Chicago and imprisoned for nine months.
After his release Schuyler joined the Socialist Party of America and the Friends of Negro Freedom. He began contributing his political commentary to The Messenger, which turned into his writing a regular column entitled “Shafts and Darts: A Page of Calumny and Satire.” He also began writing for The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest black newspapers in the country. When Owen left the Messenger in 1923, Schuyler and Lewis took over editorial duties. During his years of writing, Schuyler grew increasingly conservative, and by the 1960s, he openly supported Senator Joseph McCarthy and criticized social activists W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. His conservatism ultimately cost him his job at The Pittsburgh Courier, and he shifted his focus to writing his autobiography, Black and Conservative, published in 1966.
Theophilis Lewis (1891 – 1974)
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Lewis attended public school and developed a passion for theater. During World War I, he served in the American Expeditionary Force, and he moved to New York City shortly after his return to the United States. Between 1923 and 1927, Lewis served as The Messenger’s primary theatre critic and chronicled primarily African American stage productions. Due to insufficient funds Lewis was not compensated for his writing, but the magazine did purchase his theatre tickets. He worked a number of manual jobs and became a postal worker while writing for the magazine.
Lewis supported the rise of a distinctly African American theatre movement, which was part of a larger artistic movement in the 1920s to highlight an African American folk tradition. Lewis trusted that with the rise of such a movement, many racial stereotypes in theatre would disappear. Once he and Schuyler took control of the Messenger toward the end of its run, the two editors shifted its focus away from politics toward African American artistic developments.
Countee P. Cullen
Review of Chords and Dischords
W. A. Domingo
“If We Must Die”
“The Brass Check: A Review”
“Socialism and Negroes’ Hopes”
Irene M. Gaines
“Colored Authors and Their Contributions to the World’s Literature”
“Bodies in the Moonlight”
“Minnie Sings Her Blues”
“Poem for Youth”
“Prayer for a Winter Night”
“The Little Virgin”
“The Naughty Child”
“The Young Glory of Him”
Zora Neale Hurston
“The Eatonville Anthology”
“The Hue and Cry About Howard University”
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Review of “Harlem Shadows”
“Your Voice Keeps Ringing Down the Day”
“Birds of Prey”
“If We Must Die”
Alice Dunbar Nelson
“Woman’s Most Serious Problem”
“A Voice from the Dead!”
“Du Bois on Revolution”
“The Black and Tan Cabaret – America’s Most Democratic Institution”
“The Failure of Negro Leadership”
Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph
“Defense of Negro Rioters”
“The Negro – A Menace to Radicalism”
“The New Negro – What is He?”
A. Philip Randolph
“A New Crowd – A New Negro”
“Propaganda in the Theatre”
“An Actor’s Wanderings and Hopes”
George S. Schuyler
“Shafts and Darts: A Page of Calumny and Satire,” a regular column
“At the Coffee House”
“Ballad of Negro Artists”
“The Yellow Peril: One-act play”
“A Stranger at the Gates: A Review of Nigger Heaven”
Review of Black Harvest
“In the Name of Purity”
“Quoth Brigham Young : This is the place”
“A Thrush at Eve with an Atavistic Wound” A Review of Flight
Eric D. Walrond
“The Black City”
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“The Messenger” compiled by Leigh Chandler (Class of 2016)