The Messenger

The Messenger

In 1917, William White, president of the Headwaiters and Sidewaiters Society of Greater New York, hired Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph to edit Hotel Messenger, the periodical for Black hotel employees. As editors, Randolph and Owen printed an expose of union corruption and were immediately sacked.

Chandler Owen and Philip Randolph now decided to establish their own socialist journal, The Messenger. The first edition published in August, 1917, was a mixture of political comment, trade union news, literary criticism and biographies of leading radicals of the time.

The Messenger published the work of E. Franklin Frazier, Joel Rogers, Hubert Harrison, George Schuyler, Roy Wilkins, Claude McKay, Scott Nearing, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Eugene O'Neill. The journal closed in 1928.

Primary Sources

(1) The Messenger (November, 1917)

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 has. 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.

(2) Philip Randolph, The Messenger (July, 1918)

At a recent convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a member of the Administration's Department of Intelligence was present. When Mr. Julian Carter of Harrisburg was complaining of the racial prejudice which American white troops had carried into France, the administration representative rose and warned the audience that the Negroes were under suspicion of having been affected by German propaganda.

In keeping with the ultra-patriotism of the oldline type of Negro leaders the NAACP failed to grasp its opportunity. It might have informed the Administration representatives that the discontent among Negroes was not produced by propaganda, nor can it be removed by propaganda. The causes are deep and dark - though obvious to all who care to use their mental eyes. Peonage, disfranchisement, Jim-Crowism, segregation, rank civil discrimination, injustice of legislatures, courts and administrators - these are the propaganda of discontent among Negroes.

The only legitimate connection between this unrest and Germanism is the extensive government advertisement that we are fighting "to make the world safe for democracy", to carry democracy to Germany; that we are conscripting the Negro into the military and industrial establishments to achieve this end for white democracy four thousand miles away, while the Negro at home, through bearing the burden in every way, is denied economic, political, educational and civil democracy.

(3) Philip Randolph, The Messenger (July, 1919)

The IWW is the only labor organization in the United States which draws no race or color line. There is another reason why Negroes should join the IWW. The Negro must engage in direct action. He is forced to do this by the Government. When the whites speak of direct action, they are told to use their political power. But with the Negro it is different. He has no political power. Therefore the only recourse the Negro has is industrial action, and since he must combine with those forces which draw no line against him, it is simply logical for him to draw his lot with the Industrial Workers of the World.

(4) George Schuyler, wrote about his time working for The Messenger in his autobiography, Black and Conservative.

Philip Randolph was one of the finest, most engaging men I had ever met. Undemanding and easy to get along with, leisurely and undisturbed, remaining affable under all circumstance, whether the rent was due and he did not have it, or whether an expected donation failed to materialize, or whether the long-suffering printer in Brooklyn was demanding money. He had a keen sense of humor and laughed easily, even in adversity.

(5) Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, co-editors of the The Messenger, were both charged with breaking the Espionage Act in August, 1918. Randolph later wrote about his trial.

The judge was astonished when he saw us and read what we had written in the Messenger. Chandler and I were twenty-nine at the time, but we looked much younger. The judge said, why, we were nothing but boys. He couldn't believe we were old enough, or, being black, smart enough, to write that red-hot stuff in the Messenger. There was no doubt, he said, that the the white socialists were using us, that they had written the stuff for us.

He turned to us: "You really wrote this magazine? We assured him that we had. "What do you know about socialism? he said. We told him we were students of Marx and fervent believers in the socialization of social property. "Don't you know," he said, "that you are opposing your own government and that you are subject to imprisonment for treason?" We told him we believed in the principle of human justice and that our right to express our conscience was above the law.

(6) William Patterson, The Man Who Cried Genocide (1971)

One day, as I walked to the hotel from the university, I was attracted by a copy of the Crisis, on display in the window of a bookstore. This was the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and what particularly struck me was the headline "Close Ranks." It turned out to be the title of an editorial written by W. E. B. Du Bois, the magazine's editor. His injunction that colored people should support the U.S. war effort did not correspond with my own thoughts on the subject. But I wanted to examine the arguments in support of the opposite viewpoint. Walking into that store was like walking into a new life. Emanuel Levine, a short, stocky man of about 30, with a shock of black hair and a muscular body that made me think of a wrestler, greeted me cordially.

It was not surprising that a discontented Black law student should find pleasure in a place where he could engage in friendly and informative discussions. At school they were teaching me to accommodate to the racist society in which I lived, while in the bookstore I began to learn some fundamentals about the nature of that society and how to go about changing it.

I became acquainted with the Masses, a militant magazine that published lively social criticism of the entire American scene. I was introduced to Marxist literature and books; I read the Messenger, a magazine published in New York by two young Black radicals - A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. I was stirred by its analyses of the source of Black oppression and the attempt to identify it with the international revolution against working-class oppression and colonialism. This was an enriching and exhilarating experience.