The Messenger was founded by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, both active in New York City's radical and socialist circles. Hired in 1917 to edit the Hotel Messenger for the Headwaiters and Sidewaiters Society of Greater New York, the pair was fired after eight months on the job for exposing exploitative treatment of common waiters and pantry workers by the more established union members themselves. With initial support from the Socialist Party and Socialist-led unions, they launched the independent Messenger.
The Messenger alarmed the white and black establishments by both advocating socialism and heralding the advent of the "New Crowd Negro," who promised an aggressive challenge both to post-Reconstruction "reactionaries" such as Booker T. Washington and to mainstream civil rights leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois. The self-styled "Only Radical Negro Magazine in America" opposed World War I, championed the Russian Revolution of 1917, hailed the radical interracial organizing of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and advocated armed self-defense by black people against racist attacks.
In 1919, during the rising wave of racial disturbances and labor unrest, The Messenger was caught in the sweep of federal repression that followed. Of all the black publications investigated by the Justice Department for "radicalism and sedition," it was The Messenger that Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer termed "the most able and the most dangerous." Its second-class mailing permit, revoked by the U.S. Post Office in 1918 after publication of an article entitled "Pro Germanism Among Negroes," was not restored until 1921.
With the weakening of both the socialist movement and the IWW in the early 1920s, the word "Radical" disappeared from The Messenger 's masthead. The magazine sought to preserve its influence in the black community by campaigning actively against Marcus Garvey and promoting the independent organization of black workers. Owen left the magazine in 1923, and Randolph, though technically still at the helm, turned his attention to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), which he hoped to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor.
With Owen's departure and Randolph's union activities, effective editorial control was shifted to George Schuyler and Theophilis Lewis. Under their tutelage, The Messenger 's political and economic radicalism gave way to celebrations of black entrepreneurs and appeals to the mainstream (and racially exclusionary) labor movement. In addition to a "Business and Industry" page, the magazine began to feature society items, sports news, and articles directed at women and children. In 1925, when The Messenger became the official organ of the Brotherhood, it also began to carry union-related news and commentary.
Schuyler and Lewis left another indelible mark on the magazine. While The Messenger had published socialistoriented literary contributions in the past by figures such as Claude McKay, it had not explicitly allied itself with the Harlem Renaissance. Now, it became more directly concerned with black arts and culture, including theater, and solicited the work of leading luminaries, among them Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson. This approach gained even greater currency when Wallace Thurman filled in briefly for Schuyler in 1926. By late 1927 The Messenger 's motto had become "The New Opinion of the New Negro."
Still, The Messenger, as a union publication, continued to reach an audience comprising largely black trade unionists. It folded in 1928 when Randolph determined the BSCP could no longer afford the drain on its limited resources.
See also Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Du Bois, W.E.B.; Garvey, Marcus; Labor and Labor Unions; McKay, Claude; Owen, Chandler; Randolph, Asa Philip; Schuyler, George S.; Thurman, Wallace; Washington, Booker T.
Johnson, Abby Arthur, and Ronald Maberry Johnson. Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of African-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
Kornweibel, Theodore, Jr. No Crystal Stair: Black Life and the Messenger, 1917–1928. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1975.
Wolseley, Roland E. The Black Press, U.S.A., 2d ed. Ames, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1990.
renee tursi (1996)
tami j. friedman (1996)