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Owen, Chandler

Owen, Chandler

April 5, 1889

Political journalist Chandler Owen was born in Warrenton, North Carolina, and graduated from Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1913. He pursued graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy and at Columbia University as a National Urban League fellow. Owen severed ties with the league after he met A. Philip Randolph and in 1916 joined the Socialist Party. In November 1917 Owen and Randolph began publishing The Messenger, an independent monthly with a Socialist Party orientation; in early issues, they framed pacifist objections to World War I, supported armed defense against mob violence directed at African Americans, promoted radical industrial unionism, and voiced support for the social goals of the Russian Revolution. Owen and Randolph served brief jail sentences for their radicalism, and the authorities ransacked The Messenger 's offices several times in the early 1920s.

In the early 1920s Owen had become disillusioned with radical politics and was especially embittered when socialist garment workers' unions denied membership to his brother. In 1923 he left The Messenger to become managing editor of Anthony Overton's Chicago Bee, a liberal African-American newspaper, but he maintained ties with Randolph and used the Bee to muster support for Randolph's campaign to unionize the Pullman car porters.

During the 1930s and World War II Owen continued to move to the right and was active in the Republican Party. He served as a speechwriter and publicity chairman of the Negro division for Wendell Willkie's 1940 presidential campaign. During this period Owen also wrote about black anti-Semitism for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Despite his private reservations about the Roosevelt administration, he served as a consultant on race relations for the Office of War Information (he wrote the office's pamphlet Negroes and the War [1942], a tabloid-size publication that praised the New Deal) and projected worse treatment for blacks if Hitler were to win.

In his later life Owen continued to serve as a speech-writer and political consultant for major Republican presidential candidates, including Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

See also Messenger, The ; Randolph, A. Philip


Korweibel, Theodore, Jr. No Crystal Stair: Black Life and the "Messenger," 19171928. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975.

elizabeth muther (1996)

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