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Diary Shows Mencken Was Anti-Semitic, Racist

December 4, 1989 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The previously secret diary of writer and social critic H.L. Mencken reveals virulent anti-Semitism, racism and pro-Nazi leanings, shocking even the sympathetic Mencken scholar who edited it.

The diary, type-written on 2,100 pages from 1930 to 1948, was sealed on Mencken’s instructions for 25 years after his death in 1956. The (Baltimore) Evening Sun, where Mencken once worked, published excerpts Monday.

On the subject of Jews, Mencken wrote in December 1943 that the Maryland Club had decided against admitting any more Jewish members after the only one on its rolls died. ″There is no other Jew in Baltimore who seems suitable,″ he said.

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Of blacks, he wrote in September 1943, ″... it is impossible to talk anything resembling discretion or judgment to a colored woman. They are all essentially child-like, and even hard experience does not teach them anything.″

On Oct. 24, 1945, he wrote that ″the course of the United States in World War II ... was dishonest, dishonorable and ignominious, and the Sunpapers, in supporting Roosevelt’s foreign policy, shared in this disgrace.″

The book, ″The Diary of H.L. Mencken,″ was edited by Mencken scholar Charles A. Fecher of Baltimore and published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Mencken is revered by many writers and journalists for his erudite writing and often brilliant social and political criticism. The National Press Club in Washington has a library named in his honor and The (Baltimore) Sun bestows an annual writing award named for him.

He spent 40 years at The Evening Sun, edited the Smart Set and the American Mercury magazines, wrote dozens of books, and contributed to numerous other publications.

″His feelings about World War II are incredible in a man of his intelligence, knowledge and perception,″ Fecher wrote in his introduction to the book. ″He seems to have had no conception at all of what a German- Japanese victory would have meant to the civilized world, or to the liberties that he himself so cherished.″

Mencken’s attitude toward blacks ″was a curious mingling of total egalitarianism ... and patronizing superiority,″ Fecher wrote.

Mencken regularly published black writers in American Mercury; persuaded his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, to publish their books; was cordial to black journalists, and had his portrait painted by a black artist.

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The last article he wrote for The Evening Sun in 1948 attacked segregation laws in Baltimore.

But the diary reveals Mencken’s ″deeply ingrained conviction that black people were by their very nature inferior to white,″ Fecher wrote.

Fecher said the writer’s own words may permanently diminish his reputation.

″Like everybody else who is going to read it, I was shocked,″ said Fecher, 72. ″It has tempered my admiration for Mencken and made me aware of weaknesses I had not known.″

Fecher defended Mencken against charges of anti-Semitism in his 1978 book, ″Mencken: A Study of His Thought.″

″Today I would be much less ready to take such a stand. Let it be said at once, clearly and unequivocally: Mencken was an anti-Semite,″ wrote Fecher.

Mencken’s diary tells of his pleasure that a North Carolina resort he enjoyed visiting excludes Jews, and expresses annoyance when Jews moved into his neighborhood.

His closest associates at the Baltimore newspapers revered his memory, but he dismisses virtually all of them as ″third raters,″ ″non-entities″ and worse.

″The diaries are almost sick. I mean he hated everybody,″ said Gwinn Owens, a former editor and columnist on The Evening Sun whose father, Hamilton Owens, was a long-time Sunpapers editor and friend of Mencken’s.

In the diary, Mencken dismisses Owens as ″a time-server with no more principles than a privy rat.″

″One of the things that really hurts ... is that after Mencken had his stroke, my father went to see him every week, sat with him and talked with him,″ Gwinn Owens said.