Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Esperanto By Radio

Esperanto on the air
If you follow the sources, there’s some confusion about the middle name of the Esperantist radio expert mentioned in a short item in the June 17, 1922 Evening World. The World gives his name as “James Denison Sayers.” Geoffrey Sutton in Consise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto, 1887–2000 gives his name as “James Denton Sayers,” and on Vikipedio, he’s listed as “James Denson Sayers.” We’re giving this one to Vikipedio, since that’s he wrote on his draft registration cards.

Sayers (now that we’ve properly identified him), was a telegraph operator, novelist (including one in Esperanto), and founding member of the Esperanto League of North America (the organization that rose as a rival and successor to the Esperanto Association of North America, after EANA was pushed out of the Universal Esperanto-Asocio), and one distressing thing (I’ll get to it, reluctantly). At the same time, Arnold Christen was also talking about the important of Esperanto to radio.

Sayers shows up in the Esperanto movement about 1920. At the time, he and his wife lived in Dallas, Texas, but they and his mother-in-law soon moved to New York City.

At the headquarters of the Esperantists of Greater New York at No. 500 Fifth Avenue, it was announced to-day that on Monday, June 19, at 7:30 P. M., James Denison Sayers will lecture from WJZ on “Radio and the Auxiliary Language, Esperanto.” It is stated that not only is Mr. Sayers well versed in the Universal language but that he is a pioneer wireless telegrapher, having worked on the Pacific Coast for the old United Wireless Company in the early days of wireless telegraphy.
James Sayers shows up in the Esperanto movement not long before this. Prior to 1920, there’s just no reference to him. He was born on March 17, 1888 in Summerfield, Louisiana, which made him thirty-four years old when he gave his radio address. He was clearly still active in telegraphy, since less than a year after his radio address, he’s written to the Commercial Telegraphers’ Journal to convince his fellow telegraphers to take up Esperanto.

The Sayers likely moved to New York in early 1921, since in mentioning a talk that Sayer gave on February 5, 1921 to the Young People’s Socialist League of New York, Amerika Esperantisto describes him as a socialist delegate from Texas (“socialista delegate el Texas”). He spoke about Esperanto, leading to the group starting an Esperanto course. And so, later that same year (as reported by Amerika Esperantisto), he was clearly one of the “two political non-conservatives” that some found objectionable on the board of the Esperanto Service Corporation, a business that was being organized at 500th Fifth Avenue to sell
books and other Esperantaĵoj, with a flag always flying and constant attendance.
Late in life he wrote one novel in Esperanto, Invito al Ĉielo (1949) and a series of Westerns, most of which seem to have been published posthumously. (He died in 1957. Eda Sayers died in 1982.) Of the works published in his life, while I’m sure there’s nothing terrible about “A Brief Account of the International Language Movement” (1925, but only eight pages long), his subsequent book, Can the White Race Survive? (1929) is the sort of thing that I’m sure just about every Esperantist would happily disavow. Do I really have to choose between racist James Sayer and organization-destroying anticommunist George Alan Connor?

Unfortunately, in the end James Denson Sayers is known not for his contributions to the Esperanto movement, but for his wholly shameful views as an segregationist.
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