From the "Introduction"
The brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist Hubert Harrison (1883–1927) is one of the truly important, yet little known, figures of early-twentieth-century America. The historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color, describes him as "the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time” and “one of America’s greatest minds.” Rogers adds (amid insightful chapters on the early-twentieth-century Black leaders Booker T. Washington, William Monroe Trotter, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey), “No one worked more seriously and indefatigably to enlighten his fellow-men” and “none of the Afro-American leaders of his time had a saner and more effective program.”
[Hubert] Harrison made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of “the common people.” He consistently emphasized the need for working-class people to develop class consciousness; for “Negroes” to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to challenge white supremacy and develop modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.
Harrison, who referred to himself as a “radical internationalist,” was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and Europe, and, according to Richard B. Moore, he was “above all” the militant Black socialists in his steady emphasis on “the liberation of the oppressed African and colonial peoples” as being a “vital aim.” He opposed capitalism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States, and, more than any other political leader of his era, he combined class consciousness and anti-white-supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism.
Harrison also understood both the abuse of and the potential of “democracy” in America. He emphasized that “politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea”; that “as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race” were “downright lying”; that “the cant of ‘Democracy’ ” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters”; and that true democracy and equality for “Negroes” implied “a revolution . . . startling even to think of.”
Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations, and he played signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest class-radical movement (socialism) and the largest race-radical movement (the “New Negro”/Garvey movement) in U.S. history.
His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s, and his thoughts on “democracy in America” offer penetrating insights on the limitations and the potential of America in the twenty-first century.
Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday; as the founder and leading figure of the militant, World War I–era New Negro movement; and as the editor of the "Negro World" and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement (described by the historian Randall K. Burkett as “the largest mass-based protest
movement in Black American history”) during its radical high point in 1920.
His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of New Negro militants, including the class-radical socialists A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, the future communists Cyril Briggs and Richard B. Moore, and the race-radical Marcus Garvey.
From the Book's Epigraph
Harrison on "the touchstone of the modern democratic idea"
"Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it. . . . [True democracy and equality implies] a revolution . . . startling even to think of."—Hubert Harrison, New York Call
Harrison on the Color Line and the "cant of 'Democracy'"
"As long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race must be simply downright lying. The cant of 'Democracy' is intended as dust in the eyes of white voters . . . It furnishes bait for the clever statesmen." --Hubert Harrison, New Negro
Harrison on "democracy" and war
"During the war the idea of democracy was widely advertised, especially in the English-speaking world, mainly as a convenient camouflage behind which competing imperialists masked their sordid aims. . . . those who so loudly proclaimed and formulated the new democratic demands never had the slightest intention of extending the limits or the applications of 'democracy.'" —Hubert Harrison, When Africa Awakes
Harrison on America's as "a great experiment in democracy"
"[America is a] great experiment in democracy . . . unique in the history of the world . . . . And the great American experiment is to determine for the future whether we can make out of the welter of races and nations one people, one culture, one democracy. It is confessedly a hard task, but it can be done, and the grounds of this faith rest on the known facts of the present and the past." --Hubert Harrison, Amsterdam News
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
A Note on Usage
Part I. Intellectual Growth and Development
1. Crucian Roots (1883–1900)
2. Self-Education, Early Writings, and the Lyceums (1900–1907)
3. In Full-Touch with the Life of My People (1907–1909)
4. Secular Thought, Radical Critiques, and Criticism of Booker T. Washington (1905–1911)
Part II. Socialist Radical
5. Hope in Socialism (1911)
6. Socialist Writer and Speaker (1912)
7. Dissatisfaction with the Party (1913–1914)
8. Toward Independence (1914–1915)
Part III. The "New Negro Movement"
9. Focus on Harlem: The Birth of the "New Negro Movement" (1915–1917)
10. Founding the Liberty League and "The Voice" (April–September 1917)
11. Race-Conscious Activism and Organizational Difficulties (August–December 1917)
12. The Liberty Congress and the Resurrection of "The Voice" (January–July 1918)
Appendix: Harrison on His Character
Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
See a 1500-word description of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" by the author at Blackpast.org
Columbia University Press's webpage on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" -- Includes brief 2-pragraph book description and much more
Excerpt from the "Introduction" of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (18 pages)
Amiri Baraka, “Forward is Where We Must Go,” an August 14, 2008, open letter on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama draws from Hubert Harrison and cites “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism"
Google Preview of Jeffrey B. Perry, "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008).
Encourage your community or school library to obtain "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" so others can learn about Harrison and the struggles that he and others waged.
“The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry is now available at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/works.htm (top left)
This is a pre-publication version of an article that will appear online in "Cultural Logic"
Considered more race conscious than A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen and more class conscious than Marcus Garvey, Hubert Harrison is the key link in the ideological unity of the two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement—the labor and civil rights trend associated with Martin Luther King Jr., and the race and nationalist trend associated with Malcolm X. (Randolph and Garvey were, respectively, the direct links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm, whose father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother was a writer for Garvey’s Negro World, speaking militantly and proudly on Harlem’s Lenox Avenue.)
As the center of national Black leadership shifted from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee, Alabama, headquarters to New York City in the era of the First World War, Harlem increasingly became an “international Negro Mecca” and “the center of radical Black thought.” In this period, Harrison earned the title, ascribed to him by A. Philip Randolph and others, “the father of Harlem radicalism.”
During the 1910s and 1920s he was either the creator, or among the founders, of “almost every important development originating in Negro Harlem — from the Negro Manhood Movement to political representation in public office, from collecting Negro books to speaking on the streets, from demanding Federal control over lynching to agitation for Negroes on the police force.” He was also a key figure in developing Caribbean radicalism; he exhibited a rare willingness to learn from the peoples and cultures of Africa; and his (often unattributed) ideas and writings from this period significantly shaped the contours of radical Black thought on matters of race and class in the twentieth century.
Harrison was not only a political radical, however. Rogers described him as an “Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative, and influential.
He was an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator who spoke or read six languages; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (reportedly the first regular Black book reviewer in history); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth-control movements; a bibliophile, library builder, and library popularizer who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into an international center for research in Black culture; and a promoter and aid to Black writers and artists, including the authors J. A. Rogers and Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (the first secretary-general of the South African Native National Congress, the forerunner of the African National Congress); the poets Claude McKay, Andy Razaf, Walter Everette Hawkins, and Lucian B. Watkins; the sculptor Augusta Savage; the actor Charles Gilpin; and the musician Eubie Blake. In his later years he was the leading Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education and one of its foremost orators.
Though he was a trailblazing literary critic in Harlem during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, he questioned the “Renaissance” concept on the grounds of its willingness to take “standards of value ready-made from white society” and on its claim to being a significant new rebirth. (He maintained that “there had been an uninterrupted,” though ignored, “stream of literary and artistic products” flowing “from Negro writers from 1850” into the 1920s.)