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April 26, 2018
April 27th Marks 135th Anniversary of Birth of Hubert Harrison:
“Father of Harlem Radicalism” and
Founder of the First Organization and First Newspaper of the Militant “New Negro Movement”
by Jeffrey B. Perry
Hubert H. Harrison (April 27, 1883-December 17, 1927) was a brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and radical political activist. Historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color, described him as “perhaps the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Bibliophile Arthur Schomburg, outstanding collector of materials on people of African descent, eulogized at Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was “ahead of his time.”
Harrison’s views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a key link to 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 important links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm (whose father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother wrote for the “Negro World”), speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.
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 and/or read six languages; a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (who reportedly started "the first regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom"); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who was an officer on the committee that helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what has become known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Harrison was born on Estate Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883. His mother was an immigrant worker from Barbados and his father, who had been born enslaved in St. Croix, was a plantation worker.
In St. Croix Harrison received the equivalent of a ninth grade education, learned customs rooted in African communal traditions, interacted with immigrant and native-born working people, and grew with an affinity for the poor and with the belief that he was the equal to any other. He also learned of the Crucian people’s rich history of direct-action mass struggles including the successful 1848 enslaved-led emancipation victory; the 1878 island-wide “Great Fireburn” rebellion (in which women such as “Queen Mary” Thomas played prominent roles); and the general strike of October 1879.
After the death of his mother Harrison traveled to New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. In his early years in New York he attracted attention as a brilliant high school student, authored over a dozen letters that were published in the New York Times, involved in important African American and Afro-Caribbean working class intellectual circles, and became a freethinker.
In the United States Harrison made his mark by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of those he affectionately referred to as “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 an internationalist spirit and modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.
A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe and he wrote and lectured indoors and out (he was a pioneering soapbox orator) on these topics. More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-white supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. 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” and “the cant of ‘Democracy’” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters”; that true democracy and equality for “Negroes” implied “a revolution . . . startling even to think of”; and that “capitalist imperialism which mercilessly exploits the darker races for its own financial purposes is the enemy which we must combine to fight.”
Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and 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 for social change efforts 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; spoke at Broad and Wall Streets in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1912 on socialism for over three hours to an audience that extended as far as his voice could reach (in a clear precursor to “Occupy Wall Street”); was the only Black speaker at the historic Paterson silk workers strike of 1913; founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, race-conscious, World War I-era “New Negro” movement and led a giant Harlem rally that protested the white supremacist attacks on the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois (which is only twelve miles from Ferguson, Missouri) in 1917; edited "The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort" (“intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races – especially of the Negro race”) in 1919; wrote "The Negro and the Nation" in 1917 and "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" in 1920; and served as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920.
After leaving the "Negro World" and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1922, Harrison wrote and lectured widely. He published in the "Amsterdam News," "Interstate Tattler," "Modern Quarterly," "New Republic," "Nation," "New York Times," "New York Tribune," "Boston Chronicle," "New York World," "Negro Champion," "Opportunity," and the "Pittsburgh Courier." He also lectured for the New York City Board of Education from 1922-1926; served as the New York State Chair of the American Negro Labor Congress and taught World Problems of Race at the Workers (Communist) Party’s Workers’ School and at the Institute for Social Study in Harlem; and spoke at universities, libraries, community forums, and street corners throughout New York City, as well as in New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts. Maintaining his political independence, he worked with Democrats, the Single Tax Movement, Virgin Island organizations, the Farmer Labor Party Movement, and Communists. A bibliophile and advocate of free public libraries, he was also a founding officer of the committee that helped develop the “Department of Negro Literature and History” of the 135th Street Public Library into a center for Black studies, subsequently known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In addition, though he was a trailblazing book reviewer and literary critic during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance, he questioned the “Renaissance” on its willingness to accept standards from “white society” and on its claim to being a rebirth, a claim that he felt ignored the steady flow of works by “Negro” writers since 1850.
In 1924 Harrison founded the International Colored Unity League (ICUL), which emphasized “Negro” solidarity and self-support, advocated “race first” politics, and sought to enfranchise “Negroes” in the South. The ICUL attempted “to do for the Negro the things which the Negro needs to have done without depending upon or waiting for the co-operative action of white people.” It urged that “Negroes” develop “race consciousness” as a defensive measure, be aware of their racial oppression, and use that awareness to unite, organize, and respond as a group. Its economic program advocated cooperative farms, stores, and housing, and its social program included scholarships for youth and opposition to restrictive laws. The ICUL program, described in 1924 talks and newspaper articles and published in "The Voice of the Negro" in 1927, had political, economic, and social planks urging protests, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and collective action and included as its “central idea” the founding of “a Negro state, not in Africa, as Marcus Garvey would have done, but in the United States” as an outlet for “racial egoism.” It was a plan for “the harnessing” of “Negro energies” and for “economic, political and spiritual self-help and advancement.” It preceded a somewhat similar plan by the Communist International by four years. The journalist and activist Hodge Kirnon from Montserrat was one of the ICUL officers and in 1924 Harrison and Rogers spoke on behalf of the organization in the Midwest and in New England.
In 1927 Harrison edited the International Colored Unity League’s "Embryo of the Voice of The Negro" and then "The Voice of the Negro" until shortly before his unexpected December 17 death at Bellevue Hospital in New York from an appendicitis-related condition. His funeral was attended by thousands and preceded his burial in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, a gift of his portrait for placement on the main floor of the 135th Street Public Library, and the (ironic) establishment of The Hubert Harrison Memorial Church in Harlem in his honor.
Hubert Harrison lived and died in poverty. In 2015, after eighty-seven years, a beautiful tombstone was placed on his shared and previously unmarked gravesite. His gravesite marker includes his image and words drawn from Andy Razaf, outstanding poet of “New Negro Movement” – speaker, editor, and sage . . . “What a change thy work hath wrought!” That commemorative marker, as well as the notable increase in books, articles, videos, audios, and discussions on his life and work reflect a growing recognition of his importance and indicate that interest in this giant of Black history will continue to grow in the twenty-first century and that Hubert Harrison has much to offer people today.
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry is an independent, working class scholar and archivist who was formally educated at Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia University. He was a long-time rank-and-file activist, elected union officer with Local 300, and editor for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (div. of LIUNA, AFL-CIO). Perry preserved and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison Papers (now at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library); edited of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); authored Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2008); wrote the introduction and notes for the new, expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison, When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the New Negro in the Western World (1920; Diasporic Africa Pres, 2015); and wrote the new introduction and supplemental material for the expanded edition of Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 2 vols. (1994, 1997; Verso Books, 2012). He is currently working on volume two of the Hubert Harrison biography and preparing his vast collection of Theodore W. Allen Papers and Research Materials on Hubert Harrison for placement at a major repository.
For comments from scholars and activists on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) see HERE
and see HERE
For information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) see HERE
For information on the new, Diasporic Africa Press expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison's “When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” see HERE
For a video of a Slide Presentation/Talk on Hubert Harrison see HERE
For articles, audios, and videos by and about Hubert Harrison see HERE
For a link to the Hubert H. Harrison Papers at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library see HERE
July 4, 2017
100 – Years Ago Today -- A July 4, 1917 rally of Hubert Harrison’s Liberty League at Harlem’s Metropolitan Baptist Church on 138th Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues drew national attention and saw the first edition of “The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro.” Harrison’s Liberty League was the first organization of the militant “New Negro Movement” and his newspaper, “The Voice,” was the first newspaper of the movement and a prime example of the militant new spirit that was developing.
It “really crystallized the radicalism of the Negro in New York and its environs” wrote Hodge Kirnon. Historian Robert A. Hill points out that Harrison’s Voice was “the radical forerunner” of the periodicals that would express the developing political and intellectual ferment in the era of World War I. It was followed in November 1917 by the Hodge Kirnon. Historian Robert A. Hill These four publications, led by “The Voice,” manifested “the principal articulation of the New Negro mood.”
The July 4 meeting came in the wake of the July 1-3 white supremacist pogrom in East St. Louis, Illinois (which is 12 miles from Ferguson, Missouri). Reports on the number of African Americans killed ranged from thirty-nine to two-hundred-and-fifty and 244 buildings were totally or partially destroyed. Historian Edward Robb Ellis reports that in East St. Louis Black women were scalped and four Black children slaughtered.
These riots were widely attributed to “white” labor’s opposition to Black workers coming into the labor market and they were directly precipitated by a car of white “joy riders” who fired guns into the African-American community. Officials of organized labor served as prominent apologists for “white” labor’s role in the rioting. Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, placed principal blame for the riots on “the excessive and abnormal number of negroes” in East St. Louis while W. S. Carter, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, maintained that “the purpose of the railroads in importing Negro labor is to destroy the influence of white men’s labor organizations.” A subsequent House of Representatives committee found that the local police and Illinois National Guard were inept and indifferent, and, in specific instances, supported the white mobs.
The Liberty League’s July 4 meeting in the largest church in Harlem came one day after a “race riot” in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan (the third in six weeks) in which two thousand people fought after a reserve policemen arrested a uniformed Black soldier standing on a street corner who allegedly refused to move fast enough.
The “New York Times” reported that at the July 4 Liberty League rally a thousand Black men and women were present and enthusiastically cheered the speakers who were “all Negroes.” Every speaker was reported to have denounced the East St. Louis rioters as ruthless murderers and each condemned the authorities for not preventing the atrocities and for not providing protection.
Edgar M. Grey, secretary of the Liberty League, chaired the July 4 meeting. He informed the audience that the League had sent its message to Congress and appealed for a thorough and impartial investigation of East St. Louis, of the lynching of African Americans, and of treatment of Black people throughout the land. Harrison spoke next and reportedly said that “they are saying a great deal about democracy in Washington now,” but, “while they are talking about fighting for freedom and the Stars and Stripes, here at home the white apply the torch to the black men’s homes, and bullets, clubs and stones to their bodies.”
As president of the Liberty League, Harrison advised Black people who feared mob violence in the South and elsewhere to take direct action and “supply themselves with rifles and fight if necessary, to defend their lives and property.” According to the “Times” he received great applause when he declared that “the time had come for the Negroes [to] do what white men who were threatened did, look out for themselves, and kill rather than submit to be killed.” He was quoted as saying: “We intend to fight if we must . . . for the things dearest to us, for our hearths and homes” and he encouraged Black people everywhere who did not enjoy the protection of the law "to arm for their own defense, to hide their arms, and to learn how to use them." He also called for a collection of money to buy rifles for those who could not obtain them, emphasizing that “Negroes in New York cannot afford to lie down in the face of this” because “East St. Louis touches us too nearly.” As he later put it -- “‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ and sometimes two eyes or a half dozen teeth for one is the aim of the New Negro.” Harrison stressed that it was imperative to “demand justice” and to “make our voices heard.”
The emphasis on a political voice ran across the masthead of “The Voice,” which proclaimed “We will fight for all the things we have held nearest our hearts--for democracy--for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” Several years later Marcus Garvey, who learned from Harrison and joined Harrison’s Liberty League, emphasized that “[the] new spirit of the new Negro . . . seeks a political voice, and the world is amazed, the world is astounded that the Negro should desire a political voice, because after the voice comes a political place, and . . . we are not only asking but we are going to demand--we are going to fight for and die for that place.” According to Robert A. Hill, this demand for a political voice marked the new spirit of the “New Negro” and keyed the later radicalism of Garvey’s UNIA.
This call for armed self-defense and the desire to have the political voice of the militant New Negro heard marked Harrison’s activities in 1917.
“The Voice” editorial on “The East St. Louis Horror” argued that although the nation was at war to make the world “safe for democracy,” until the nation was made safe for African Americans, they would refuse to believe in the country’s democratic assertions. Harrison stressed that “New Negroes” would not re-echo “patriotic protestations of the boot-licking leaders whose pockets and positions testify to the power of the white man’s gold” and, despite what Black people might be forced by law to say publicly, “the resentment in their hearts will not down.” Then he described the core feeling of the new militancy developing in the wake of East St. Louis:
. . . Unbeknown to the white people of this land a temper is being developed among Negroes with which the American people will have to reckon.
At the present moment it takes this form: If white men are to kill unoffending Negroes, Negroes must kill white men in defense of their lives and property. This is the lesson of the East St. Louis massacre.
For information on Harrison’s life see “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press). For comments on that work by scholars and activists CLICK HERE
See also information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader” by CLICKING HERE
And see information on the new expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison, “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” HERE
April 26, 2016
April 27 is the Birthday of Hubert Harrison
Share Information on the Life and Work of This Giant of Black History
Hubert Henry Harrison (April 27, 1883–December 17, 1927) was a brilliant, St. Croix, Virgin Islands-born, Harlem-based, working-class, writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist. Historian Joel A. Rogers in “World’s Great Men of Color” said that the autodidactic Harrison was “perhaps the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” A. Philip Randolph called him “the father of Harlem radicalism.”
Harrison was a “radical internationalist” and his views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of "New Negro" militants including the class radical Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race-conscious than Randolph and more class-conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a key link in the two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement -- the labor/civil rights trend associated with Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the race/nationalist trend associated with Garvey and Malcolm X.
Harrison was the leading Black activist in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday and the only Black speaker at the historic Paterson silk workers strike of 1913.
He was an extraordinary soapbox orator and the New York Times described how he spoke at Broad and Wall Streets in front of the New York Stock Exchange on socialism for over three hours to an audience that extended as far as his voice could reach (in a clear precursor to “Occupy Wall Street”).
In 1917 Harrison founded the first organization, the Liberty League, and the first newspaper, The Voice, of the militant "New Negro Movement.” That year he also led a giant Harlem rally that protested the white supremacist “pogrom” on the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois (which is only twelve miles from Ferguson, Missouri).
In 1919 Harrison edited The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort (“intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races -- especially of the Negro race”).
In 1920 he served as editor of the "Negro World" and as the principal radical influence on the Marcus Garvey movement. Toward the end of that year he published his second book, When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World.
People are encouraged to include Hubert Harrison in their readings, study, course lists, and courses and to encourage public, private, and school libraries to include books by and about him in their collections.
For comments from scholars and activists on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE
For a link to the Hubert H. Harrison Papers at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library CLICK HERE
For articles, audios, and videos by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
For information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) CLICK HERE
For information on the new, Diasporic Africa Press expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison's “When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” CLICK HERE
For a video of a Slide Presentation/Talk on Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
November 21, 2015
In 1964, as Princeton freshmen we were told that Woodrow Wilson had been a leading Progressive, a proponent of “Democracy,” and a champion of self-determination abroad. It is good to see students today challenging that picture.
Wilson’s record was deplorable on the “race question.” He cut back federal appointments of African Americans; supported showings of the white-supremacist film "The Birth of a Nation" for himself, his Cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court; stood by silently as segregation was formalized in the Post Office, Treasury, Interior, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Navy; did nothing as almost two dozen segregation-supporting legislative attempts including exclusion of Black immigrants, segregation of streetcars, and a ban on inter-racial marriages in the District of Columbia were introduced in the House and Senate; and declined to use any significant power of office to address lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement and the vicious white-supremacist attacks on twenty-six African American communities including Washington, DC, Chicago, and East St. Louis that occurred during his administration.
Under Wilson the U.S. not only implemented the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, and the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, it also occupied Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Nicaragua and intervened in Panama, Honduras, and Mexico. Nevertheless, Wilson ran for President in 1916 on a campaign slogan “he kept us out of war,” posed before the world as a champion of democracy, and prated of “the rights of small nationalities,” of “self-determination,” and of “the right of all who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.” In addition to the awful horrors let loose on small countries pre-war, in the postwar period he also helped to pave the way for partition, occupation, and conquest in the Middle East and Africa and for future wars.
There were contemporaries of Wilson, people like the intellectual/activist Hubert Harrison, the founder of the first organization (the Liberty League) and first newspaper (The Voice
) of the militant “New Negro Movement,” who saw through the misleading portrait of Wilson so often found in the media and history books. Harrison understood that while lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement marred this land, and while the U.S. brazenly attacked smaller countries, “Wilson's protestations of democracy were lying protestations, consciously, and deliberately designed to deceive.” At the founding meeting of the Liberty League in June 1917, Harrison posed a direct challenge to Wilson who had claimed the U.S. was entering World War I in order to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” Harrison’s mass meeting was called, as its organizational flyer headlined, to "Stop Lynching and Disfranchisement in the Land Which We Love and Make the South 'Safe For Democracy.'" A month later Harrison led a second major Harlem rally to protest the white supremacist “pogrom” (his word) in East St. Louis, Illinois (15 miles from Ferguson, Missouri).
We are glad that the Black Justice League is raising some of these issues, opening the eyes of many, and helping to point the way forward in the 21st century.
Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry
Editor of the new expanded edition of Hubert H. Harrison, When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story" of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World
and author of Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
(Columbia University Press)
Gene Bruskin ‘68
Founder, U.S. Labor Against the War
(with audio, video, photo links)
Life, Legacy & Some Writings
(with audio and video links)
by Hubert H. Harrison
(Diasporic Africa Press)
with a new introduction, biographical sketch, and supplementary notes
by Jeffrey B. Perry