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Hubert Harrison
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May-August 2017
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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

December 17th Marks the 91st Anniversary of the Death of Hubert Harrison in 1927

December 16, 2018

Tags: Hubert Harrison, Hubert H. Harrison, St. Croix, Harlem, radicalism, Marcus Garvey, A. Philip Randolph, socilism New Negro Movement, freethought, Negro World, New Negro, Voice, Liberty League, J. A. Rogers, Richard B. Moore, Arthur Schomburg, radical internationalist, race and class conscious, touchstone, cant of democracy, civil rights, Black Liberation, Malcolm X

December 17th Marks the 91st anniversary of the death of Hubert Harrison in 1927 at age 44. – Please help to spread the word about his important life and work. For writings by and about Hubert Harrison see -- HERE

Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the truly important figures of early twentieth-century America. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in "World’s Great Men of Color" as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Harrison’s friend and pallbearer, Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.”

Born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, in 1883, to a Bajan mother and a Crucian father, Harrison arrived in New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. He 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.

A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe. 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 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,” 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 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 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; he founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement; and he served as the editor of the “Negro World” and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement 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 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 ideological link in 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 parents were involved with the Garvey movement, speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.)

Harrison was not only a political radical, however. J. A. 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 (reportedly the first regular book reviewer in “Negro newspaperdom”); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what became known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; a pioneer Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education and one of its foremost orators). His biography offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America.

For information on vol. 1 of the biography of Hubert Harrison see HERE
and see HERE
and also see HERE

Hubert H. Harrison
The Negro and the Nation

March 21, 2014

Tags: Hubert H. Harrison, Hubert Harrison, The Negro and the Nation, Cosmo-Advocate Publishing Company, Liberty League, The Voice, New Negro Movement, The Negro and the Nation, Barbados, Orlando M. Thompson, Black Star Line, Richard B. Moore, Socialist, Communist, Scottsboro Boys, orator, bibliophile, Introductory, World War, race consciousness, The Black Man's Burden, Socialism and the Negro, The Real Negro Problem, On A Certain Conservatism in Negroes, What Socialism Means To Us, The Negro and the Newspapers, Preface, the New Negro, aims and ideals, international crusade for democracy, the right to have A VOICE in their own governmen, Woodrow Wilson, President Wilson, New Negro, When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World, The Porro Press, Introductory, AFRICA, Preface

Hubert H. Harrison
The Negro and the Nation
(Cosmo-Advocate Publishing Company
2305 Seventh Avenue, New York

In August 1917, shortly after founding the first organization (The Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the “New Negro Movement,” Hubert Harrison completed his first book -- The Negro and the Nation.

The book was published by the Cosmo-Advocate Publishing Company, which was headed by Barbados-born Orlando M. Thompson (a future Vice-President of the Black Star Line) and included Barbados-born Richard B. Moore (a Socialist and bibliophile and future Communist and Scottsboro Boys orator) as a part owner.

Harrison was at a highpoint in popularity and the book's "Introductory" described in detail how the World War had quickened the development of race consciousness. The book then reprinted some of Harrison's early articles -- "The Black Man's Burden" (1912), "Socialism and the Negro" (c. 1912), "The Real Negro Problem" (c. 1912), "On A Certain Conservatism in Negroes" (1914), "What Socialism Means To Us" (1912), and "The Negro and the Newspapers" (c. 1910-1912).

In the "Preface" Harrison explained that the reprinted articles helped to describe “the present situation of the Negro in present day America” and showed” how that situation re-acts upon the mind of the Negro." He emphasized that such exposure was the "Negro's" immediate "great need."

In the “Preface" he also indicated that he planned, in the near future, to write a book "on the New Negro" which would "set forth the aims and ideals” of the new movement “which has grown out of the international crusade 'for democracy -- for the right to have A VOICE in their own government' -- as President Wilson so sincerely put it."

In 1919 Harrison would edit 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.”

Then, in 1920, Harrison did complete that second book -- When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World (The Porro Press, 513 Lenox Ave, New York, August 1920). In the “Introductory” to that work Harrison writes: “It is hardly necessary to point out that the AFRICA of the title is to be taken in its racial rather than its geographical sense.”

To read The Negro and the Nation CLICK HERE

For additional information by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

Hubert Harrison
A Radical Internationalist

September 3, 2013

Tags: Hubert Harrison, A Radical Internationalist, class consciousness, race consciousness, Socialist Party, Garvey Movement, Negro World, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Cyril Briggs, Richard B. Moore, Marcus Garvey.

Hubert Harrison was a “radical internationalist” who, more than any other political leader of his era, combined class consciousness and (anti-white supremacist) race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed white supremacy, capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the U.S., that racism and racist practices were not in “white” workers class interests, and that “Negroes” must not wait on white-Americans while struggling to shape their future. This unique message, repeatedly delivered to the masses, enabled him to play 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 United States history. He served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party (SP) of New York; as the founder and leading figure of the militant, WWI-era “New Negro” movement; and as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920. Harrison’s 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.

For more information on Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE

Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
Comments From Scholars and Activists

April 29, 2013

Tags: Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, Winston James, University of California Irvine, Cornel West, Princeton Arnold Rampersad, Stanford, Manning Marable, Columbia, Amiri Baraka, David Roediger, University of Illinois, Kmozi Woodard, Sarah Lawrence, Joyce Moore Turner, W. Burghardt Turner, Richard B. Moore, Bill Fletcher Jr.,, Solidarity Divided, Gary Y. Okihiro, David Levering Lewis, NYU, Christopher Phelps, Ohio State University, Portia James, Anacostia Museum, Gene Bruskin, Peniel E. Jospeh, Brandeis, Booklist, Library Journal, Z Magazine, Industrial Worker, Herb Boyd, Newworld Review, Wilson J. Moses, American Historical Review, Choice, Carole Boyce Davies, Working USA, Clarene Lang, Against the Current, Larry A. Greene, New Politics, LaShawn Harris, Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, Black Theology, Science and Society, Sterling Johnson, Journal of American Ethnic History, Teaching for Change, Columbia University Press

"Hubert Harrison is a historic work of scholarship. It is also an act of restitution- belated but generous-for the crime of historical neglect. For as Jeffrey B. Perry makes abundantly clear, Hubert Harrison's contemporaries, from the Harlem radicals of the 1920s (most notably Claude McKay and A. Philip Randolph), to Henry Miller, Eugene O'Neill, and Charlie Chaplin, recognized Harrison's genius and enormous contribution in a variety of fields, yet eighty years after his death he has not been honored with a biography. Perry's effort to make good this lack is a stupendous success. His book is exhaustively researched, richly detailed, beautifully written in a spare and restrained style, and succeeds in capturing the brilliance, wit, and astonishing political and intellectual courage of Harrison. It is a fine and magisterial portrait."
Winston James
professor of history
University of California, Irvine

"Hubert Harrison is the most significant black democratic socialist of early twentieth-century America. Jeffrey B. Perry has brought his thought and practice to life in a powerful and persuasive manner."
Cornel West
Princeton University

"This is a superb study of a neglected but powerfully influential figure in African-American history. As far as I can judge, Jeffrey B. Perry’s scholarship is formidable, his documentation impeccable, his writing lucid and graceful. If his promised second volume is as admirable and compelling as his first, then we would have to count him, with gratitude, among the finest living biographers of black men and women—indeed, one of our finest biographers, without reservation."
Arnold Rampersad
professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities
Stanford University

"Hubert Harrison was one of the most gifted and creative intellectuals in the American Left and within black America in the twentieth century. Jeffrey B. Perry’s book presents a comprehensive analysis of the first phase of Harrison’s remarkable public career. Before Marcus Garvey came to Harlem in 1916, Harrison had blazed the trail as the leading voice of black radicalism. He founded the New Negro Movement and was a central antiwar leader during WWI. Perry captures Harrison’s brilliance, energy, and leadership during a remarkable period in African-American history. The outstanding scholarship of his study will reawaken popular interest in this remarkable figure."
Manning Marable
professor of public affairs, history, and African American studies
director, Center for Contemporary Black History
Columbia University

"Jeffrey B. Perry's Hubert Harrison breaks open long-sealed tomes of information about the militant aspect of the Harlem Renaissance."
Amiri Baraka

"In rescuing a very particular hero and genius from what E. P. Thompson once called the 'enormous condescension of posterity,' this monumental and acute biography becomes the best point of entry into the whole history of modern radicalism in the United States."
David Roediger
University of Illinois
author of How Race Survived U.S. History

"This book is the epic tale of the lost ancestor of Black radicalism, Hubert H. Harrison, the great black working-class intellectual who stood at the epicenter of politics in the Harlem Renaissance. Like Malcolm X, Harrison was not only a revolutionary but also a master teacher and a leader of leaders, and his dramatic story of self-education, self-emancipation, and self-transformation will both awaken and reorient a new generation of Black liberation at the grassroots around the globe."
Komozi Woodard
Sarah Lawrence College

"For decades a brilliant and critical voice of the Harlem Renaissance has been practically ignored by historians. At last that serious gap will be filled by Jeffrey B. Perry who has thoroughly researched and carefully crafted a two-part definitive biography of the "Father of Harlem Radicalism," Hubert H. Harrison. These volumes, along with his previously published collection of Harrison's writings, are a significant contribution because they reveal in rich detail and masterful treatment the life of one of the most unique and influential African American thinkers of that time. The people of Harlem flocked to Harrison's "university level" street orations on a wide range of topics but few knew of his numerous journal articles on society, science and socialism. Perry was driven to conduct extensive research when he discovered Harrison's clarity of writing and perceptiveness of analysis. Surely his own clarity of writing, meticulous attention to events and other activists, and masterful analysis will prove in time to be an essential classic for understanding the political movements of the period."
Joyce Moore Turner
author of Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance,
co-editor with W. Burghardt Turner of
Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem

"Jeffrey B. Perry has made a significant contribution to the history of Black radicalism through his biography of Hubert Harrison. With thorough research and compelling analysis, Perry offers the reader insight into a brilliant and under-studied activist and intellectual who played a major role in helping to shape the Black radical tradition. Hubert Harrison reads with a draw like that of a study of a long lost city, rediscovered and offering answers to an incomplete history."
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Executive Editor,
co-author of Solidarity Divided

"Entrusted with the remains of Hubert Harrison's papers, Jeffrey B. Perry favors us with this meticulous chronicle of one of the century's most influential voices for democracy and freedom. Harrison, island-born, colonial subject, and immigrant, stirred the masses in Harlem, at the time the center of Black radical thought, to a "new race-consciousness" and an apprehension of "their powers and destiny"" in the United States and world. Hubert Harrison testifies to the remarkable durability of lives well lived and truths told straight."
Gary Y. Okihiro
Columbia University
author of Island World: A History of Hawai'i and the United States

"Jeffrey Perry's significant biography lives up to the promise of its title. Finally, the voice of this major Harlem Renaissance progressive is to be heard again loud and clear."
David Levering Lewis
New York University
author of a two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois

"Hubert Harrison was in his lifetime the leading American black intellectual socialist, but he receded from memory after his death. We are all in debt to Jeffrey B. Perry for his devoted and fastidious recuperation of Harrison's memory. This assiduously researched biography, an extraordinary feat of scholarship, restores Harrison to his proper standing in the pantheon of other Afro-Caribbeans, from Marcus Garvey to C. L. R. James, who contributed to reshaping American political thought in the twentieth century."
Christopher Phelps
Ohio State University

"One of the most significant 20th century African American philosophers, Jeff Perry finally accords Harrison his place among the forebears of modern African American political and cultural thought, and also suggests the sweeping scope of Harrison's life and achievement."
Portia James
Cultural Resources Manager & Senior Curator
Anacostia Community Museum

"Jeffrey B. Perry's Hubert Harrison is not simply an archaeological uncovering of a century old Black icon. Harrison's life and his insights on race and class, especially during wartime, leap off the page. They particularly resonate today. Harrison challenged the government's hypocritical notion of sending Black men to fight and die to make "the world safe for democracy" in World War I, while they were being lynched, segregated and disenfranchised at home. I see Harrison's ghost on a Harlem soapbox today exposing the links between the destructive wars abroad and the need to expand the fight for civil liberties and civil rights and to forge a new global partnership with the world's people. This is a ghost that needs to be listened to."
Gene Bruskin
National Co-Convener
US Labor Against the War

"A groundbreaking biography and act of historical recovery that restores Hubert Harrison’s vital importance to African American history and politics during the New Negro era. Meticulously written and painstakingly researched, Hubert Harrison is a major work of scholarship that will transform understanding of black life during the early twentieth century."
Peniel E. Joseph
Brandeis University
author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

"Perry’s detailed research brings to life a transformative figure who has been little recognized for his contributions to progressive race and class politics."

"Perry's clear prose allows access to a three-dimensional picture of Harrison's life."
Library Journal

"An excellent work and a great contribution to scholarship . . . Perry must be applauded."
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Z Magazine

"[Hubert Harrison] offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America."
Industrial Worker

"Through Perry's prodigious research Harrison's brilliance can once more engage a generation eager to find inspiration and renewed political spirit."
Herb Boyd
The Neworld Review

"[A] brilliant masterpiece."
Wilson J. Moses
American Historical Review

"This critically important book will do for Harrison what David Levering Lewis did for Du Bois . . . Essential."

"This meticulously-researched book fills and enormous gap in the knowledge of black activist intellectuals in the US."
Carole Boyce Davies
Working USA

"Rich and exhaustively researched."
Clarence Lang
Against the Current

"Scholars and students . . . are indeed indebted to Jeffrey Perry for this magisterial study of Hubert Harrison."
Larry A. Greene
New Politics

"Perry offer(s) new and provocative analyses of African American leadership during the early twentieth century."
LaShawn Harris
Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era

"Hubert Harrison is more than a work of scholarship. It is a timely act of generous recognition and restitution of a Black Caribbean scholar who played a significant role in the story of Harlem Radicalism."
Black Theology: An International Journal

"Perry's biography gives an illuminating account not only of Harrison's strengths and weaknesses but also of the larger historical contradictions informing Black radicalism and Marxism during Harrison's lifetime."
Science & Society

"Perry's rich biography of Harrison is filled with examples of leadership that would eventually be followed nationwide and result in black political power in Harlem."
Sterling Johnson
Journal of American Ethnic History

For more information CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

"The Letter to the Editor that 'Science and Society' Refused to Publish"

February 5, 2012

Tags: Science and Society, David Laibman, Margaret Stevens, Jeffrey B. Perry, Amselmo Jackson, Grace Campbell, New Negro, Richard B. Moore, W. A. Domingo, Scott McLemee, The Voice, New Negro, Negro World, Columbia Journalism Review, William Monroe Trotter, Crisis, Close Ranks, Liberty Congress, Joel E. Spingarn, Robert L. Zangrando, NAACP, Dusk of Dawn, Eugene O'Neill, Hubert Harrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, Chandler Owen, Cyril V. Briggs, Richard B. Moore, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Williana Jones Burroughs, J. A. Rogers, A. Philip Randolph

To: David Laibman, Editor of "Science and Society"
From: Jeffrey B. Perry,,
Correspondence Submission
Re: Review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (in April 2011 issue)
August 5, 2011

“In the first place, remember that in a book review you are writing for a public who want to know whether it is worth their while to read the book about which you are writing. They are primarily interested more in what the author set himself to do and how he does it than in your own private loves and hates.”

Hubert Harrison, 1922

St. Croix-born, Harlem-based Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers in "World’s Great Men of Color" as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” A. Philip Randolph referred to him as the “Father of Harlem Radicalism.” (Perry, 2008, 1, 5)

Harrison merited such praise. He was a radical political activist who 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 during its radical high point in 1920. He was also a class conscious and race conscious “radical internationalist” whose views profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants that included the class-radical socialists Randolph and Chandler Owen, the future communists Cyril V. Briggs, Richard B. Moore, and Williana Burroughs, and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and Owen and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a seminal figure in 20th century Black radicalism. (Perry, 2008, 2, 4, 94, and 437-38 n. 45)

He was not only a political radical, however. Harrison was also an immensely popular orator and freelance educator; a highly praised journalist, editor, and book reviewer; a promoter of Black writers and artists; a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library popularizer (who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into an international center for research in Black culture). In his later years he was the leading Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education. (Perry, 2008, 5-6)

One area where Harrison, has much to offer, concerns book reviewing. At age twenty-four he authored two front-page "New York Times Saturday Review of Books" pieces on literary criticism; he initiated what was described as the “first regular book review section known to Negro newspapedom”; he authored some 70 reviews and regularly reviewed books in the newspapers that he edited including "The Voice" (1917-1918), "New Negro" (1919), and "Negro World" (1920); he was praised for his insights as a critic by Nobel Prize winner Eugene O’Neill; and he has recently been described as a “patron saint” of book reviewers by Scott McLemee in the online "Columbia Journalism Review." It was in the "Negro World" that Harrison offered the sound advice on book reviewing quoted in the epigraph above. (Perry, 2001, 2, 295-6)

I think "Science and Society" readers would have been better served if Margaret Stevens, in her April 2011 review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918," had followed Harrison’s advice more closely and if she had put more accuracy and less innuendo (Harrison’s “predilection,” “it is curious,” “it is curious that Perry, repeatedly,” etc.) in her review. Readers would have been better informed about both Harrison and the biography and they would be better able to decide, in Harrison’s words, “whether it is worth their while to read the book.”

Here are some failings of the review –

1. Stevens writes that “Perry . . . emphasizes Harrison’s role in founding the Liberty League in Harlem . . . . He does not, however, examine Harrison’s continuing ties with ‘old crowd’ Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois.”

Regarding Washington, Stevens’ statement makes absolutely no sense. Harrison was an outspoken critic of Washington for years, described him as a “subservient,” and characterized his political philosophy as “one of submission and acquiescence in political servitude.” Harrison was summarily fired from the Post Office through the efforts of Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine” (in 1911) after writing two letters to the "New York Sun" critical of Washington. Stevens’ statement also makes no sense since Washington died in 1915 – over a year-and-a-half before the founding of Harrison’s Liberty League in June 1917! (Perry, 2008, 123, 132-3, 261, 285, 389)

Regarding Du Bois, in Hubert Harrison I describe how Harrison started out as a supporter of Du Bois and how political differences emerged in the period covered by the first volume.

Harrison differed from Du Bois on “The Talented Tenth,” which Du Bois described as the “educated and gifted” group whose members “must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people.” Harrison thought that the “Talented Tenth” hadn’t provided the leadership that was needed, that they should come down from their Mt. Sinais and get among the people, and that the “Colored” leadership implicit in that concept was not “pre-ordained” to lead Black people.(Perry, 2008, 125, 238)

During 1911-12 Harrison, drawing from the work of autonomous women’s clubs and Foreign Language Federations in the SP, initiated a Colored Socialist Club in a special effort to attract “Negroes” to the party. Du Bois, while still an SP member, did not support that effort. (Perry, 2008, 148, 169-71)

In the 1912 election Harrison supported and campaigned vigorously for the SP Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, while Du Bois left the SP in order to support Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party candidate. (Perry, 2008, 19, 269, 281)

In 1916 Harrison articulated a plan for developing bottom-up race unity that would eventually lead to the founding of the Liberty League. The plan was consciously in opposition to the approaches of both Washington and Du Bois whom Harrison felt started at the wrong end – i.e. they began at the top when they should have began at the bottom. Interestingly, in his third autobiography, "Dusk of Dawn" (1940), Du Bois would reach a similar conclusion. (Perry, 2008, 271)

In 1917-1918 with the Liberty League and then with the Liberty Congress Harrison advocated federal anti-lynching legislation, which the NAACP declined to push at this time and did not publicly support until later. In 1917, according to historian Robert L. Zangrando in "The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950," the NAACP “actually declined to make an open push for” federal anti-lynching legislation.” Zangrando concluded that NAACP’s failure to wholeheartedly support the anti-lynching legislation reflected the fact that it “was reaching for southern support and still pulling its punches on the matter of federal statute.” (Perry, 2008, 9, 288-9, 298-9, 310, 375, 381, 515 n 29)

The Harrison/William Monroe Trotter-led Liberty Congress of 1918 was a major Black national protest effort during World War I. It opposed lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement and petitioned Congress for federal anti-lynching legislation. Joel E. Spingarn, the head of the NAACP, attempted to have it called off. Spingarn was a major in Military Intelligence (that branch of the War Department that monitored the Black and radical communities) and he was a pro-war socialist at a time when Lenin and others in the international socialist movement were criticizing that position. When Spingarn’s attempt to get the Liberty Congress called-off didn’t work, he spoke with Du Bois and they agreed to host a “Colored Editors Conference” to meet a week earlier in a blatant effort to steal the thunder from, and undermine, the Liberty Congress. In this period Du Bois put in an application for a captaincy in Military Intelligence and, as part of the quid-pro-quo related to his captaincy application, he wrote his infamous July 1918 "Crisis" editorial entitled “Close Ranks.” In that editorial Du Bois urged African Americans to “forget our special grievances [lynching, segregation, disfranchisement] and close ranks” behind Wilson’s war effort. (Perry, 2008, 232, 373-6, 381, 385-6, 473-4 n 36)

In response to Du Bois’s “Close Ranks” editorial and his application for the captaincy in Military Intelligence, Harrison wrote a scathing editorial in "The Voice" entitled “The Descent of Dr. Du Bois.” Harrison’s exposé was a principal reason that Du Bois was denied the captaincy and, more than any other document, it marked the significant break between the “New Negroes” and the older leadership. (Perry, 2008, 386-91, 408 n. 34; Aptheker, 1983, 159)

Because of such criticism, Du Bois never mentioned Harrison in "The Crisis" and seemingly went out of his way to avoid doing so. (Perry, 2008, 352-3, 386-91, 408 n 34.)

2. Stevens questions my “placing Harrison rather than Garvey at the helm of Harlem’s burgeoning Black radical community” and not “more clearly” elucidating some related “larger theoretical and historical” issues (which she does not name or define).

The record left by contemporaries is clear about Harrison's importance as a radical and his signal influence on Garvey's radicalism. Through mid-1918 (when volume one ends) Harrison was clearly the dominant figure in Harlem radicalism. For anyone to even suggest that Garvey, not Harrison was the dominant radical figure at that time, is, based on the record, utter nonsense. My biography sought to document what actually happened and I think this is a proper task for both a biographer and an historian.

The Jamaica-born Garvey came to the United States in 1916 in order to raise funds to set up an industrial school in Jamaica along the lines of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, which he admired. At first, he did not fare very well in the U.S. and he had, in his own words, "made up his mind to return to Jamaica in the spring of 1917, when he became associated with [his old boyhood friend] Mr. W. A. Domingo and Mr. Hubert Harrison.” Domingo, a socialist and the first editor of Garvey’s "Negro World," explained that Harrison “was a brilliant man, a great intellectual, a Socialist and highly respected” and “Garvey like the rest of us [A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Cyril Briggs, Grace Campbell, Richard B. Moore, and other “New Negro” militants] followed Hubert Harrison.” (Perry, 2008, 2, 294)

Anselmo Jackson, a writer for both Harrison’s "Voice" and Garvey’s "Negro World," further explains that beginning in 1916:

outdoors and indoors, Hubert Harrison was preaching an advanced type of radicalism with a view to impressing race consciousness and effecting racial solidarity among Negroes. . . . [The] atmosphere was charged with Harrison’s propaganda; men and women of color thruout the United States and the West Indies . . . pledged their support to Harrison as they became members of the Liberty League. Garvey publicly eulogized Harrison, joined the Liberty League and took a keen interest in its affairs. . . . [Harrison] was the forerunner of Garvey and contributed largely to the success of the latter . . . (Perry, 2008, 338)

As regards “larger theoretical and historical” issues – they appear throughout the biography: I will mention a few.

From 1911 to 1914 Harrison was America’s leading Black Socialist and he made major theoretical contributions on the subject of “The Negro and Socialism” by advocating that socialists champion the cause of African Americans as a revolutionary doctrine; that they develop a special appeal to and for African Americans; and that they affirm the duty of all socialists to oppose race prejudice. These three themes would contribute significantly to left activism in the U.S. in the twentieth century. (Perry, 2008, 7)

When he left the SP Harrison offered what is arguably the most profound, but least heeded criticism, in U.S. left history. He stated simply that the Socialist Party [like the labor movement] has “insisted on [white] Race First and class after.” That the “white men” of the Party put “[the white] ‘race first’ rather than ‘class first.’” As I explain, “Harrison was suggesting that a primary reason for limited working-class consciousness and for the absence of socialism in the United States was white supremacy.” (Perry, 2008, 87-8; Perry, 2001, 109, 115)

I also make clear that Harrison’s “experiences with white supremacy within the socialist and labor movements” was an important factor leading to his founding of “the ‘New Negro Movement’ . . . which laid the basis for the Garvey movement and contributed so significantly . . . to the social and literary climate leading to the 1925 publication of Alain Locke’s well-known 'The New Negro.'” I emphasize that “Harrison’s mass-based political movement was, however, qualitatively different from the more middle-class, arts-based, apolitical movement associated with Locke.” (Perry, 2008, 7, 8)

3. Stevens writes “it is curious that Perry repeatedly refers to Harrison as African American rather than Caribbean American or even Afro-Caribbean.”

In the biography I refer to Harrison as “Negro,” “Negro American,” “Black,” “Black Caribbean,” “a key figure in developing Caribbean radicalism”; a “poor, working-class, Black Caribbean immigrant,” “poor, Black, foreign born, and from the Caribbean,” “African American,” and so on and I refer to his parents as “Afro-Caribbean.” In response to Stevens’ assertion that my biography “repeatedly refers to Harrison as African American” – she is simply wrong. In the entire book I count two times that I refer to Harrison as an “African American” – hardly the “repeatedly” that Stevens tells readers. (Perry, 2008, 3, 5, 23, 16-7, 159)

I have no problem referring to Harrison as an African American, however, particularly since that is one name that has come to replace “Negro American”; since Harrison referred to himself with pride as an “untamed, untamable African” and a “Negro American”; since he named his organization the “Liberty League of Negro Americans”; since he wrote “I was born Danish and am now twice an American; first by my own free choice and next by Uncle Sam’s purchase of the Danish islands”; and since he wrote:

I became an American because I was eager to be counted in the fight wherever I happened to be, to bear the burden and heat of the day in helping to make conditions better in this great land for the children who will come after me. And although I am not SATISFIED with American conditions as they now are, I realize that in these days of change and unrest I would not have been satisfied anywhere else. In China I would be fighting against foreign domination, in Egypt, India, South Africa or West Africa I would be fighting against the British oligarchs, in Jamaica against the sinister repression of black people practiced by both whites and mulattoes, and in the Dutch, French or American West Indies against crackerism, stupidity or cowardice. (Perry, 2001, 92, 254, 256, 282, 302)

4. Stevens writes (p. 284) that Harrison had a “predilection for electoral struggles.”

To the contrary, Harrison is a prime example of a radical activist who would struggle, as the saying goes, “by any means necessary.” During his life he was a militant proponent of direct action, sabotage, armed self-defense, strikes, boycotts, migration, and direct challenges to the KKK. In volume two I will cite Military Intelligence that he frequently advocated Bolshevism. (Perry, 2008, 7, 11, 197-8, 201, 291, 298-9, 311.)

He functioned both inside and outside the electoral arena and arguably his most important contribution to revolutionary strategy in the U.S. was related to that fact.

While in the Socialist Party during a period when the key political debates concerned positions on revolutionary vs. evolutionary socialism and revolutionary unionism vs. AFL craft unionism, Harrison, in 1911 and 1912, appealed to both wings of the Party and proposed a new litmus test, a new “crucial test,” for U.S. Socialists—“to champion” the cause of the “Negro.” He thought this was the key to revolutionary strategy in the United States. (Perry, 2008, 180)

5. Stevens writes: “Perry’s emphasis on Harrison’s primacy among the leading ‘race men’ in Harlem’s Black radical scene in 1917 occludes the role of women in the Black radical tradition.”

Stevens creates a “straw man.” The phrase that Stevens puts in quotes -- “race men” -- never appears once in "Hubert Harrison." Stevens doesn’t mention one woman on the Harlem scene in this period that was “occluded.” This volume, covering the period up to 1918, contains information on many women active in Harlem and highlights, in particular, the contributions of Williana Jones Burroughs and Frances Reynolds Keyser. It also offers interesting new information on Eslanda Cardoza Goode.

6. Stevens finds it “curious” that I don’t compare Harrison’s marriage to several others (including two second marriages) that all occur outside the time frame of this volume and include Du Bois’s 1951 marriage to Shirley Graham.

The book is a biography of Hubert Harrison’s life up to 1918. It is not a work focusing on comparative marriages, particularly not on one 24 years after Harrison’s death.

Hubert Harrison was popular and extremely influential in his day. Fully aware of that popularity and influence Arthur A. Schomburg, the outstanding book collector of the African Diaspora, presciently pointed to Harrison’s importance for future generations when he eulogized at his funeral that Harrison was “ahead of his time.” Schomburg was correct. Harrison’s life story and insights have much to offer readers today, particularly in this period of intensifying class and race oppression. (Perry, 2008, vii, 395)

I think that "Science and Society" should have offered a more accurate and less innuendo-laden review that better informed readers about the biography of Hubert Harrison, the most important Black Socialist in early twentieth-century America. Because this was not done, I hope you will share my response – keeping in mind the inspiring words from the front page of Hubert’s Harrison’s "Voice" –

“For the future in the distance
And the good that we can do.”

In solidarity,

Jeffrey B. Perry


Perry, Jeffrey B., ed. 2001. "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Middletown, Ct: Wesleyan University Press)
Perry, Jeffrey B. 2008.

"Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (New York: Columbia University Press)

Note this letter can also be found in pdf format at (top left).

Hubert Harrison:
The Voice of
Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918

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