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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

"Book Examines Native Crucian and Harlem Radical" by Genevieve Ryan Virgin Islands Daily New (St. Thomas) August 18, 2009

    Independent New York author and historian Jeffrey Perry recently published the first volume of a two-part biography of Crucian-born Hubert Harrison titled Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918.
    The biography follows Harrison’s life from his birth on St. Croix in 1883 up to the last 10 years of his life, a period that will be chronicled in the upcoming volume II of the biography.
    Perry says his interest in Harrison developed out of being a “product of the ‘60s” and experiencing the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. A Bronx-born New Jersey native, Perry was the first person in his family to attend college. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University. After Princeton, he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard University but became disheartened with school and decided to leave after participating in a study known as the Coleman Report — a nationwide survey that collected data based on attitudes and test scores in schools and compared them to the socio-economic factors of the area. After leaving Harvard, Perry traveled to 50 countries in the Americas before returning to the states and getting a job at the postal service in 1974. He later earned graduate degrees from Rutgers and Columbia University.
    Perry began to get involved in his community while working at the postal service, becoming a 33-year activist; elected union officer with the local 300; and editor for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Now retired, Perry spends his time researching, writing and lecturing on Harrison’s life and accomplishments at Ph.D. seminars, college assemblies, classroom presentations, public libraries, book stores, trade unions and high schools, as well as appearing on radio and television programs.
    “My research subjects are a product of my experience,” the author said. “The principal retardant to social change in the America’s is white supremacy. In the ‘60s, the Civil Rights Movement was a catalyst for the Women’s Movement, the Labor Movement, all other movements for social change.”
    Perry says evidence of this social change that began with figures like Harrison, though his contribution has been often overlooked historically, is seen today in events like the election of President Barack Obama, the U.S.’s first African-American president, a happening Perry says is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement.
    “Just the simple fact that he’s bright, he’s articulate … is really working on the psyche of Americans,” Perry said.
    The 624-page “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” was released in November 2008 and is already in its fourth printing. Perry’s popular work is the first multi-volume biography of an Afro-Caribbean figure, and the success of the biography has prompted several major universities to incorporate the writer, orator, educator, unionist and political activist into their curriculum.
“He is impacting in major ways,” said Perry.
    In 2001, Perry edited “A Hubert Harrison Reader” for Wesleyan University Press. The reader contains some of the 700 writings Harrison published in his short lifetime; writings, says Perry, that will soon be catalogued and published for public use on the Columbia University website.
    Harrison immigrated to New York City as a 17-year-old orphan. He became employed as a bellhop and elevator operator, attending night school, where he studied sociology, science, psychology, literature and drama. Though he never attended college, he was a self-made intellectual and scholar, who, says Perry, spoke and read in six languages, reading several books a day, a feat that enabled him to be well-versed in the history of the United States, as well as Africa, Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
Known as the “Father of Harlem Radicalism,” Harrison was an active advocate for socialism as well as the New Negro/Garvey Movement. He was also active in the birth-control movement; a supporter of black writers and artists; a leading community-based public intellectual; an adult education lecturer for the New York Board of Education; and a founding member of the internationally known Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.
    “He was the only person in United States history to play leading roles in the largest class radical and race radical movements in his era,” Perry said.
    Harrison reached his audiences through both his work as a newspaper journalist and editor, and through public speaking. He edited the publications “The Masses” and “The Voice,” served as the head of “The New Negro,” and was principal editor of “The Negro World.”
    And while many historians credit Alain Locke as the founder of the New Negro Movement, says Perry, Harrison actually founded the movement a full decade before Locke. Other achievements made by Harrison include being the first regular black book reviewer in history and founding the Liberty League, for which he created a tricolor flag of black, brown and yellow, representative of the “colors that we are.” The tricolor idea would later be transformed by Marcus Garvey into black, red and green, the colors of black liberation.
    Harrison, says Perry, also questioned the notion of the “Harlem Renaissance,” saying that the idea was largely a white creation as there was a continuous, though long-ignored, flow of literature and arts coming out of the area.
    Despite being ahead of time, the self-described “radical internationalist” was a very popular intellectual figure in his day. He influenced “New Negro” militants A. Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey, and his synthesis of class and race issues paved the way for figures of the Black Liberation Movement like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
    “He understood the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy to serious efforts as social change in the U.S.,” said the author.
    Volume II of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” is slated for publication in 2012.
    For more information, visit www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13910-6/hubert-harrison or www.jeffreybperry.net/events/htm.
    — Contact reporter Genevieve Ryan at 774-8772 ext. 340 or e-mail gryan@dailynews.vi.
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