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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library Publishes Finding Aid for the Leo H. Downes Papers

The Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library just published its Finding Aid for the Leo H. Downes papers (34 cassette boxes; 12 document boxes). It is a collection of great importance by an extraordinary individual (special attention should be paid to the audio cassettes). Many thanks to Diana Greenidge, Julie Siestreem, Thai Jones, and Patrick Lawlor for making this happen. See http://findingaids.cul.columbia.edu/staging/ead/nnc-rb/ldpd_11359941/

Leo H. Downes was an independent and provocative intellectual based in Harlem. His interests covered a wide range of topics, including African-American history, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, art, music, culture, sociology, theology, athletics, and education.
Downes was born July 15, 1933 in Coffee Gully, The Parish of St. Joseph on the island of Barbados. He was the only child of William Lionel Blackman and Adeline Ione Downes. His father was an engineer and, overseer. Leo graduated from St. Leonard's Boy's School in St. Michael Barbados West Indies in 1955. He attended the New School of Social Research in New York City from 1967 to 1970. He attended Columbia University School of General Studies from 1972 to 1974. He then attended New York Institute of Technology in Psychology in Westbury, New York.
Downes directed the Youth Opportunity Program for the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) located in the Washington Heights neighborhood for 32 years, from 1971 to 2003. The YOP program was designed as a pairing of high school adolescents with doctors as mentors for 15 to 20 hours per week to work in each doctor's respective area of research. It was a valuable and critically successful support system that worked well for both the doctors and students. Downes received numerous awards for this outstanding work. A teacher, counselor and, rehabilitator, he worked with children and adults in the Reality Halfway House, Cornell's Children's Services, and New York City Model Cities Program. He worked one to one, with small groups and, large groups as needed. He taught ex-cons, ex-addicts, dropouts and, High School Equivalency Programs.
Downes had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and consistently asked the most challenging questions of anyone on any given topic. Others sought him out frequently to attend their classes, lectures, discussion groups and, movies because, they knew he would come up with the best questions. For 35 years he moderated a monthly study group of the Society for the Study of African Philosophy. He was a part of the Institute for Research in African American Studies program at Columbia University from its beginning in 1993.
Downes was a member of the Harlem YMCA for 55 years. He was a competitive body builder from 1950 to 1974. He died on April 28, 2014 at the age of 80.

Tony Martin First World, 10/22/1988 (HF 90/Sony)

Dr. Tony Martin First World Alliance, 10/22/1988 (AV-90/TDK)

Brother Tony Martin Africa Experience Creates a Pan-African Philosophy #1, 3/6/1993 (dB 90/memorex)

Brother Tony Martin Africa Experience Creates a Pan-African Philosophy #2, 3/6/1993 (HF 60/Sony)

Brother Tony Martin Caribbean Unity and a Pan African Perspective, 3/1/1997 (HF 60/Sony)

Dr. Martin /Garvey Story, No date (FI 60/JVC)

T. Martin / Garvey Story, No date (HF 90/Sony)

James Baldwin / Speak, No date (HF 60/Sony)

James Baldwin / interview, No date (CHF 90/Sony)

James Baldwin Conf., 6/24/1989 (HF60/Sony)

James Baldwin, No date (HF90/Sony)

James Baldwin Conf., No date (DC 9/TDK)

James Baldwin/ Baraka at St. John Divine, No date (60 min./audio tech)

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Temple Univ. Nat. Afrocentric Institute, 5/9/1992 (60 min./ Greatronic)
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Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 Comments From Scholars and Activists



"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, BlackCommentator.com
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."
Booklist


"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."
Choice


"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


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Hubert Harrison Resonates Deeply Among the People

Events over the past few days have demonstrated how very deeply Hubert Harrison resonates among the people.
Yesterday afternoon Hugh Hamilton, a wonderfully knowledgeable and personable radio show host for WBAI's (99.5 FM in New York) "Talkback!," opened the airwaves for a full-hour to a discussion of Hubert Harrison. By last evening this website had received a record number of new visitor hits, most, presumably, coming from Hugh's politically-astute listener audience.
Following Hugh Hamilton and WBAI, Donna Fleming, the dedicated and community-oriented Coordinator of the Caribbean Literary and Cultural Center of the Brooklyn Public Library, hosted a slide presentation/book talk on Hubert Harrison at the African American Heritage Center in the Macon Library of the Brooklyn Public Library System in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The meeting room was packed and it still saw a steady flow of new arrivals. The event extended beyond the library's closing and many discussions continued in the lobby and then on the street (Lewis Avenue) in front of the library for well-over an hour afterwards.
Last Friday, in Chicago, Brian Jones, a New York City school teacher and a bright and well-informed political activist, hosted a Harrison slide presentation/talk, along with the International Socialist Organization (ISO), as a featured session at the Socialism 2009 Conference. Again, the meeting room was fully packed beyond seating capacity, Q and A was lively and ran over, discussions continued well past the session and on through the weekend, and a new appreciation for Hubert Harrison's importance was commented on by a growing number of the committed activists in attendance.
After all three of the mentioned events people came forward offering new ways to help spread the word about Hubert Harrison, his ideas, and the issues he and others struggled for.
Hubert Harrison is out there, he resonates deeply among the people, and his long period of "unremembrance" (to borrow from Winston James) is ending.
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