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100th Anniversary of Hubert Harrison’s Founding of the First Organization of the Militant “New Negro Movement"

June 12, 1917

100th Anniversary of Hubert Harrison’s Founding
of the First Organization of the Militant “New Negro Movement”



One hundred years ago, on June 12, 1917, Hubert Harrison founded the Liberty League of Negro-Americans at a rally attended by thousands at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 52-60 W. 132nd Street in Harlem. It was the first organization of the militant “New Negro Movement.” Several weeks later, on July 4, at a large rally at Metropolitan Baptist Church, 120 W. 138th Street, Harrison founded the movement’s first paper – “The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro.”


The Liberty League’s Bethel rally was called around the slogans "Stop Lynching and Disfranchisement” and “Make the South 'Safe For Democracy.'” Listed speakers included Harrison, the young activist Chandler Owen, and Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. (of Abyssinian Baptist Church). Marcus Garvey, a relatively unknown former printer from Jamaica also spoke at the rally in what was his first talk before a major Harlem audience.

The League's stated purpose was to take steps "to uproot" the twin evils of lynching and disfranchisement and "to petition the government for a redress of grievances." It aimed to "carry on educational and propaganda work among Negroes" and "exercise political pressure wherever possible" in order to "abate lynching." Harrison said it offered "the most startling program of any organization of Negroes in the country" as it demanded democracy at home for "Negro-Americans" before they would be expected to enthuse over democracy in Europe.

Two thousand people packed the Bethel church meeting and the audience rose in support during Harrison's introduction when he demanded "that Congress make lynching a Federal crime." Resolutions were passed calling the government's attention to the continued violation of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments (regarding slavery and involuntary servitude, citizenship rights, and voting rights); to the existence of mob law from Florida to New York; and to the demand that lynching be made a federal crime. In his talk Harrison also called for retaliatory self-defense whenever Black lives were threatened by mobs.

The Liberty League emphasized "a special sympathy" for “our brethren in Africa" and pledged to "work for the ultimate realization of democracy in Africa -- for the right of these darker millions to rule their own ancestral lands -- even as the people of Europe -- free from the domination of foreign tyrants." The League also adopted a tricolor flag. Harrison explained, because of the "Negro's" "dual relationship to our own and other peoples," we “adopted as our emblem the three colors, black brown and yellow, in perpendicular stripes." These colors were chosen because the "black, brown and yellow, [were] symbolic of the three colors of the Negro race in America." They were also, he suggested, symbolic of people of color worldwide.

Garvey, his fellow Jamaican and future “Negro World” editor W. A. Domingo, and other leading activists, including a number of important future leaders of the Garvey movement, joined Harrison’s Liberty League. From the Liberty League and the Voice came many core progressive ideas later utilized by Garvey in both the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the “Negro World.” Contemporaries readily acknowledged that Harrison’s work laid groundwork for the Garvey movement. Harrison claimed that from the Liberty League “Garvey appropriated every feature that was worthwhile in his movement” and that the secret of Garvey’s success was that he “[held] up to the Negro masses those things which bloom in their hearts” including “race-consciousness” and “racial solidarity” – “things taught first in 1917 by the “Voice” and The Liberty League.”

The July 4 meeting at which “The Voice” appeared came in the wake of the vicious white supremacist attacks (Harrison called it a “pogrom”) on the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois (which is twelve miles from Ferguson, Missouri). Harrison again advised “Negroes” who faced mob violence in the South and elsewhere to "supply themselves with rifles and fight if necessary, to defend their lives and property." According to the “New York 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." In his talk he encouraged “Negroes” everywhere who did not enjoy the protection of the law to arm in self-defense, to hide their arms, and to learn how to use their weapons. He also reportedly called for a collection of money to buy rifles for those who could not obtain them themselves, emphasizing that "Negroes in New York cannot afford to lie down in the face of this" because "East St. Louis touches us too nearly." According to the “Times,” Harrison said it was imperative to "demand justice" and to "make our voices heard." This call for armed self-defense and the desire to have the political voice of the militant New Negro heard were important components of Harrison's militant “New Negro” activism.

The Voice featured Harrison’s outstanding writing and editing and it included important book review and “Poetry for the People” sections. It contributed significantly to the climate leading up to Alain LeRoy Locke’s 1925 publication “The New Negro.”

Beginning in August 1919 Harrison edited “The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort,” which described itself as “A Magazine for the New Negro,” published “in the interest of the New Negro Manhood Movement,” and “intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races -- especially of the Negro race.”

In early 1920 Harrison assumed "the joint editorship" of the “Negro World” and served as principal editor of that globe-sweeping newspaper of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (which was a major component of the “New Negro Movement”).

Then, in August 1920, while serving as editor of the “Negro World,” Harrison completed “When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World.” Many of Harrison’s most important “New Negro Movement” editorials and reviews from the 1917-1920 period were reprinted in “When Africa Awakes.” The book, recently republished in expanded form by Diasporic Africa Press, makes clear his pioneering theoretical, educational, and organizational role in the founding and development of the militant “New Negro Movement.”

Brief Biographical Background Pre the Founding of Militant “New Negro Movement”

St. Croix, Virgin Islands-born, Harlem-based, Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927) was a brilliant, class conscious and race conscious, writer, educator, orator, editor, book reviewer, political activist, and radical internationalist. Historian J. A. Rogers in “World’s Great Men of Color” described him as an “Intellectual Giant” who was “perhaps the foremost Aframerican intellect of his time.” Labor and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph, referring to a period when Harlem was considered an international “Negro Mecca” and the “center of radical black thought,” described him as “the father of Harlem radicalism.” Richard B. Moore, active with the Socialist Party, African Blood Brotherhood, Communist Party, and movements for Caribbean independence and federation, described Harrison as “above all” his contemporaries in his steady emphasis that “a vital aim” was “the liberation of the oppressed African and other colonial peoples.”

Hubert Harrison played unique, signal roles in the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the “New Negro”/Garvey movement) of his era. He was a major influence on the class radical Randolph, on the race radical Garvey, and on other militant “New Negroes” in the period around World War I. W. A. Domingo, a socialist and the first editor of Garvey’s “Negro World” newspaper explained, “Garvey like the rest of us [A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Cyril Briggs, Grace Campbell, Richard B. Moore, and other “New Negroes”] followed Hubert Harrison.” Historian Robert A. Hill refers to Harrison as “the New Negro ideological mentor.” Considered the most class conscious of the race radicals and the most race conscious of the class radicals in those years, he is a key link in the two great trends of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggle – the labor and civil rights trend associated with Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. and the race and nationalist trend associated with Garvey and Malcolm X. (King marched on Washington with Randolph at his side and Malcolm’s father was a Garveyite preacher and his mother was a reporter for Garvey’s Negro World, the newspaper for which Harrison had been principal editor.)

From 1911 to 1914 Harrison served as the leading Black theoretician, speaker, and activist in the Socialist Party of America. Party statements and practices -- including events at the 1912 convention where Socialists failed to address the “Negro Question” and supported Asian exclusion as “legislation restricting the invasion of the white man’s domain by other races” -- caused him to leave the Socialist Party in 1914. After departing, he offered what is arguably the most profound, but least heeded, criticism in the history of the United States left -- that Socialist Party leaders, like organized labor leaders, put the “white race” first, before class, that they put the [“white’] “Race First and class after.”

Harrison was a pioneering Black activist in the Freethought, Free Speech, and Birth Control Movements. Two years after leaving the Socialist Party, Harrison turned to concentrated work in the Black community. Beginning in 1916, he served as the intellectual guiding light of the militant “New Negro Movement” -- the race and class conscious, internationalist, mass based, autonomous, militantly assertive movement for “political equality, social justice, civic opportunity, and economic power.”

Those interested in additional information on Hubert Harrison and the founding of the militant “New Negro Movement” are encouraged to read "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press), "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press), and the new, expanded, Diasporic Africa Press 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.”

For information on "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press) CLICK HERE
and CLICK HERE

For information on "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) CLICK HERE

For information on the new, expanded, Diasporic Africa Press 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 at the Dudley Public Library, Roxbury, Mass. filmed by Boston Neighborhood News TV CLICK HERE

For a video of a Slide Presentation/Talk on HUBERT HARRISON the “Father of Harlem Radicalism” for the St. Croix Landmarks Society CLICK HERE (Note: The slides are very clear.)

For articles, audios, and videos by and about Hubert Harrison CLICK HERE
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Letter to the editor on the proposed Woodrow Wilson Marker at Princeton University by Jeffrey B. Perry in "Princeton Alumni Weekly"


Letter to the editor
on the proposed Woodrow Wilson Marker
at Princeton University
by Jeffrey B. Perry
in "Princeton Alumni Weekly"
March 1, 2017

CLICK HERE
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A Letter of Support Re: The Black Justice League Protests at Princeton by Jeffrey B. Perry and Gene Bruskin--

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 ‘68
jeffreybperry@gmail.com
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
genebruskin@gmail.com
Founder, U.S. Labor Against the War
Trade Unionist

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July 4, 1917 First Edition of “The Voice” – First Newspaper of the Militant “New Negro Movement” Hubert Harrison Urges Armed Self-Defense at Harlem Rally

July 4, 1917
First Edition of “The Voice” – First Newspaper of the Militant “New Negro Movement”
Hubert Harrison Urges Armed Self-Defense at Harlem Rally


On July 4, 1917, “The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro” — the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement,” edited by Hubert H. Harrison, made its debut at a rally at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 120 W. 138th Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues in Harlem.

The rally was called by Harrison’s Liberty League (which was the first organization of the “New Negro Movement and which Marcus Garvey and many other activists joined) and drew national attention as it protested against lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement.

The protest rally came in the wake of two series of white supremacist pogroms (from May 27 to May 30 and July 1 through 3, 1917) against the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois. Estimates of the number of African Americans killed in East St. Louis ranged from 39 to 250 and the attacks were widely attributed to “white” labor’s opposition to Black workers. 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.

At the rally Harrison reportedly said “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 faced 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 “New York Times” Harrison 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.”

In 1919 -- Hubert H. 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 Harrison continued his militant "New Negro" work as managing editor of The Negro World and author of When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World

Click Here for New York Times coverage.

For more on this topic see
Hubert Harrison: the Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918

Also see A Hubert Harrison Reader

and see Hubert Harrison’s articles on founding the The Liberty League and on East St. Louis HERE
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