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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Williana Jones Burroughs Mentions Hubert Harrison on May 1, 1928

Williana Jones Burroughs Mentions Hubert Harrison on May 1, 1928 See Here 

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Black Wobblies: Hubert Harrison & Ben Fletcher review essay by Jeff Stein in Spring 2022 Anarcho-Syndicalist Review

"Black Wobblies: Hubert Harrison & Ben Fletcher" review essay by Jeff Stein in "Anarcho-Syndicalist Review" (85, Spring 2022) offers reviews of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" and "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (both books by Columbia University Press) and Peter Cole, "Ben Fletcher, The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly" (PM Pres). See Here

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"Hubert Harrison: The Strugge for Equality, 1918-1927" by Jeffrey B. Perry Has Been Nominated for Numerous Awards

"Hubert Harrison: The Strugge for Equality, 1918-1927" by Jeffrey B. Perry (Columbia University Press) has been nominated for numerous awards. In addition to being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, it has also been nominated for the Wesley-Logan Prize in African Diaspora History of the American Historical Association, the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, the Plutarch Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize (from the American Studies Association).

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"Princeton Alumni Weekly" on Hubert Harrison and Jeffrey B. Perry

Over the past 13 ½ years "Princeton Alumni Weekly" has paid important attention to my work on Hubert Harrison, "The Father of Harlem Radicalism." The Columbia University Press two-volume biography ("Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" and Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927") is believed to be the first, full-length, multi-volume biography of an Afro-Caribbean and only the fourth of an Afro-American after those of Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Langston Hughes.
See HERE
by Carlett Spike
and see HERE
by the late Merrell Noden
For info on vol. 1 see HERE
For info on vol. 2 see HERE
For additional information see HERE

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April 27th is the 139th Anniversary of the Birth of Hubert Harrison

April 27th is the 139th Anniversary of the Birth of Hubert Harrison: "Father of Harlem Radicalism," Founder of the First Organization and First Newspaper of the Militant "New Negro Movement," and Radical Internationalist

by Jeffrey B. Perry

Hubert H. Harrison (April 27, 1883-December 17, 1927) was a brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and radical political activist. His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of "New Negro" militants including A. Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a crucial link to two trends of the Black Liberation Movement – the labor and civil rights trend associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the race and nationalist movement associated with Malcolm X.

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 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. He authored over a dozen letters that were published in the New York Times, he was involved in important African American and Afro-Caribbean working-class intellectual circles, and he became a freethinker.

 

In the United States, Harrison made his mark by struggling against class and racial oppression. He helped to create a vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and worked for the enlightened development of the lives of "the common people."

A self-described "radical internationalist," Harrison was well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, 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 into coherent political radicalism. Harrison opposed capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States.

He was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played signal roles in the development of what was, up to that time, the most significant class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the "New Negro"/Garvey movement) in U.S. history. Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York. During its 1912 heyday, he spoke at Broad and Wall Streets in front of the New York Stock Exchange on socialism, and he was the only Black speaker at the historic Paterson silk workers strike of 1913.

In 1917 Harrison founded the Liberty League and "The Voice," the first organization and the first newspaper of the militant, race-conscious, World War I-era "New Negro" movement.

In January 1920 Harrison assumed the managing editor position at the "Negro World" (the paper of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association). He not only transformed the paper through his editing efforts; he also did so with his own editorials and articles. Throughout the period leading up to the August 1920 UNIA Convention he sought to develop race consciousness among the "Negro" masses and to point the way forward with a militant, "Negro"-led, direction in the struggle for liberty and equality. The themes he treated and subjects he covered -- the leadership question, international and domestic issues, education, poetry, and book and theatre reviews were wide-ranging. His voluminous writings in this short period were remarkable and offer an important look at the radical, race-conscious message that he offered.

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, opposition to restrictive laws, and a "Negro" state or states in the U.S.

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, and gifts of his portrait were made available for placement on the main floor of the 135th Street Public Library and for the (ironic) establishment of The Hubert Harrison Memorial Church in Harlem named 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.

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Princeton Alumni Weekly on Jeffrey B. Perry and Hubert Harrison

April 27, 2022 Princeton Alumni Weekly discusses Jeffrey B. Perry and Hubert Harrison -- see HERE

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Jeffrey B. Perry's two-volume Hubert Harrison biography reviewed by Brian Kwoba in "New Politics"

Brian Kwoba writes in "New Politics"  https://newpol.org/.../the-life-and-political.../
Here's my recent book review of the monumental two-volume biography of Hubert Harrison by Jeffrey B. Perry. Big ups to New Politics for featuring this and of course to Jeff Perry for getting this decades-long labor of love completed! I wouldn't be doing the work on Harrison I'm doing without the enthusiasm and encouragement that Perry offered me when we first got acquainted over ten years ago. Much respect!

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Columbia University Press Blog Items on Hubert Harrison

Columbia University Press Blog Items on Hubert Harrison -- see HERE

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Hubert Harrison and Contemporary Struggles for Racial Equality By Jeffrey B. Perry

"Hubert Harrison and Contemporary Struggles for Racial Equality"
By Jeffrey B. Perry -- see HERE Oeiginally published January 9, 2021.

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"Introduction" to the Pulitzer Prize nominated "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" Is Now Online

Columbia University Press has posted online the "Introduction" to the Pulitzer Prize nominated "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" The brief "Introduction" is well worth the read and can be found on the CUP webpage under "Excerpt" Here The book can be obtained at 20% off using code "CUP20"

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On Hubert Harrison's August 15, 1920 "Introductory" to "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World"

Hubert Harrison, in the "Introductory" to his August 15, 1920 publication of "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World," provides important insights for understanding the militant, political and literary, "New Negro Movement" that he founded.
The book contains fifty-three of his writings between 1915 and 1920 that establish his pioneering theoretical, educational, and organizational role in the founding and development of the militant "New Negro Movement." Harrison compiled this collection of his editorials, articles, and reviews from newspapers that he edited -- "The Voice" (1917-1919), "The New Negro" (1919), and "The Negro World" (1920) -- in order to explain the "new point of view" that developed during the Great War.
That new point of view, wrote Harrison, included an internationalist perspective describing how: during the Great War "the idea of democracy was widely advertised . . . as a convenient camouflage behind which competing imperialists masked their sordid aims"; "those who so loudly proclaimed and formulated the new democratic demands never had the slightest intention of extending the limits or the applications of 'democracy'"; "subject populations" put forth their own demands for democracy leading to "great unrest"; "black, brown and yellow peoples" were "insisting that democracy shall be made safe for them"; and the "race-consciousness" of the "Negro people" in the United States quickened and they put forth "new demands."

 

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On the 52nd Anniversary of the 1970 Postal Strike

As we mark the 52nd anniversary of the March 1970 postal strike people may be interested in this article I (Jeffrey B. Perry) wrote on the eve of the July 1978 postal wildcat strikes entitled "What's Behind Postal Strife" (in "New York Workers' Perspective, an Independent Newspaper of Labor and Community," July 1978). An image of the article is posted on my Facebook page of 3/19/22.

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400 Years Ago, on March 22, 1622

400 years ago, on March 22, 1622 (as described by Theodore W. Allen in "The Invention of the White Race"), the Powhatan Indians under Opechancanough, fearing that the English "would dispossess them of this Country," mounted what was at the time "the strongest effort ever made ... to halt the Anglo-American occupation of Indian lands." On the first day alone, one third of the Anglo population of North America was killed. Within the next year, more would die from privation than died in the initial assault. Of the survivors, two-thirds were not fit for work.
In the aftermath of the attack, and concerned about additional attacks, the Colony authorities forbade game hunting and the planting of corn near dwellings. The settlement perimeter was constricted, inhabitants were uprooted, half the landholders were dead and could offer no places for tenants to stay nor wages for day-laborers. Corn supplies were limited and a monopoly on corn was established. The price of corn went up eight-fold in one year, while the price of tobacco, the colonists' only money, was cut in half. Tenants faced insupportable debt and reportedly could not feed themselves three months out of the year. For the employed wage-worker, a tobacco wage in real terms was two-thirds what it was in England.
The situation was different, however, for the Colony elite, particularly for those who had cornered the market in corn. They were the debt-holders of the impoverished tenants, and they embarked on a scheme whereby workers in general were reduced to unpaid, long-term bond-labor. The laboring classes were dependent on the bourgeoisie for corn, so they were "compelled to submit to the condition dictated by the plantation bourgeoise: the status of ... bond-laborers." By the spring of 1622, servants' contracts began to appear that contained a new unprecedented provision allowing the employer to dispose of the servant to the employers' "heirs and assigns," and by 1623, efforts to reduce tenants to servants were common.
Allen then describes how the "Anglo-American plantation bourgeoisie seized on the devastation brought about by the Powhatan attack of 22 March 1622, to execute a plan for the chattelization of labor in Virginia Colony" and how "from that seeding came the plantation of bondage."

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WNM Podcast with Jeffrey B. Perry being interviewed by Sean Ahern, February 5, 2022.

WNM Podcast with Jeffrey B. Perry being interviewed by Sean Ahern, February 5, 2022. See HERE

 

 

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Paramus Post article "Jeffrey B. Perry, A Spartan Who Took a Different Path"

Paramus Post article "Jeffrey B. Perry, A Spartan Who Took a Different Path"

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WNM Podcast with Jeffrey B. Perry being interviewed by Sean Ahern.

White No More Podcast with Jeffrey B. Perry being interviewed by Sean Ahern.  See Here

 

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Hubert Harrison: "The Voice of Harlem Radicalism" with Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry Feb 1, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time Join Zoom Meeting

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"The Invention of the White Race" -- New composite edition from Verso Books

Gerald Horne - "Few books are capable of carrying the profound weight of being deemed to be a classic – this is surely one. Indeed, if one has to read one book to provide a foundation for understanding the contemporary U.S. – read this one."
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz -"A must-read for all social justice activists, teachers and scholars."
Available at 30% off from Verso Books - See Here

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"The Life and Political Contributions of Hubert Harrison" by Brian Kwoba in “New Politics,” Winter 2022

The Life and Political Contributions

of Hubert Harrison

BRIAN KWOBA

"New Politics," Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter 2022, 128-131

 

WITH THE COMPLETION OF HIS biography of Hubert Harrison, Jeffrey B. Perry has made a monumental contribution to our understanding of one of Black history's most important yet neglected figures. Hubert Henry Harrison (1883-1927) was the first Black figure in the Socialist Party of America to organize a Black-led multiracial party formation, the Colored Socialist Club. Harrison spearheaded the World War I-era "New Negro" movement by founding the Liberty League of Negro-Americans and The Voice newspaper. He inspired Marcus Garvey to build one of the largest international movements of Black people in history. Harrison also pioneered the tradition of street corner speaking in Harlem, which seeded the intellectually eclectic, grassroots, and African-centered community culture that endures there to this day. As Perry argues, "Harrison is the key link in the ideological unity of 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 trends associated with Malcolm X" (Vol.1,5). Yet before Perry's work, Harrison's story was largely unknown. At last, we have a richly textured and two-volume scholarly biography that decisively restores to history a figure who made such important contributions to the Black radical tradition in the early twentieth century.

 

Perry's first volume features intensive genealogical work on Harrison's ancestry, deftly rendering the historical and economic backdrop for Harrison's birth on the Caribbean island of St. Croix in 1883 and his upbringing in the Danish colony that the United States would acquire during World War I.

 

Perry also sheds light on Harrison's migration to New York City in 1900, his early experiences in debate clubs and study groups, and his break with religion and role in the anti-religious Freethought movement, along with the fateful termination of Harrison's post office job by the "Tuskegee Machine" for his outspoken criticisms of Booker T. Washington.

 

The place where Perry's first volume perhaps shines brightest is in his treatment of Harrison's experience in the Socialist Party. Here we encounter the story of Harrison's trailblazing theoretical writings on "the Negro and Socialism," as well as his groundbreaking practical work founding and leading the Colored Socialist Club in Harlem. Failing to convince the party of the need for explicit anti-racist politics and special attention to recruiting African Americans for socialism, Harrison's radical positions on issues like IWW-style industrial unionism, direct action, and the Paterson Silk Strike eventually drew the ire of the white and politically moderate party leaders. They responded to Harrison's radicalism and racial arguments with, in his words, a "most contemptible form of persecution" (Vol. 1, 212).

 

As a socialist, Harrison had argued that due to the history of slavery, African Americans formed a group that was more essentially proletarian than any other Ameri- can group. He maintained that the capitalist class sustained racism and racial prejudice in order to keep wages low, strikes infrequent, and workers divided. If not organized as socialists, Black workers would thus be used against the labor movement to the detriment of Black and white workers. Therefore, for Harrison "the Negro" formed "the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity." In its 1912 convention the national party took the position that racial differences were due to biology rather than socio-economic factors, and the New York local censured Harrison and aborted his precious Colored Socialist Club. Harrison's experience led him to reconsider his faith in the capacity of the advocates of proletarian emancipation to manifest any substantive commitment to the most essentially proletarian group in the country. As Harlem-based historian John Henrik Clarke once quipped, Harrison "was a socialist until he discovered that most socialists are not true to the teachings of socialism."

 

After parting ways with the white radicals in the Socialist Party, Harrison devoted himself to organizing and empowering the Black community in his home neighborhood of Harlem. In response to President Woodrow Wilson's decision to take the United States into World War I in 1917, Harrison founded the Liberty League of Negro-Americans, which was the first wartime-era organization of the "New Negro" movement to emerge in Harlem. The League offered a Black radical alternative to the pro-war liberalism of the NAACP, and Harrison's journalism exposed and thereby aborted W.E.B. Du Bois' attempt to become an agent of U.S. military intelligence amid the patriotic fervor of World War I. Perry's first volume ends with the Liberty Congress of Negro-Americans, the historic convening of dissident and "New Negro" activists in Washington DC in 1918 that elected Harrison its chairman and petitioned for federal anti-lynching legislation, despite the heightened wartime state repression of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. What a story!

 

Perry continues in the second volume where the first left off, chronicling Harrison's travels to places like Virginia and Chicago, his work as a freelance educator, and the creation of his final organization effort in the form of the International Colored Unity League. Crucially, this volume also covers Harrison's relationship to Marcus Garvey, his time as editor of Garvey's Negro World newspaper, and his role as a left-wing voice within the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This is an area, among many others, where Perry's work is illuminating, particularly for the way in which his reconstruction of Harrison's life story and vantage point reveals new perspectives on the rise and fall of Marcus Garvey. Although Garvey's movement drew much inspiration from the model of Harrison's Liberty League, it ultimately came to embody an authoritarian form of Black nationalist capitalism and imperialism that repulsed Harrison and led to his departure from Marcus Garvey's employ—not to mention some very trenchant criticisms of Garvey. Summing up Harrison's significance to socialism and Garveyism, Perry writes memorably of how "in the period of the First World War, Harrison was the most class conscious of the race radicals, and the most race conscious of the class radicals" (Vol. 1, 17).

 

Although Perry is not the first person to write about Harrison or to try to preserve his legacy, the depth of this biography has surpassed all previous such efforts. Harrison contemporaries like J.A. Rogers and Richard B. Moore included Harrison in their writings about Black history and Harlem intellectual life. In the 1980s, historians like Wilfred Samuels and Portia James published the first academic journal articles on Harrison. Since then, other scholars have written a Harrison-inclusive article or book chapter here and there. Unfortunately, all of these works have been exceptions to the general rule of Harrison's near-erasure from mainstream history and memory. For example, a recent book surveying 400 years of African American history by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes no mention of Hubert Harrison. Similarly, the University of Oxford's five-volume Encyclopedia of African American History mentions his name only four times and only in passing. And there has been no book-length biography of Harrison ... until Perry.

 

As a result, it has been a Herculean effort to recover Harrison, and the amount of labor Perry devoted to this objective is truly awe-inspiring. In the early 1980s, Perry wrote a PhD thesis on Harrison, in the course of which he built a relationship with Harrison's descendants. They gave him access to a whole trove of Harrison's papers, including his diaries, scrapbooks, correspondence, and various published and unpublished writings. In 2001, Perry edited and published A Hubert Harrison Reader. Then Perry compiled, sorted, organized, cataloged, and donated the papers to Columbia University, laying the basis for what is now the Hubert H. Harrison col- lection, much of which is accessible online. Drawing on this unique set of sources, Perry has rendered the chronology of Harrison's life in stunning detail. Indeed, the biography achieves a standard of rigor and meticulous- ness that only his nearly forty years of research could produce.

 

One question inevitably arises in studying Harrison: Why has he been so marginalized in history and memory? As Perry explains, "Harrison was poor, Black, foreign-born, and from the Caribbean. Each of these groups has suffered from significant discrimination in the United States and limited inclusion in the historical record." Not only that, but Harrison opposed capitalism, white supremacy, and the Christian church—dominant forces of the most powerful society in the world. ... Though he worked with many organizations and played important roles in several key ones, he had no long-term, sustaining, and identifying relationship with any [single] organization or institution, and so lacked the recognition and support that would have come with such a tie." (Vol. 1, 13)

 

And finally, "Harrison's willingness to directly challenge prominent leaders and organizations in left and African American circles stung many of the individuals ... and groups ... most likely to keep his memory alive" (Vol. 1, 14). That Harrison could remain so obscure for so long is also testament to how pervasive the very power structures that Harrison was contesting in the early twentieth century have remained, including their role in shaping how historiography is done.

 

Perry's recounting of so many details of Harrison's personal chronology sometimes leaves the reader wanting more emphasis on analysis that could draw out the deeper meaning of those details. For example, in Vol. 2 (613) we learn that in 1924, Harrison met an aging Ida B. Wells-Barnett in Chicago and was given a cordial reception at her home. Yet we get only one sentence about it. One wonders whether more could have been said about the significance of Wells-Barnett's own groundbreaking role in spearheading the anti- lynching movement in which Harrison and so many others would come to labor. Similarly, one wonders what political or intellectual fruits came (or might have come) out of this historic crossing of paths between two titans of the Black radical tradition. Contextual perspectives like these could help form an even fuller appreciation of the significance of the details that Perry's biography chronicles.

 

Nevertheless, Perry's decisive and incontrovertible historical restoration of such a towering influence as Harrison invites both scholars and activists alike to rethink the meaning of Black political and intellectual traditions upon which Harrison's restoration has bearing. As prime example, I myself began an exploration that is culminating in the writing of my on book on Harrison. Thanks to Perry's work, I am able to use Harrison and his vantage point as a vehicle through which to rethink themes like Black Marxism, Black (inter)nationalism, Black Freethought and the church, African-centered knowledge is the diaspora, Black masculinity and sexuality, and the "Harlem Renaissance." These are subjects whose discussions and reference points have too often neglected Harrison, despite his unique theoretical, practical, and at times contradictory contributions to them. Perry's tribute is indispensable for understanding the great stimulus Harrison's example contributes toward an expanded "sense of possibility" for Black liberation, both in Harrison's time and in ours.

 

BRIAN KWOBA is an assistant professor of history at the University of Memphis.

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Theodore W. Allen's Work on the Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy "Growing in Importance on 17th Anniversary of His Death

 

Theodore W. Allen's Work on Centrality of Struggle Against White Supremacy Growing in Importance on 17th Anniversary of His Death

 

Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry

 

Theodore W. "Ted" Allen (August 23, 1919-January 19, 2005) was an anti-white supremacist, working class intellectual and activist. He developed his pioneering class struggle-based analysis of "white skin privilege" beginning in the mid-1960s; authored the seminal two-volume "The Invention of the White Race" in the 1990s; and consistently maintained that the struggle against white supremacy was central to efforts at radical social change in the United States.

 

Born on August 23, 1919, in Indianapolis, Indiana, he grew up in Paintsville, Kentucky and Huntington, West Virginia (where he graduated from high school), and then went into the mines and became a United Mine Workers Local President. After hurting his back in the mines, he moved to New York City and lived his last fifty-plus years in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn where he worked various jobs including as a postal worker at the Bulk Mail Center in Jersey City, NJ and as a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

 

"The Invention of the White Race"

 

Allen's two-volume "The Invention of the White Race" (Verso Books, 1994, 1997; new expanded edition 2012; and new consolidated (2 vols. in 1) edition (January 2022) with its focus on racial oppression and social control is one of the twentieth-century's major contributions to historical understanding. It presents a full-scale challenge to what he refers to as "The Great White Assumption" — the unquestioning acceptance of the "white race" and "white" identity as skin color-based and natural attributes rather than as social and political constructions. Its thesis on the origin, nature, and maintenance of the "white race" and its understanding that racial slavery in the Anglo-American plantation colonies was capitalist and enslaved Black laborers were proletarians, contain the basis of a revolutionary approach to United States labor history.

 

On the back cover of the 1994 edition of Volume 1, subtitled "Racial Oppression and Social Control", Allen boldly asserted "When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years." That statement, based on 20-plus years of primary research in Virginia's colonial records, reflected the fact that Allen found no instance of the official use of the word "white" as a token of social status prior to its appearance in a Virginia law passed in 1691. As he later explained, "Others living in the colony at that time were English; they had been English when they left England, and naturally they and their Virginia-born children were English, they were not 'white.' White identity had to be carefully taught, and it would be only after the passage of some six crucial decades" that the word "would appear as a synonym for European-American."

In this context he offers his major thesis — that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor solidarity as manifested in the latter (civil war) stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77). To this he adds two important corollaries: 1) the ruling elite deliberately instituted a system of racial privileges to define and maintain the "white race" and to implement a system of racial oppression, and 2) the consequence was not only ruinous to the interest of African Americans, it was also disastrous for European-American workers.

 

In Volume II, subtitled "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America", Allen tells the story of the invention of the "white race" and the development of the system of racial oppression in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Anglo-American plantation colonies. His primary focus is on the pattern-setting Virginia colony, and he pays special attention to the reduction of tenants and wage-laborers in the majority English labor force to chattel bond-servants in the 1620s. In so doing, he emphasizes that this was a qualitative break from the condition of laborers in England and from long established English labor law, that it was not a feudal carryover, that it was imposed under capitalism, and that it was an essential precondition of the emergence of the lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude imposed upon African-American laborers under the system of racial slavery.

 

Allen describes how, throughout much of the seventeenth century, the status of African-Americans was indeterminate (because it was still being fought out) and he details the similarity of conditions for African-American and European-American laborers and bond-servants. He also documents many significant instances of labor solidarity and unrest, especially during the 1660s and 1670s. Of great significance is his analysis of the civil war stage of Bacon's Rebellion when thousands of laboring people took up arms against the ruling plantation elite, the capital (Jamestown) was burned to the ground, rebels controlled 6/7 of the Virginia colony, and Afro- and Euro-American bond-servants fought side-by-side demanding an end to their bondage.

 

It was in the period after Bacon's Rebellion that the "white race" was invented as a ruling-class social control formation. Allen describes systematic ruling-class policies, which conferred "white race" privileges on European-Americans while imposing harsher disabilities on African-Americans resulting in a system of racial slavery, a form of racial oppression that also imposed severe racial proscriptions on free African-Americans. He emphasizes that when free African-Americans were deprived of their long-held right to vote in Virginia and Governor William Gooch explained in 1735 that the Virginia Assembly had decided upon this curtailment of the franchise in order "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos," it was not an "unthinking decision." Rather, it was a deliberate act by the plantation bourgeoisie and was a conscious decision in the process of establishing a system of racial oppression, even though it entailed repealing an electoral principle that had existed in Virginia for more than a century.

 

Key to understanding the virulent racial oppression that develops in Virginia, Allen argues, is the formation of the intermediate social control buffer stratum, which serves the interests of the ruling class. In Virginia, any persons of discernible non-European ancestry after Bacon's Rebellion were denied a role in the social control buffer group, the bulk of which was made up of laboring-class "whites." In the Anglo-Caribbean, by contrast, under a similar Anglo ruling elite, "mulattos" were included in the social control stratum and were promoted into middle-class status. This difference was rooted in a number of social control-related factors, one of the most important of which was that in the Anglo-Caribbean there were "too few" poor and laboring-class Europeans to embody an adequate petit bourgeoisie, while in the continental colonies there were ''too many'' to be accommodated in the ranks of that class.

 

In "The Invention of the White Race" Allen challenges what he considers to be two main ideological props of white supremacy — the argument that "racism" is innate (and it is therefore useless to challenge it) and the argument that European-American workers "benefit" from "white race" privileges and white supremacy (and that it is therefore not in their interest to oppose them). These two arguments, opposed by Allen, are related to two master historical narratives rooted in writings on the colonial period. The first argument is associated with the "unthinking decision" explanation for the development of racial slavery offered by historian Winthrop D. Jordan in his "White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812". The second argument is associated with historian Edmund S. Morgan's "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia", which maintains that in Virginia, as slavery developed in the eighteenth century, "there were too few free poor [European-Americans] on hand to matter." Allen points out that what Morgan said about "too few" free poor was true in the eighteenth-century Anglo-Caribbean, but not in Virginia.

 

"White race" privilege

 

The article Jeffrey B. Perry, "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" (2010, see below) describes key components of Allen's analysis of "white race" privilege. It explains that as he developed the "white race" privilege concept, Allen emphasized that these privileges were a "poison bait" (like a shot of "heroin") and he explained that they "do not permit" the masses of European American workers nor their children "to escape" from that class. "It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself," but "the Black worker gets less than the white worker." By, thus "inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure."

 

As one example, to support his position, Allen provided statistics showing that in the South where race privilege "has always been most emphasized . . . the white workers have fared worse than the white workers in the rest of the country."

Probing more deeply, Allen offered additional important insights into why these race privileges are conferred by the ruling class. He pointed out that "the ideology of white racism" is "not appropriate to the white workers" because it is "contrary to their class interests." Because of this "the bourgeoisie could not long have maintained this ideological influence over the white proletarians by mere racist ideology." Under these circumstances white supremacist thought is "given a material basis in the form of the deliberately contrived system of race privileges for white workers." Thus, writes Allen, "history has shown that the white-skin privilege does not serve the real interests of the white workers, it also shows that the concomitant racist ideology has blinded them to that fact."

 

Allen added, "the white supremacist system that had originally been designed in around 1700 by the plantation bourgeoisie to protect the base, the chattel bond labor relation of production" also served "as a part of the 'legal and political' superstructure of the United States government that, until the Civil War, was dominated by the slaveholders with the complicity of the majority of the European-American workers." Then, after emancipation, "the industrial and financial bourgeoisie found that it could be serviceable to their program of social control, anachronistic as it was, and incorporated it into their own 'legal and political' superstructure."

 

Allen felt that two essential points must be kept in mind. First, "the race-privilege policy is deliberate bourgeois class policy." Second, "the race-privilege policy is, contrary to surface appearance, contrary to the interests, short range as well as long range interests of not only the Black workers but of the white workers as well." He repeatedly emphasized that "the day-to-day real interests" of the European-American worker "is not the white skin privileges, but in the development of an ever-expanding union of class-conscious workers." He emphasized, "'Solidarity forever!' means 'Privileges never!'" He elsewhere pointed out, "The Wobblies [the Industrial Workers of the World] caught the essence of it in their slogan: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"

 

Throughout his work Allen stresses that "the initiator and the ultimate guarantor of the white skin privileges of the white worker is not the white worker, but the white worker's masters" and the masters do this because it is "an indispensable necessity for their continued class rule." He describes how "an all-pervasive system of racial privileges was conferred on laboring-class European-Americans, rural and urban, exploited and insecure though they themselves were" and how "its threads, woven into the fabric of every aspect of daily life, of family, church, and state, have constituted the main historical guarantee of the rule of the 'Titans,' damping down anti-capitalist pressures, by making 'race, and not class, the distinction in social life.'" That, "more than any other factor," he argues, "has shaped the contours of American history — from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to the Civil War, to the overthrow of Reconstruction, to the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights struggle and 'white backlash' of our own day."

Strategy

 

Allen also addressed the issue of strategy for social change. He emphasized, "The most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck against bourgeois rule in the United States is white supremacy." He considered "white supremacy" to be "both the keystone and the Achilles heel of U.S. bourgeois democracy." Based on this analysis Allen maintained, "the first main strategic blow must be aimed at the most vulnerable point at which a decisive blow can be struck, namely, white supremacism." This, he argued, was the conclusion to be drawn from a study of three great social crises in U.S. history – "the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist Revolt of the 1890s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s." In each of these cases "the prospects for a stable broad front against capital has foundered on the shoals of white supremacism, most specifically on the corruption of the European-American workers by racial privilege."

Groundbreaking Analysis Continues to Grow in Importance

 

"Ted" Allen died on January 19, 2005, and a memorial service was held for him at the Brooklyn Public Library where he had worked. Then, on October 8, 2005, his ashes, as per his request, were spread in the York River (near West Point, Virginia) close to its convergence with the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers – the location where the final armed holdouts, "Eighty Negroes and Twenty English," refused to surrender in the last stages of Bacon's Rebellion.

 

Allen's historical work has profound implications for American History, African-American History, Labor History, Left History, American Studies, and "Whiteness" Studies and it offers important insights in the areas of Caribbean History, Irish History, and African Diaspora Studies. With its meticulous primary research, equalitarian motif, emphasis on the class struggle dimension of history, and groundbreaking analysis his work continues to grow in influence and importance.

 

Those interested in learning more of the work of Theodore W. Allen can see: 1)  writings, audios, and videos by and about Theodore W. Allen; 2) comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents for "The Invention of the White Race Vol. I: Racial Oppression and Social Control"; 3) comments from scholars and activists and Table of Contents on "The Invention of the White Race Vol. II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" [Verso Books]; and "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy."

 

Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry is the author of "Hubert Harrison, The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008) and "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press, November 2020). He is also the editor of, and wrote "Introductions" for "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" Vol. 1: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" (New Edition, Verso Books 2012); Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" Vol. 2: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America" (New Edition, Verso Books 2012); Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" (consolidated, 2 volumes in 1, Edition Verso Books, 2022) and Hubert H. Harrison, "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" (New Edition, Diasporic Africa Press, 2015).

 

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