"Hubert Harrison's on Thomas Paine's Place in the Deistical Movement," Originally published in The Truth Seeker, February 11, 1911, edited with a new Introduction by Jeffrey B. Perry in the May–August 2022 "Truth Seeker ("World's Oldest
Magazine for Freethinkers"). People can watch a 6-minute video on the issue HERE
Jeffrey B. Perry Blog
"Hubert Harrison's on Thomas Paine's Place in the Deistical Movement," Originally published in The Truth Seeker, February 11, 1911, edited with a new Introduction by Jeffrey B. Perry in the May–August 2022 "Truth Seeker ("World's Oldest
Thirty-seven Jeffrey B. Perry YouTube Videos -- HERE
Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" with Introduction and Notes by Jeffrey B. Perry is available at special 40% off discount from Verso Books
Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" with Introduction and Notes by Jeffrey B. Perry is available at special 40% off discount from Verso Books at https://www.versobooks.com/authors/934-theodore-w-allen
"Hubert Henry Harrison – Tribune of the People"
Review by Sean I. Ahern
Over the past two decades there has been an upsurge of interest in the life and work of Hubert H. Harrison. As a leading socialist and subsequent proponent of what he termed the mass based "Race First" approach to organizing, Harrison exercised a direct, seminal influence on his contemporaries including A. Philip Randolph, W. A. Domingo, Marcus Garvey, Richard B Moore, Chandler Owen, Arturo Schomburg, Cyril Briggs, Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson, Hodge Kirnon, J. A. Rogers and William Monroe Trotter. As W. A. Domingo, childhood friend of Garvey and first editor of the "Negro World" would later explain, "Garvey like the rest of us followed Hubert Harrison."
Other literary figures, Harrison's contemporaries, such as Eugene O'Neill, Henry Miller and Max Eastman, acknowledged his contributions. Radical socialists such as "Big Bill" Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn shared the podium with him at a Patterson Silk Strike activity in 1913. In 1922, when Claude McKay was commissioned by the Comintern in the Soviet Union to write an analysis of the condition of the Negro in the US, the Soviet leaders handed McKay Harrison's books for reference. Of course, McKay was already a friend and comrade to Harrison prior to his visit to Moscow.
Interest in Harrison has been spurred in large part by the release of "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press, 2001) edited by Jeffrey B. Perry and the 2-volume Perry biography, "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press 2009) and the recently released "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press 2021). Perry also assisted with the Diasporic Press reprint of Harrison's "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" first published by Porro Press in 1920. These books bring to our attention important writings and organizing efforts undertaken by Harrison at a critical juncture of national and international events between 1910 and 1927.
Perry has also traveled at his own expense around the country to give numerous free public talks on Harrison, many of which may be viewed online through his website: https://www.jeffreybperry.net/
In addition, Perry is the literary executor for Theodore W Allen ("The Invention of The White Race," Verso, 1994, 1997) and a well-trained, independent scholar with degrees from Princeton and Columbia Universities. He has conducted his research for the Harrison volumes while living and working among the people, as an anti-white supremacist activist and labor union leader, husband, and father based in Northern New Jersey.
"A Hubert Harrison Reader"
"A Hubert Harrison Reader" and the two-volume biography are the product of a 40-year research project based on primary sources including Harrison's own papers, which had been preserved by his family in Harlem apartments after his early death at 44 in 1927. The Harrison Papers have now been archived in the Columbia Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and are available to the public at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/archival/collections/ldpd_6134799/
with an important portion available online at https://dlc.library.columbia.edu/hubert_h_harrison .
"A Hubert Harrison Reader" and the two-volume biography provide a window for those interested in: the struggle against white supremacism; capitalism and Imperialism in the early 20th century; the rise of the New Negro Movement; the Garvey movement; early efforts to build mass-based radical Black organization; questions of leadership arising in mass-based radical organizations; and the signal importance of education and culture to the growth of social movements. Labor and Black activists, students and educators interested in such topics as Critical Race Theory and Black Marxism may find in Harrison an early, though heretofore unacknowledged, resource.
"A Hubert Harrison Reader" contains published and unpublished articles, book reviews, letters and diary entries organized thematically and preceded by brief contextual remarks by Perry. Harrison's own words will readily engage the modern reader just as his talks and writings influenced a wide audience in the socialist and New Negro movements between 1911-1927.
The iconoclastic author Henry Miller, reflecting 40 years later on his days as a young socialist in Manhattan, described Hubert Harrison as his "quondam idol." The noted historian J. A. Rogers described the program that Harrison espoused as the "sanest."
Harrison's relationship with Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) are well documented and examined in detail in the most recently published second volume, "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927."
A cursory look at the "Contents" in "A Hubert Harrison Reader" brings to mind William Faulkner's oft quoted phrase; "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Some titles included are: "The Duty of the Socialist Party" (1911); "The Negro and the Labor Unions" (1917); "The Liberty League's Petition to the House of Representatives of the United States, July 4, 1917"; "The East St. Louis Horror"(1917); "The Women of Our Race" (1919), "Race Consciousness" (1924), "Lincoln and Liberty: Fact versus Fiction" (1921), "U-Need-A Biscuit" (1920), "Marcus Garvey At the Bar of United States Justice" (1923), "The White War and the Colored Races" (1917), "Wanted – A Colored International" (1921), "The Cracker in the Caribbean" (1920); "The Virgin Islands: A Colonial Problem" (1923);"A Cure for the Ku-Klux" (1919); " "Democracy" in America" (1921); and "The Program and Principles of the International Colored Unity League" (1927).
The biography's two-volumes are prodigious, scholarly tomes, chronological, thoroughly documented and richly evocative of Harrison's struggles to juggle family and personal relationships with his political commitments often in the face of dire poverty. They stand as a challenge to historians and serious students of US social history who have, with few exceptions, overlooked Harrison's seminal contributions and leading roles in both the Socialist Party and the New Negro Movement.
"The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918"
In his introduction to the first volume, "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1917," Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry describes Harrison as "the most race conscious of the class radicals and the most class conscious of the race radicals." Given the over 1,800 pages of text and notes in the volumes under consideration here, it may take some time for students and radical activists to digest Harrison's contributions, yet the evidence strongly supports the view that Hubert H. Harrison was one of the most influential and most radical of the radicals (in the sense of going to the root) in 20th century America.
Perry's intriguing description of Harrison's place in US social history offers historians a window for future inquiries. Even more importantly, Harrison's life and work offers some urgent lessons for today's "class" and "race" radicals who wrestle with similar defining features of American society that Harrison challenged a century ago at the beginning of the "American Century"; racial oppression, capitalism, imperialism, opportunism and narrow mindedness in those who would profess to lead the people's movements. Harrison's experiences and reflections upon leadership, program, and organization are particularly relevant for those today asking "what is to be done?"
Harrison was a working-class immigrant from Saint Croix, a Caribbean Island under Danish control, who arrived in Manhattan in 1900 as a 17-year-old orphan with little more than the clothes on his back and a thirst for knowledge. He arrived at the height of what has been referred to as the "nadir" in US race relations, a time during which many of the gains won through the Civil War and Reconstruction were being reversed and "Jim Crow" had been made the law of the land by the US Supreme Court in 1896. Perry contrasts the differing role that race played in St Croix vis-a-vis the U.S. and notes that Harrison and other emigrants from the Anglo- Caribbean to the U.S. at this time were shocked by the virulence of the racial hatred they encountered.
"The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" captures the energy with which Harrison threw himself into his new world. Eager to learn, indignant and shocked by the virulent white supremacism he encountered in the US, Harrison was undaunted.
The young Harrison earned honors at evening high school while working full time in NYC. His brilliance as a student was recognized early on. He continued his self-education by making full use of the public library system and attending the lectures, discussions and debates offered by churches, lyceums and informally organized study groups.
Perry carefully describes and documents the intellectual milieu in which Harrison developed his early views and skills. Harrison was an autodidact, (the "organic intellectual" before Gramsci coined the term) who never ceased to stress the importance of education to his readers and listeners. His 1918 article written for "The Voice" entitled "Read, Read, Read" expresses the importance he accorded to the cultivation of critical thinking and acquisition of broad knowledge by everyday folks. Harrison's critical reviews in "The Negro World" of T. Lothrop Stoddard's "The Rising Tide of Color against White-World Supremacy" and "The New World of Islam," will be of particular interest given that Stoddard was an early proponent of the "white" erasure theory advocated by white supremacists today.
Harrison led a lively social life in the growing Harlem community and at the age of 26 married Irene Louise "Lin" Horton, a Caribbean immigrant when she became pregnant with their first child.
Harrison studied with a critical eye and identified religious and ideological shibboleths that he found demeaned his race and self-worth as a free-thinking individual. He positioned himself as a Du Bois man following the 1905 Niagara conference that raised criticism of Booker T Washington's response to the disenfranchisement, racial violence and oppression of Black Americans.
Harrison's letter to "The Sun" in 1910 criticized remarks made by Booker T Washington and aroused the ire of the Tuskegee machine which had him summarily fired from the Post Office, a job that had provided him and his growing family with a modicum of economic security. The letter, reprinted in "A Hubert Harrison Reader," is an early example of Harrison's well-crafted prose, critical thinking and wide-ranging awareness of the conditions faced by African Americans in the US. Harrison writes:
"Mr Washington says that if black people will cease insisting on the 'real and great grievances' and acquire property and manual skill, the grievances, which are the crux of the Negro problem, will decrease and finally disappear. I will make no appeal to the philosophy of history or to anything that may even faintly savor of erudition because Mr. Washington and his satellites say that that is bad. But I will appeal to the hard facts."
Harrison goes on to cite specific examples of how the disenfranchisement of the Negro produced wide disparities in government expenditures on Black vs white schools, protected job discrimination in favor of white over Black workers, and negatively impacted the ability of Blacks to acquire and defend their property. Harrison's public criticism of Booker T. Washington's remarks however led to the loss of secure employment, the consequences of which will not be lost on working class readers generally. This act of reprisal from the Tuskegee machine cast Harrison and his family into economic insecurity and thrust him into a life of activism.
The Socialist Party 1911-1914
"The most race conscious of the class radicals"
From 1911-1914 Harrison was the Socialist Party's leading Black organizer. He sought to enlist the Party to demand the enforcement of the 14 and 15th amendments passed in the wake of the Civil War, but which were not enforced after the end of Reconstruction. The defense of the Black community which he described as "a group that is more essentially proletarian than any other group," was clearly the duty of Socialists. He hoped that the Socialists would offer a clear alternative to the Republican Party for Black voters, particularly as they migrated to Northern cities.
In 1911 Harrison began by introducing a socio-economic analysis of racial oppression that challenged the Socialist Party's biological conception of race:
"Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it. Take the Declaration of Independence for instance. That seemed a splendid truth. But the black man merely touched it and it became a splendid lie. And in this matter of the suffrage in the Southern States it is expedient to keep the Negro a serf politically because he is still largely an economic serf. If he should attain to political freedom he would free himself from industrial exploitation and contempt. Of course such a revolution is startling to even think of…" ("New York Call," November 28, 1911)
He elsewhere writes:
"…the mission of the Socialist Party is to free the working class from exploitation, and since the Negro is the most ruthlessly exploited working class group in America, the duty of the party to champion his cause is as clear as day. This is the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity…" ("International Socialist Review," July 1912)
Harrison's series of articles for socialist publications prior to World War 1, his support for the Industrial Workers of the World, his criticism of the white labor opportunism of the American Federation of Labor, his book review of William Z. Foster's "The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons" are all included in "A Hubert Harrison Reader."
The leaders of the Socialist Party rejected Harrison's call and then went on to endorse the Chinese exclusion acts. Harrison's writings for the "New York Call" in 1911, the Socialist Party's daily paper, included such headings as "The Negro and Socialism: I – The Negro Problem Stated," "Race Prejudice – II," "The Duty of the Socialist Party," and "How To Do It – And How Not." More extensive articles published by the "International Socialist Review" in 1912 include: "The Black Man's Burden [I]," "The Black Man's Burden [II]," and "Socialism and the Negro."
Harrison's parting letter to "The New Review" in 1914 "Southern Socialists and the Ku Klux Klan," was never printed by the journal but was reprinted in "The Negro World" in 1921. Harrison's article "Race First versus Class First," printed in "The Negro World" in 1920, reminded his audience of the crippling influence of white supremacism in the Socialist Party. All of these articles are reprinted in "A Hubert Harrison Reader" and Harrison's struggles with the Socialist Party are recounted and meticulously documented in the first volume of the biography, "Hubert Harrison: The Father of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918."
In hindsight, Harrison's writings, published by the "New York Call" and the "International Socialist Review," offer one of the earliest, most pointed critiques of white racial opportunism in the US socialist and labor union movements. Harrison's writings should be required reading for a new generation of socialist minded "class" radicals concerned to place the struggle against white supremacism at the center of their efforts for labor solidarity and fundamental social change. Harrison's final assessment was that the Socialist Party leadership put the white "race first and class after."
After leaving the Socialist Party, Harrison focused on organizing in the Black community and pioneered what became a tradition of street oratory in Harlem that continued down through Malcom X. From 1914 to 1917 Harrison drew together a nucleus of like-minded grass roots organizers. His agitation centered on the aspirations and grievances of the African-American community locally and nationally and urged African Americans to organize and advocate for themselves, free from the controlling influence of "white" patrons, an approach he termed "Race First."
1914- 1918 Race First
"The most class conscious of the race radicals"
Harrison's frustration with the Socialist Party led him to pose the question to his fellow Black socialists: "What to do when your 'white' friends say no?" Harrison answered that question over the next 15 years through his efforts to unite the Black community around a program of self-defense and self-interest and in organizations free from the controlling influences of would-be friends and allies whose support came with strings attached.
The street oratory that he had pioneered as a leading speaker for Eugene Debs' 1912 presidential campaign was now focused on street corners of Harlem. Harrison soon attracted large crowds with his message: of racial pride and demands, radical for the day; that the federal government enforce the 14th and 15th amendments; that black police officers be hired; that Black candidates unbeholden to white power brokers be elected by the Black community; that stores in Harlem hire Black workers; that Black owned businesses be supported and that they in turn support the interests of the community; and that a federal anti-lynching law be passed.
Harrison's "Race First" approach took organizational form with the Liberty League, which was founded in the summer of 1917 as African Americans in East St Louis engaged in armed self-defense against white supremacist mobs and President Wilson was drawing the US into WW 1 to "Make the World Safe for Democracy."
The Liberty League drew together Black socialists and a much broader section of the Black community in Harlem, which had become a center of the Black Diaspora from the US South and the Caribbean. The Liberty League publication, "The Voice," edited by Harrison, was the voice of a new movement, rising in tandem with movements nationally and internationally.
At the first meeting of the League, Harrison introduced Marcus Garvey, a newcomer to Harlem from Jamaica. Garvey was a follower of Booker T Washington and had come to the US to raise funds for his Jamaica based Improvement Association. Garvey joined Harrison's Liberty League.
In 1918 Harrison co-founded the Liberty Congress with Monroe Trotter that met in Washington DC as President Woodrow Wilson was pushing the US into WWI. Military Intelligence and the Justice Department as well as local police began their surveillance and efforts to contain the emergence of these Black led initiatives. Perry has poured through the archives and offers a detailed examination of these early efforts by government agencies who employed both the "carrot" and the "stick" to contain and disrupt the activities of the Liberty League and the Liberty Congress. These state interventions directed against Harrison and Black activists clearly overlapped with similar efforts against the IWW, anti-war socialists, anarchists and supporters of the Russian Revolution.
The ending of chattel bondage and the central role of Black people in the Civil War and Reconstruction was still in living memory in the early 20th century. If the huddled masses of European immigrants and their so called "white" labor and socialist leaders were blind to the role that racial disenfranchisement and Jim Crow played in supporting capitalism, the same could not be said for the US ruling elite themselves whose Supreme Court had provided the legal rationale for Jim Crow. Both political parties and much of the leadership of organized labor had, in different ways, overseen, supported or cast a blind eye to the imposition of debt peonage, discrimination and the chain gang on the Black population.
Harrison had attempted to enlist the Socialist Party in the fight to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to no avail. He understood that a mass movement was needed and if the white-led labor movement was deaf and dumb to the plight of Black America then it fell to the Black community itself, not the "talented tenth," to lead.
As Wilson pushed the country into a war to "defend democracy" in 1917, Harrison' wrote "The Descent of Du Bois," criticizing an editorial in the NAACP's "The Crisis" magazine, entitled "Close Ranks," in which Du Bois advised the African American community to "Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close ranks, shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow-citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy."
On July 4, 1917 Harrison wrote in the Liberty League's publication, "The Voice":
"This nation is now at war to make the world 'safe for democracy,' but the Negro's contention in the court of public opinion is that until this nation is made safe for twelve million of its subjects the Negro, at least, will refuse to believe in the democratic assertions of the country."
He described the world war as a power struggle between the European colonial powers over the division of Africa and Asia and Wilson's "Democracy" rhetoric as "dust in the eyes of white workers."
Harrison aimed to build a movement unencumbered by the need to follow the lead of white politicians or patrons. He had come to value independence not so much as a goal in and of itself, but as the basis for true self-determination. "Race First" was Harrison's pragmatic response to the record of efforts to control and subordinate the struggle against white supremacy and for full equality. It addressed the fundamental need of Black Americans to replace the sense of inferiority and self-loathing induced by white supremacism with self-reliance, political independence, self-defense, cultural affirmations, and self-expression in all fields of human endeavor.
"The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927"
The most recently published second volume, "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927," covers the last 10 years of Harrison's life during which he continued as a leading voice in the New Negro Movement based in Harlem and reached national and international audiences through speaking tours and publications that he either founded or edited. These include "The Voice," "The New Negro" magazine, "The Negro World," and "The Voice of the Negro."
Perry devotes more than half of the second volume to a very detailed, well documented examination of Harrison's relationship with Marcus Garvey, The Universal Negro Improvement Association, Black socialists, communists and the disputes, alignments and realignments that have framed the modern race/class conundrum in the US since World War 1.
If "A Hubert Harrison Reader" and the first volume, "The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" grew out of Perry's first encounter with Harrison's writings in the 1980's, his determination to produce a two-volume biography came after Aida Harrison Richardson, Hubert and Irene's third daughter, gave Perry her father's diaries, now archived at Columbia University.
To summarize the 800 pages of the second volume is clearly impossible, but suffice it to say that the disputes among Harlem radicals that emerged between 1918-1927 may help to explain why Harrison's leading role in the New Negro Movement was largely excised from academic accounts. Harrison was in the middle of these controversies. His criticisms of Booker T Washington incurred the wrath of the Tuskegee machine. After his criticism of W. E. B. Du Bois' "Close Ranks" article, Du Bois never mentioned Harrison by name again, opting instead to refer only to that certain "Negro writer."
Harrison had refused to join the chorus of Black socialists, who opposed Garvey from the start. While managing editor of "The Negro World" Harrison refused to be the Communist Party's stalking horse against Garvey even though in his diary he was very critical of Garvey following the 1920 UNIA convention. Given that debates over strategy and tactics within the Black and radical communities continue today, Harrison's views on the centrality of race in the US and on leadership in the struggle for equality between 1918-1927 seem prescient in hindsight.
In the first volume, "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918", Garvey was a newcomer to Harlem when Harrison first introduced him to a Liberty League gathering on June 12, 1917 at Harlem's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Disputes soon arose in the Liberty League and "The Voice" over whether to accept "white" financial support or to rely exclusively on support from the Black community. Harrison, like Garvey, favored Black money over "white" money, but Harrison at the same time refused to accept advertisements from skin lightening creams or hair straightening products that typically helped to support other Black periodicals. Additionally, Harrison maintained editorial control over the Liberty League publication, "The Voice." Perry notes also that Harrison apparently did not manage money well and was having some health issues.
Without a secure personal income or institutional supports, Harrison, Irene and their children often found themselves in dire financial straits. In addition to financial troubles there was the marital stress that resulted from Harrison's infidelities. Irene "Lin" Harrison does not appear to have left any written record of her own, but Perry recounts some conflicts recorded by Harrison in his diary and personal papers.
While a member of the Liberty League, Garvey honed his oratory, adopted much of the Race First program that Harrison had promulgated and offered what appeared to be a solution to the funding quandary. Garvey was able to raise large sums of money from the Harlem community through his sale of stock and bonds to launch what he promoted as Black owned enterprises, most notably, The Black Star Line.
In the process Garvey won some of Harrison's close associates over to his own Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Edgar Grey, former officer in the Liberty League, became the General Secretary of the UNIA. W. A. Domingo, another Liberty Leaguer, became the first editor of "The Negro World."
Garvey's sale of bonds initially for a restaurant and grocery store and later the Black Star Line came under scrutiny in 1918 following allegations of fraud by investors. An audit committee, whose members were selected by Garvey, claimed mismanagement of the funds raised for both the UNIA and The Black Star Line and that the money had been raised under false pretenses.
By 1919 Grey, General Secretary of the UNIA, Richard Warner, Executive Secretary of the UNIA and Secretary of the Black Star Line, and W. A. Domingo, Editor of "The Negro World," had all resigned their positions. Lawsuits and counter suits ensued and the New York City Assistant District Attorney ordered Garvey to stop selling bonds. Garvey for his part continued to raise large sums of money from trips outside of New York for support for the Black Star Line.
Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had combined much of the "Race First" program of the Liberty League with what appeared initially to be a bold vision of economic independence for a Black led, mass-based organization. Garvey assumed a leading role in Harlem despite increasing public criticism, lawsuits from investors and resignations of former Liberty League members. In the face of growing challenges to his credibility, Garvey turned to Harrison and offered him work as essentially the effective Managing Editor of "The Negro World" in early 1920.
Harrison's acceptance of Garvey's offer came at a point when the Liberty League and "The Voice" had ceased to exist. Harrison had no job or means of support for his growing family and Garvey offered him a decent salary and editorial freedom to carry on what he had started with the Liberty League and "The Voice." Harrison's acceptance added credibility to Garvey's efforts, but gave rise to a vituperative public war of words with his former socialist and Liberty League comrades who had emerged as sharp critics of Garvey. Harrison defended himself for taking the job as Managing Editor of "The Negro World," and his decision to join with a mass movement that the Liberty League and "The Voice" had essentially paved the way for. He refused to join in the public criticism of Garvey and he in turn publicly derided Garvey's critics as "Just Crabs." He contrasted the mass movement based on the Africa First approach which had been adopted by Garvey, with the meager support garnered by the socialists.
Under Harrison's editorial control, "The Negro World" achieved international circulation and self-sufficiency with over 50,000 paid subscribers. He was however under no illusions regarding Garvey's shortcomings as a leader. Following the 1920 UNIA convention Harrison began efforts to seek out ways to restart "The Voice" and organize a Liberty Party, efforts which however came to naught. At this time Harrison published "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' on the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World," which was used as a training manual for the Universal Negro Improvement Association and was sold in Harlem barbershops.
Harrison noted in his diary that Garvey promoted fanatical devotion and was given to self-aggrandizing and bombastic statements. Harrison, nevertheless, went about the job of turning "The Negro World" into a self-supporting publication with a worldwide readership.
Garvey's fundraising schemes however increasingly were revealed to be fraudulent and he was embroiled in numerous lawsuits. Harrison distanced himself from Garvey. His position at "The Negro World" went from Managing to Contributing Editor to contributing writer and ended in 1922.
As criticism from within the Black community and criminal investigations grew, Garvey and some of his more fanatical supporters employed increasingly repressive measures to intimidate critics and block prosecution. W. A. Domingo was assaulted by Garveyites. A tent revival meeting sponsored by the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr. was broken up by a few hundred Garvey supporters. W. E. B. Du Bois received threatening letters after criticizing Garvey. In September 1922 a human hand cut off below the wrist was mailed from New Orleans to A. Philip Randolph with a letter allegedly from the KKK ordering Randolph to join the UNIA. This occurred three months after Garvey had met with the KKK in New Orleans and expressed his support for racial segregation. Four months later The Reverend James Hood Eason, a prominent leader in the UNIA who broke with Garvey and was the leading witness for Garvey's prosecution was murdered in New Orleans by Garvey supporters shortly before he was to testify in early 1923.
By 1923 Garvey had been found guilty of fraudulent use of the mails and was deported shortly thereafter. Harrison's account of the trial in "Marcus Garvey at the Bar of United States Justice" ("Associated Negro Press," July 1923) is reprinted in "A Hubert Harrison Reader" in which he described Garvey's trial as "fair." In his diary Harrison wrote that Garvey could have been prosecuted for far more serious crimes than mail fraud.
International Colored Unity League
Between 1924-1927 Harrison worked to establish the International Colored Unity League (ICUL). It's program is included in "A Hubert Harrison Reader" and it contains a demand for a Negro state (four years before the Communist Party would adopt its Black Belt Nation thesis). He went on a speaking tour in Massachusetts for the ICUL and wrote a regular column, "Trend of the Times" for the "Boston Chronicle."
Harrison's article on the Lafayette Theater strike, "How Harrison Sees It," was published by the "Amsterdam News" (10/6/1926) and a lengthy quote appears in the second volume of the Harrison biography. The Lafayette Theatre strike divided Harlem radicals and was a central issue for Harold Cruise in "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual." As Harrison saw it "…unlike Abraham Lincoln, my prime object was not to save the union but to free the slave."
He edited "The Voice of The Negro," was a lecturer for the NYC Board of Education, and collaborated with Arturo Schomburg on the establishment of what would later become the Schomburg Library. Harrison also published widely including "The Real Negro Problem" for "The Modern Quarterly" in which he considered "the conditions under which the relations between the black and white races were established in America."
Over the summer of 1926 The Institute for Social Study hosted a 10-lecture series in Harlem offered by Harrison entitled "World Problems of Race."
In the "Epilogue" to "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927," Perry reviews the comments, obituaries and memorials that followed Harrison's premature death in 1927 at the age of 44 from complications following an appendectomy. Over 1,000 people attended the funeral. Among the pallbearers were Arturo Schomburg and Richard B. Moore (who would lead the international defense of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's).
The heroic aspect to the biographies and "A Hubert Harrison Reader" that highlight his remarkable talents and achievements are balanced by Harrison's own diary entries in which we get a glimpse of the stresses and strains that activism, poverty and male privilege imposed on the growing Harrison family. Irene "Lin" Harrison worked during this time as a seamstress while caring for the children. Harrison's activities took him far afield from the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a family and into a series of affairs with other women. In addition, he was not physically immune to the wear and tear of leadership and poverty.
Harrison and his family were part of the Harlem community from which emerged a new movement that aimed to stop and reverse the erosion of the gains of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The movement promoted self-reliance, self-respect and was internationalist in so far as it viewed itself as linked with the anti-colonial movements emerging in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
"Tell me whose bread you eat and I will tell you whose song you sing."
The enduring significance of Harrison's contributions for activists today may be his vision and tireless efforts to base organization of the overwhelmingly working-class Black community on the people themselves.
The old aphorism, "Tell me whose bread you eat and I will tell you whose song you sing," was frequently referenced by Harrison and underlay his frank assessment of contemporaries who in his view had strayed from the path. His critical remarks were sometimes heated but in the main not mean spirited or motivated by jealously or spite. A controversial figure, Harrison's frank assessments earned the respect of most contemporaries and the smoldering resentment of others whose pet projects and visions his remarks disturbed.
Today, as "McMovements," NGO's, non-profits, and the near complete corporatization of mainstream media and academia work to subsume and manage authentic expressions of popular discontent, Harrison's radicalism is a refreshing and important reminder that, then as now, it is the people's struggle that shapes history.
Hubert Harrison's radical life and times.
Books in Review
Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
By Jeffrey B. Perry
Buy this book
Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918–1927
By Jeffrey B. Perry
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Hubert Harrison represents one of the clearest examples of the difficulties of being a Black intellectual and activist in the 20th century. Upon his death in 1927, Harrison was recognized in many magazines and journals for the prominent role he'd played in this country's socialist and Black radical politics. As someone who'd organized a number of advocacy groups, as well as edited Negro World for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, Harrison was arguably at his best writing, but he was also a powerful speaker and agitator. Three decades after his death, he was still revered within the Black left. In the summer of 1963, in the midst of the decolonization movement in Africa and civil rights upheavals in the United States, an essay from a Harlem-themed issue of Freedomways put him front and center as one of the leading protagonists of the Black radical tradition. Richard B. Moore, in his article for the magazine, observed that Harrison was perhaps the greatest of the great outdoor speakers who gave Harlem's culture its unique flair. "Above all," Moore noted, "Hubert H. Harrison gave forth from his encyclopedic store, a wealth of knowledge of African history and culture" that presented early ideas of Black consciousness to a Harlem populace hungry for such sustenance.
Yet since the 1960s, Harrison's genius and importance have gone somewhat into eclipse. While left intellectuals like Michael Harrington and Black socialists like A. Philip Randolph are fondly remembered, Harrison's critical contributions to socialism and Black political thought are often unfairly passed over. Even in histories examining the Black left's rich and important literary and activist history, Harrison's name isn't invoked nearly enough.
A recent two-volume biography by Jeffrey B. Perry—Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883–1918 and Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918–1927—seeks to correct this oversight. Tracking Harrison's life from his birth in the Danish West Indies to his long career as an activist and intellectual in Harlem, Perry leaves no stone unturned in understanding the man, the times in which he lived, and the ideals he championed. Harrison's intellect was matched only by his steadfast refusal to bend on his principles—including not taking money from sources he disagreed with. A biography that is also a work of intellectual and institutional history, Perry's two volumes offer an incisive survey of the radical upheaval at the turn of the 20th century. But above all they make a case for why Harrison is a crucial part of the American radical tradition.
Perry's background as a working-class intellectual—not to mention his writings on race and labor in American life—make him the perfect person to help recover one of the early 20th century's great Black intellectuals and socialists. Having written for publications like Black Agenda Report, CounterPunch, and many others, Perry has spent years arguing for the importance of understanding how race and class are bound together as categories used to stratify and divide American society. For Perry, what defined Harrison's legacy as a radical was that he avowed a socialist and class-based politics and yet also refused to abandon the masses of Black Americans, north and south, in their struggle against racism. Instead, Harrison examined the problem of race and class and came to the inescapable conclusion that only mass politics and organizing among Black Americans could free them and, by extension, the working class from future exploitation.
Indeed, the story Perry presents revises what most curious readers know about the history of US radicalism in the early 20th century. Harrison played a key role in two important radical traditions at once: the Black freedom movement and the building of a Socialist Party in the United States. While many histories of the era treat the two as separate, Perry's biography shows that for Harrison, socialism and Black radicalism were inextricably linked, motivated by the same insights and commitments; there was no way to privilege one over the other. As Perry argues in the first volume, Harrison was "the most class conscious of the race radicals, and the most race conscious of the class radicals."
Harrison's personal life provides some sense of the ways in which he was both different from and quite similar to many other Black activists in 20th-century America. Born and raised on the island of St. Croix in the Caribbean, then a colony of Denmark, Harrison grew up in a working-class home. His mother was an immigrant from the island of Barbados, and his father was once enslaved on St. Croix. Harrison's formative years were at times difficult, Perry notes: He "worked as a servant, knew poverty, and developed an empathy with the poor." His early experience caused Harrison to develop not only a class consciousness but also a race pride, having associated with so many others of African descent while living on the island.
In 1900, Harrison left St. Croix for New York City. "In a sense," Perry writes, "Harrison was like many other West Indians who came to the United States at that time: young, male, and literate; thwarted by limited educational, political, and occupational opportunities at home; in search of a better life; and with a desire for more education and a propensity for self-education." While we consider this period as one of the great ages of immigration to the United States, we usually think in terms of people coming from Southern and Eastern Europe—and perhaps the banning of immigration from China in 1882. But at the same time, many from the West Indies also came to the United States, exerting a considerable influence on Black American culture, and American culture more generally, in the 20th century.
Harrison's arrival in New York City coincided with the aftermath of the August 1900 race riot, which injured more than 70 Black New Yorkers and marked a new low in the city's race relations. The rest of the country was arguably worse: The South was host to an epidemic of lynching (though there were murders in the North as well). But New York City was also a harsh place for African Americans—according to Perry, "seventy percent of single Black males earned under $6, and ninety percent of single Black females under $5 per week." Segregation marked a good deal of life in New York City as well, including education; in 1913, Perry points out, fewer than 200 Black students attended desegregated high schools. Harrison had hoped to find greater opportunity in the United States, only to discover that the country was at a "nadir" in terms of race relations. Despite proclaiming itself to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, the nation proved to be deeply oppressive for anyone of African descent.
Harrison moved in with his sister Mary and made the most of the rare opportunities offered him to pursue an education. Attending an evening high school that had mostly white students, Harrison worked during the day as an elevator operator. Despite excelling at his studies—the New York World published an article about him headlined "Speaker's Medal to Negro Student: The Board of Education Finds a Genius in a West Indian Pupil"—Harrison would never attend college.
Instead, after high school, he became absorbed in politics. Like many other activists, Harrison sought a viable solution to the so-called "Negro Problem" of the early 20th century in whatever political programs he could find. At the time, there were many courses of action championed by Black intellectuals and activists as well as by white radicals and liberals. Booker T. Washington publicly advocated Black self-reliance and a retreat from political agitation; W.E.B. Du Bois insisted on full political rights and social agitation as the way forward; Marcus Garvey preached a form of Black nationalism that linked the plight of Black Americans and those of African descent around the world, while harboring a distrust of white America and a refusal to see desegregation as possible—or even desirable. There was also the liberal Black politics that emerged with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which included Mary Church Terrell, James Weldon Johnson, and numerous others who favored the creation of biracial organizations to combat the rampant racism of the day through political and moral suasion, boycotts, and legal campaigns against Jim Crow segregation in its many forms.
Harrison's approach cobbled together much of the above, with an added emphasis on socialism. Drawn to the Socialist Party's aggressive advocacy on behalf of immigrants' and women's rights in New York, he worked for the party as an organizer and writer. He also supported the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies—and their leader, "Big" Bill Haywood, throughout the 1910s. For Harrison, the Socialist Party offered the chance to be a leader in the fight for greater rights for the working class, including Black workers. In Harlem, he formed a Colored Socialist Club—not, as he explained to Du Bois, to separate Black socialists from their white peers, but rather to meet Black Americans wherever they were, ideologically and literally. As Harrison wrote, "The work must be done where Negroes 'most do congregate.'"
However, he became increasingly frustrated by the racism and anti-Black thinking that permeated parts of the Socialist Party, and he sought to persuade his fellow socialists to make race more central to the party's clarion call to workers caught in the class struggle in the United States. This proved to be an uphill battle for Harrison and others. As Perry notes, leading socialists like Victor L. Berger—who would later become a US congressman for Wisconsin—argued in 1902 that "negroes and mulattoes constitute a lower race." Meanwhile, even those who declared a commitment to racial equality minimized its importance when it came to organizing. Eugene Debs, in 1903, argued that "the history of the Negro in the United States is a history of crime without a parallel." Yet in the same essay, "The Negro in the Class Struggle," Debs finished by stating plainly, "We have nothing special to offer to the Negro, and we cannot make separate appeals to all the races." For Debs, the class struggle subsumed all other struggles in American society. For Harrison, this was at best a fallacy and at worst a critical strategic mistake. Like other Black socialists, he argued that "the ten million Negroes of America form a group that is more essentially proletarian than any other American group." They could, if approached with sophistication and understanding, become the backbone of a larger socialist movement in the United States. But the concern of many Socialist Party leaders, including Debs, that appealing directly to Black Americans would divide the working class stopped the party from ever fully embracing this position.
For a time, Harrison continued to push the Socialist Party on the issue of anti-Black racism and to make the party an attractive alternative for African Americans in an era when both the Democrats and the Republicans expressed little interest in attracting Black voters. But in the end, his efforts were unsuccessful, and his Colored Socialist Club began to founder after it failed to receive enough support from the rest of the party in New York City.Even as he grew distant from the Socialist Party, Harrison never completely abandoned socialism, but he began to look beyond its institutions and clubs when it came to matters of politics. He crossed paths with Washington, Du Bois, and Randolph, at once befriending and establishing rivalries with them as he vied for the attention of the people of Harlem. Harrison envisioned a movement for the Black masses instead of what most of his contemporaries offered, such as the "Talented Tenth" proposed by Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk or other attempts to create a small cadre of Black radicals to lead the movement. Harrison argued that the potential members of the Talented Tenth were "the left-handed progeny of the white masters" and could not function without white patronage. He also argued that Washington's notion of building up Black capital through hard work and vocational education was wrongheaded, asserting that Washington wanted the political and social relations of Black people to be "one of submission and acquiescence in political servitude." At the same time, Harrison felt that the newly created NAACP was a good start—but that the organization was still too concerned with the opinions and goals of white liberals.
During this period, Harrison began to develop a view of Black liberation that was worldwide in scope and not merely focused on the United States. Even as other Black leaders, most notably Du Bois, asked African Americans to "close ranks" and get behind the US entry into World War I, Harrison made no secret of his contempt for those who did. For Harrison, it was more important for Black Americans to arm themselves for the battle at home—and in this case, his words were not meant to be taken metaphorically. In the aftermath of the East St. Louis riots of July 1917, Harrison urged Black people to embrace armed self-defense as a proper and necessary strategy in the face of rampant oppression. The New York Times quoted him as saying, "We intend to fight if we must…for the things dearest to us, our hearth and our homes."
Harrison's squabbles with Du Bois over the war may have pushed him to the margins of mainstream Black thought, but by the end of the war Harrison was moving toward the center of the "New Negro" movement. With the rise of this movement and the Harlem Renaissance, Harrison's socialism, Black radicalism, internationalism, and modernism all found new audiences among Black Americans. Cochairing the Liberty Congress in 1918, he had a front-row seat to observe the growing radicalism of a younger group of Black Americans that formed the heart and soul of both of these movements. The New Negro movement, in particular, embraced what Harrison referred to as "the Race Consciousness of the Negro people." His earlier call for Black people to arm themselves after the East St. Louis riots also became a hallmark of the New Negro movement—an acceptance of the idea of armed self-defense and other militant tools in the greater struggle for human rights. Until then, Harrison had remained committed to a politics that had not created a mass movement. Now, leading the effort to resurrect the Harlem Voice newspaper in 1918, he found himself at the center of a new political and intellectual ferment, hatching a plan for organizing that would anticipate efforts by the Southern Negro Youth Congress, the Black Panthers, and a variety of other groups devoted, in one form or another, to organizing the Black working class in the United States.
The focus of Harrison's ambitions was the South. He had grown tired of what he saw as the play-it-safe tactics of groups like the NAACP (which some of his radical peers derided as the "National Association for the Acceptance of Colored Proscription") in the region. Part of this frustration stemmed from political setbacks, but it also came from his growing belief that very few white liberal activists could be trusted, even if they had the money and cultural and political prestige to lend legitimacy to a project. For Harrison, Black people could not trust others to do the work of emancipating Black America; they would have to do it themselves. This commitment to Black agency and self-help led him to Marcus Garvey, who had arrived in New York City from Jamaica in 1916, bringing with him his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which had already been active on the island. Harrison and Garvey met in the revolutionary year of 1917, and, according to Perry, Harrison's views on Black independence heavily influenced Garvey during the latter's time in New York. Garvey attended meetings of Harrison's Liberty League, and Harrison encouraged the league's members to also attend Garvey's events.
Harrison would eventually join the UNIA and serve as the editor of its newspaper, Negro World, which he elevated to a new level of sophisticated political engagement with the wider Black diaspora. Beginning his tenure during the "Red Summer" of 1919, against the backdrop of heightened labor strife in the United States and nationwide campaigns against the lives and livelihoods of African Americans, Harrison sought to use his editorial position to rally Black America and lauded those who embraced his calls to action, hailing the resistance against the Red Summer attacks as one of the "brilliant events in the history of the Negro race in America."
Harrison also became increasingly vocal about his internationalism during this time. In a dazzling variety of ways, he used his powerful perch at Negro World to promote ideas of Black diasporic solidarity and to highlight the weaknesses he perceived in liberal attempts to fight segregation in the United States. For Harrison, Black Americans, West Indians, and other elements of the broader Black diaspora had far more in common than they recognized: All of them were subjugated by the forces of capitalism, colonialism, and European assumptions of superiority. In addition, Harrison argued that Black Americans had much to learn from their brothers and sisters in Africa. "Africa was primarily a teacher," he insisted, "not a primitive unschooled child in need of 'civilization' and instruction." In every issue of Negro World, Harrison included sections on news from Africa and on "the status and welfare of the darker races and of subject peoples everywhere."
Criticizing Black socialists like Randolph for continuing their class-first pronouncements, Harrison argued for a "race first" approach that, he insisted, did not abandon socialism. At times, he challenged Randolph and other Black socialists for what he considered to be their political naivete in navigating the complicated waters of city politics. In 1918, for example, Randolph ran for the 19th Assembly District and, in Harrison's eyes, prevented the potential victory of a Black Republican, Edward A. Johnson. Harrison reasoned, as Perry writes, that it was more important "to break the white monopoly on holding office" than it was to support a Black socialist for the mere sake of supporting one. Harrison's tactical and intellectual arguments with Randolph and other Black socialists continued throughout the Great War period and into the 1920s. What was paramount for Harrison was the adoption by Black Americans of a race-centric strategy that would also allow room for a strong class politics. In 1920, his debates with Randolph and Chandler Owen, both editors of The Emancipator, were partly born out of Harrison's need to defend what he called "the principles of the New Negro Manhood Movement" from attacks by the two. However, even the editors of The Emancipator—which was created by the merger of the better-known The Messenger (edited by Randolph and Owen) and The Crusader (formerly edited by the activist and intellectual Cyril Briggs)—were far from united on the question of putting class ahead of race. Whereas Harrison criticized Randolph for continuing in his class-first analysis, Randolph retorted that Harrison's work with Garvey had tainted him with the larger problems that many Black activists—socialist or liberal—had experienced with Garveyism and the UNIA. (Nonetheless, when Harrison died, in 1927, Randolph paid him tribute as "our comrade and co-fighter for race justice.")
In fact, Harrison's continued commitment to class politics also separated him from Garvey, as did the latter's grandiose style. Harrison grew exasperated with Garvey's ostentatious uniforms and grand public pronouncements and eventually left his position as editor of Negro World. The final straw was Garvey's misuse of funds, which to Harrison was especially egregious considering the working-class background of the vast majority of UNIA members.
Careening from one organization to another often left Harrison without a steady job. He also refused to be supported by wealthy benefactors, and he and his family experienced bouts of poverty. These periods, however, only further fueled his intellectual fire and radicalism.
How this working-class immigrant sustained himself as an activist-intellectual is an important part of the story that Perry seeks to tell. Harrison was an organic intellectual—someone who, through his own determination and genius, shaped for generations the debates about class and race in Black America. Shut out by the racist system of higher education, Harrison taught himself, hungry for knowledge and eager to read everything he could that would help him better understand his and Black America's history, culture, and politics. In this way, Harrison was not just the intellectual forefather of activists like Malcolm X or Kwame Ture. He was also an inspiration to historians like John Henrik Clarke and J.A. Rogers, both of whom pursued unorthodox routes of rigorous self-study to become two of the best-known historians of the Black experience in the United States. While Clarke did not receive his doctorate until late in life, and Rogers never received formal training as a historian, like Harrison both men were part of the autodidact tradition of Black American letters. Harrison has been called the "father of Harlem Radicalism," and in his day many referred to him as "Dr. Harrison," assuming that one as erudite and brilliant as he must have received a doctoral degree.
Yet he also struggled considerably—because of both his poverty and his commitments. He had difficulty taking care of his family because of his inability to find steady work. By December 1927, Harrison had already dealt with a serious illness the previous year, and he found himself back in the hospital after an appendicitis attack, only to die following a routine surgery. His premature death at the age of 44 came as a shock, and it robbed the world of an incredible intellect and radical agitator. One wonders what Harrison's role would have been in the 1930s, as the Communist Party took up the cause of Black freedom in the North and the South. Would he have renewed his friendship with Du Bois as the latter became more radical? Or would he have just said "I told you so"? What might have come of his commitment to both Black and working-class freedom? Harrison maintained a pride in being Black, but he was also convinced that to embrace Blackness meant pursuing a global program of solidarity to combat racism and militarism across the world.
Upon the news of his death, The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the prominent Black newspapers of the 20th century, wrote that "The Race loses a stalwart champion in Dr. Harrison." Humanity did too. When one reads Perry's two-volume biography, it is nearly impossible to avoid letting one's mind run away with ideas of what could have been—for the fight for Black freedom in America and for the struggle against class oppression. In the present day, with the arguments about class- or race-first remedies for Black oppression still not settled, Harrison would want us all to sharpen our analysis, for the sake of a continuing battle for the future that he never lived to see.
Robert Greene II is an assistant professor of history at Claflin University and has written for Jacobin, In These Times, and Dissent.
"Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" in its "Epilogue" quotes from Oscar J. Benson's "Literary Genius of Hubert Harrison" from the December 24 New York News. Benson's piece, published a week after Harrison's December 17, 1927 death, read in part:
There is a class of men in every generation whose knowledge is not hoarded: whose intellect is practical; and whose services are unlimited in the community in which they live, and naturally no one knows of their community without knowing of them. To this class of preceptors Hubert Harrison belongs.
Literary men of this class are seldom honored by posterity . . . . Like the plain "old uncle" Socrates they go about teaching here and there, their audiences are vast, and they are always in popular demand for their subject matters are of such material as to interest most anyone. . . . Hubert Harrison was of this type. But he was more. He was original. He spoke . . . what he thought. He was bookish, but not of the sort classed as a bookworm; yet he went through a greater quantity of books every day than most men of his time. . . . when he grabbed a book he knew just what parts to digest, what passages to mark, what dogma to criticize and whether any book was worth a second reading. I once asked him to give me a proximity of the number of books he read in one day and he shocked me by saying perhaps five or six. . . .
On Harrison's contributions, Benson offered:
[Hubert Harrison] . . . instituted a new school of social thought, packed a new forum, dignified the soap-box orator; blocked Lenox and Seventh Avenue traffic; sent humble men to libraries and book stores; sent them about to day and night schools; taught Negroes to think for themselves; taught them that in spite of all the handicaps of slavery and propaganda of anthropologists and sociologists, who said that the Negro was an imitator, that no one knew what the Negro could do until he tried. . . . Harrison struggled to break the Negro away from other sources and think alone.
Benson elaborated further:
His doctrine of self-reliance, of self-respect, of confidence in yourself and in your race; his researching; bringing upon the public highway, in the lecture-room and before the Board of Education scholarly conclusions of men of mark, his reflection upon modern topics and his comments upon the modern action of world leaders, made his services of latent value in the community in which he lived; if not unparalleled with the history of the Negro. No man ever held the attention of such large crowds upon the public highway in Harlem, nor with their addresses made such an active impression upon the minds of intelligent men. His language was beautiful, for it was characterized with simplicity and was evidently absorbed by simple folks. He hated verbosity, envy, jealously, prejudice, but had sympathy for ignorance. He had no time to hate men for his life was busy and stimulating. He was one of the few men who could "keep his head when all about were losing theirs and blaming it on him." He kept close to the ground, his habits plain; his manner dignified without arrogance; and his tongue free from gossip. . . .
On a more personal level, Benson wrote:
He loved children, the poor, the common folks; those who were victims of circumstances. He longed to see Harlem more peaceful, more serene, more intellectual. He made great men his teachers, but not his masters. He was always willing to help or encourage a young writer or speaker. He saw the present condition of the Negro but anticipated a brighter future. Like most literary men he was misunderstood, misquoted and his doctrines misused, but 'to be great is to be misunderstood."
His biography no man can write, unless it be culled from the influence his teachings had upon the lives of others. . . .
Williana Jones Burroughs Mentions Hubert Harrison on May 1, 1928 See Here
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 and see HERE
"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).
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.
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
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.
April 27, 2022 Princeton Alumni Weekly discusses Jeffrey B. Perry and Hubert Harrison -- see HERE
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!
Columbia University Press Blog Items on Hubert Harrison -- see HERE
"Hubert Harrison and Contemporary Struggles for Racial Equality"
By Jeffrey B. Perry -- see HERE Oeiginally published January 9, 2021.
"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"
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."
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.
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."
WNM Podcast with Jeffrey B. Perry being interviewed by Sean Ahern, February 5, 2022. See HERE