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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

104 Years Ago Hubert Harrison founded the "Liberty League," the first organization of the militant "New Negro Movement"

On June 12, 1917 (104 years ago), a rally at Harlem's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, at 52-60 W. 132nd Street off Lenox Avenue drew 2,000 people to the founding meeting of Hubert Harrison's "Liberty League," the first organization of the militant "New Negro Movement."


The audience rose in support as Harrison demanded "that Congress make lynching a federal crime." urged support of resolutions calling for enforcement of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments (outlawing slavery, establishing national citizenship and equal protection, and guaranteeing the right to vote), and called for democracy for "Negro-Americans."

Scheduled speakers at the event included Harrison, the young activist Chandler Owen, Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. (the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 40th St.), and other prominent ministers and laymen. Other speakers included a young lawyer, James C. Thomas, Jr. who, later in the year, would run unsuccessfully for Alderman in Manhattan's 26th district, and Marcus Garvey, a relatively unknown former printer from Jamaica, who had spent some time in Costa Rica, England, and touring the United States. Harrison made clear that this "New Negro Movement" was "a breaking away of the Negro masses from the grip of old-time leaders--none of whom was represented."

The Liberty League, in June 1917, also adopted a tricolor flag. Because of the "Negro's" "dual relationship to our own and other peoples," explained Harrison, "[we] adopted as our emblem the three colors, black brown and yellow, in perpendicular stripes." These colors were chosen because the "black, brown and yellow, [were] symbolic of the three colors of the Negro race in America." They were also, he suggested, symbolic of people of color world-wide. It was from this black, brown, and yellow tri-color that Marcus Garvey would later, according to Harrison, draw the idea for the red, black, and green tri-color racial flag which the UNIA would popularize, and which later would become identified as Black liberation colors.

While the June 12 meeting at Bethel Church formally founded the Liberty League it was a July 4, 1917, rally at the Metropolitan Baptist Church on 138th Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues, which drew national attention to the organization and saw the first edition of the Hubert Harrison edited newspaper "The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro."

Information on the founding of the Liberty League and "The Voice" and on the Declaration, Petition, and Resolutions of the Liberty League can be found HERE and HERE




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One Hundred Years Ago Hubert Harrison Wrote... "Wanted--A Colored International"


One Hundred Years Ago Hubert Harrison Wrote... 

"Wanted--A Colored International" 



    In early 1921 Hubert Harrison, "the father of Harlem radicalism" reportedly rejected an offer of financial support from the Communist Party of the United States, which was affiliated with the Third (Communist) International (or Comintern) headed by the Bolshevik party of Russia. According to Bureau of Investigation Special Agent "P-138" (Herbert Simeon Boulin), Edgar M. Grey, Secretary of the Liberty League, had said "in confidence" that Cyril Briggs's periodical, the Crusader, was subsidized by the Communists and that toward the end of May party member Rose Pastor Stokes had offered Party support to Harrison "so that he could use the LIBERTY LEAGUE as a branch of spreading communism among negroes." Harrison reportedly refused the proposition because he preferred "to make the Liberty League a purely negro organization, fighting for the negro cause." According to historian Robert A. Hill, Harrison's rejection of the overture showed he would not be the communists' "stalking horse against Garvey." Hill adds that Briggs, on the other hand, joined the communist Workers Party around this time.

     The communists were attempting to pay attention to the "Negro Problem" and wanted radical propagandists like Harrison. A section of the "Program of the United Communist Party," on the "Negro Question," reprinted in the Toiler of February 12, 1921, described "the negro population of the United States" as an "outlaw race" and "the most exploited people in America." The UCP emphasized that "the only possible solution of the negro problem" was "through the overthrow of the capitalist State and the erection of the Communist society." In order "to break down the barrier of race prejudice that separates and keeps apart the white and the negro workers, and to bind them into a union of revolutionary forces for the overthrow of their common enemy," the UCP aimed to "find the revolutionary and potential revolutionary elements among the negroes and select those most likely to develop into revolutionary propagandists" for training in "revolutionary work."

Around the time that he reportedly rejected the Communist's offer, Harrison wrote a call for a "Colored International" which appeared in the May 28, 1921, Negro World. It was based, in part, on his "The New International," which had appeared in the Negro World of May 15, 1920. Harrison's "call" reflected the fact that he was not only distancing himself from Marcus Garvey, but that with his class-conscious and anti-imperialist views he was also posing an alternative to the communists while trying to resurrect the Liberty League. This article, with its perceptive explanation of the cause of modern war and its call for an anti-imperialist "congress of the darker races," was Harrison's response to communist efforts to woo him and other African Americans. He advised that the "revolutionists" should "show their sincerity by first breaking down the exclusion walls of white workingmen before they ask us to demolish our own defensive structures of racial self-protection."


"Wanted A Colored International"


All over the world today the subject peoples of all colors are rising to the call of democracy, to formulate their grievances and plan their own enfranchisement from the chains of slavery, social, political and economic. From Ireland and Armenia, from Russia and Finland, from India, Egypt and West Africa, efforts have come looking for their relief from the thralldom of centuries of oppression.

Of all those peoples the darker races are the ones who have suffered most. In addition to the economic evils under which the others suffer they must endure those which flow from the degrading dogma of the color line; that dogma which has been set up by the Anglo-Saxon peoples and adopted in varying degrees by other white peoples who have followed their footsteps in the path of capitalistic imperialism; that dogma which declares that the lands and labors of colored races everywhere shall be the legitimate prey of white peoples and that the Negro, the Hindu, the Chinese and Japanese must endure insult and contumely in a world that was made for all.

Here in America, we who are of African ancestry and Negro blood have drunk this cup of gall and wormwood to the bitter dregs. Our labor built the greatness of this land in which we are shut out from places of public accommodation: from the church, the ballot and the laws' protection. We are Jim-Crowed, disfranchised and lynched without redress from law or public sentiment, which vigorously exercises its humanity on behalf of the Irish, Armenians and Germans thousands of miles away, but can find no time to concern itself with the barbarism and savagery perpetrated on black fellow citizens in its very midst.

This cynical indifference extends to the leaders of the Christian Church, the high-priests of democracy and the conservative [HH crossed out conservative] exponents of the aims of labor. Thus the Negro is left out of the plans being put forward by these groups for the reorganization and reconstruction of American affairs on the basis of "democracy."

We Negroes have no faith in American democracy, and can have none so long as lynching, economic and social serfdom lie in the dark alleys of its mental reservations. When a president of this country [Woodrow Wilson] can become famous abroad for his preachments on "The New Freedom" while pregnant Negro women are roasted by white savages in his section of the South with not one word of protest coming from his lips; when a church which calls itself Christian can grow hysterically "alarmed" over the souls of savages in Central Africa, while it sees everyday the bodies of its black fellow Christians brutalized and their souls blasted while it [HH changed while it to and] smirks in gleeful acquiescence; when the "aims of labor" on its march to justice exclude all reference to the masses of black workers whom conservative labor leaders would condemn in America to the shards and sweepings of economic existence--when such things represent what happens every day in a "sweet land of liberty" where "democracy" is the great watchword, then we Negroes must be excused for feeling neither love nor respect for the rotten hypocrisy which masquerades as democracy in America.

When we look upon the Negro republics of Hayti and Santo Domingo where American marines murder and rape at their pleasure while the financial vultures of Wall Street scream with joy over the bloody execution which brings the wealth of these countries under their control; when we see the Virgin Islanders in the deadly coils of American capitalism gasping for a breath of liberty, and Mexico menaced by the same monster, we begin to realize that we must organize our forces to save ourselves from further degradation and ultimate extinction.

We have appealed to the common Christian sentiment of the white people for justice, but we have been told that with the white people of this country race is more powerful than religion. We have appealed to the common patriotism which should bind us together in a common loyalty to the practice rather than the preachments of democracy, and in every case we have been rebuffed and spurned. We have depended on protest and publicity, and protest and publicity addressed to the humane sentiments of white America have availed us nothing. We are too weak to wage war against these evil conditions with force, yet we cannot afford to wait for help to come to us from those who are our oppressors. We must, therefore, learn a lesson from those others who suffer elsewhere from evils similar to ours. Whether it be Sinn Fein or Swadesha, their experiences should be serviceable for us.

Our first duty is to come together in mind as well as in mass; to take counsel from each other and to gather strength from contact; to organize and plan effective resistance to race prejudice wherever it may raise its head; to attract the attention of all possible friends whose circumstances may have put them in the same plight and whose program may involve the same way of escape. We must organize, plan and act, and the time for the action is now. A call should be issued for a congress of the darker races, which should be frankly anti-imperialistic and should serve as an international center of co-operation from which strength may be drawn for the several sections of the world of color. Such a congress should be worldwide in scope; it should include representatives and spokesmen of the oppressed peoples of India, Egypt, China, West and South Africa, and the West Indies, Hawaii, the Phillipines, Afghanistan, Algeria and Morocco. It should be made up of those who realize that capitalist imperialism which mercilessly exploits the darker races for its own financial purposes is the enemy which we must combine to fight with arms as varied as those by which it is fighting to destroy our manhood, independence and self-respect. Against the pseudo-internationalism of the short-sighted savants who are posturing on the stage of capitalist culture it should oppose the stark internationalism of clear vision which sees that capitalism means conflict of races and nations, and that war and oppression of the weak spring from the same economic motive--which is at the very root of capitalist culture.

It is the same economic motive that has been back of every modern war since the merchant and trading classes secured control of the powers of the modern state from the battle of Plassy to the present world war. This is the natural and inevitable effect of the capitalist system. For that system is based upon the wage relationship between those who own and those who operate the gigantic forces of land and machinery. Under this system no capitalist employs a worker for two dollars a day unless the worker creates more than two dollars worth of wealth for him. Only out of this surplus can profits come. If ten million workers should thus create one hundred million dollars worth of wealth each day and get twenty or fifty millions in wages it is obvious that they can expend only what they have received, and that, therefore, every nation whose industrial system is organized on a capitalist basis must produce a mass of surplus products over and above, not the need, but the purchasing power of the nation's producers. Before these products can return to their owners as profits they must be sold somewhere. Hence the need for foreign markets, for fields of exploitation and "spheres of influence" in "undeveloped" countries whose virgin resources are exploited in their turn after the capitalist fashion. But since every industrial nation is seeking the same outlet for its products clashes are inevitable, and in these clashes beaks and claws--must come into play. Hence beaks and claws must be provided beforehand against the day of conflict, and hence the exploitation of white men in Europe and America becomes the reason for the exploitation of black and brown and yellow men in Africa and Asia. Just as long as black men are exploited by white men in Africa, so long must white men cut each other's throats over that exploitation.

Thus the subject races and the subject classes are tied to each other like Kilkenny cats in a conundrum of conflict which they cannot escape until the system which so binds them both is smashed beyond possibility of "reconstruction." And thus it becomes the duty of the darker races to fight against the continuance of this system from without and within. The international of the darker races must avail itself of whatever help it can get from those groups within the white race which are seeking to destroy the capitalist international of race prejudice and exploitation which is known as bourgeois "democracy" at home and colonial imperialism abroad.

And here we meet our oppressors upon their own ground--a fact which can be readily appreciated. When Mr. [J. P.] Morgan wants to float a French or British loan in the United States; when Messrs. [Woodrow] Wilson, [Georges] Clemenceau and [David] Lloyd George want to stabilize their joint credit and commerce or to wage war on Germany or Russia; when areas like the Belgian Congo are to be handed over to certain capitalist cliques without the consent of their inhabitants--then the paeans of praise go to the god of "internationalism" in the temple of "civilization." But when any portion of the world's disinherited (whether white or black) seeks to join hands with any other group in the same condition, then the lords of misrule denounce the idea of internationalism as anarchy, sedition, Bolshevism and "disruptive propaganda," because the international linking up of peoples is a source of strength to those who are linked up. Naturally, our overlords want to strengthen themselves. And, quite as naturally, they wish to keep their various victims from strengthening themselves in the same way.


For more background on this article see Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927 (Columbia University Press, 2020) and Hubert Harrison, A Hubert Harrison Reader, Ed. and Intro. by Jeffrey B. Perry, (Wesleyan University Press, 2001). For information on Jeffrey B. Perry see www.jeffreybperry.net

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