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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 Comments From Scholars and Activists

"Hubert Harrison is a historic work of scholarship. It is also an act of restitution- belated but generous-for the crime of historical neglect. For as Jeffrey B. Perry makes abundantly clear, Hubert Harrison's contemporaries, from the Harlem radicals of the 1920s (most notably Claude McKay and A. Philip Randolph), to Henry Miller, Eugene O'Neill, and Charlie Chaplin, recognized Harrison's genius and enormous contribution in a variety of fields, yet eighty years after his death he has not been honored with a biography. Perry's effort to make good this lack is a stupendous success. His book is exhaustively researched, richly detailed, beautifully written in a spare and restrained style, and succeeds in capturing the brilliance, wit, and astonishing political and intellectual courage of Harrison. It is a fine and magisterial portrait."

Winston James
professor of history
University of California, Irvine

"Hubert Harrison is the most significant black democratic socialist of early twentieth-century America. Jeffrey B. Perry has brought his thought and practice to life in a powerful and persuasive manner."

Cornel West
Princeton University

"This is a superb study of a neglected but powerfully influential figure in African-American history. As far as I can judge, Jeffrey B. Perry’s scholarship is formidable, his documentation impeccable, his writing lucid and graceful. If his promised second volume is as admirable and compelling as his first, then we would have to count him, with gratitude, among the finest living biographers of black men and women—indeed, one of our finest biographers, without reservation."

Arnold Rampersad
professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities
Stanford University

"Hubert Harrison was one of the most gifted and creative intellectuals in the American Left and within black America in the twentieth century. Jeffrey B. Perry’s book presents a comprehensive analysis of the first phase of Harrison’s remarkable public career. Before Marcus Garvey came to Harlem in 1916, Harrison had blazed the trail as the leading voice of black radicalism. He founded the New Negro Movement and was a central antiwar leader during WWI. Perry captures Harrison’s brilliance, energy, and leadership during a remarkable period in African-American history. The outstanding scholarship of his study will reawaken popular interest in this remarkable figure."

Manning Marable
professor of public affairs, history, and African American studies
director, Center for Contemporary Black History
Columbia University

"Jeffrey B. Perry's Hubert Harrison breaks open long-sealed tomes of information about the militant aspect of the Harlem Renaissance."
Amiri Baraka

"In rescuing a very particular hero and genius from what E. P. Thompson once called the 'enormous condescension of posterity,' this monumental and acute biography becomes the best point of entry into the whole history of modern radicalism in the United States."

David Roediger
University of Illinois
author of How Race Survived U.S. History

"This book is the epic tale of the lost ancestor of Black radicalism, Hubert H. Harrison, the great black working-class intellectual who stood at the epicenter of politics in the Harlem Renaissance. Like Malcolm X, Harrison was not only a revolutionary but also a master teacher and a leader of leaders, and his dramatic story of self-education, self-emancipation, and self-transformation will both awaken and reorient a new generation of Black liberation at the grassroots around the globe."

Komozi Woodard
Sarah Lawrence College

"For decades a brilliant and critical voice of the Harlem Renaissance has been practically ignored by historians. At last that serious gap will be filled by Jeffrey B. Perry who has thoroughly researched and carefully crafted a two-part definitive biography of the "Father of Harlem Radicalism," Hubert H. Harrison. These volumes, along with his previously published collection of Harrison's writings, are a significant contribution because they reveal in rich detail and masterful treatment the life of one of the most unique and influential African American thinkers of that time. The people of Harlem flocked to Harrison's "university level" street orations on a wide range of topics but few knew of his numerous journal articles on society, science and socialism. Perry was driven to conduct extensive research when he discovered Harrison's clarity of writing and perceptiveness of analysis. Surely his own clarity of writing, meticulous attention to events and other activists, and masterful analysis will prove in time to be an essential classic for understanding the political movements of the period."

Joyce Moore Turner
author of Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance,
co-editor with W. Burghardt Turner of
Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem

"Jeffrey B. Perry has made a significant contribution to the history of Black radicalism through his biography of Hubert Harrison. With thorough research and compelling analysis, Perry offers the reader insight into a brilliant and under-studied activist and intellectual who played a major role in helping to shape the Black radical tradition. Hubert Harrison reads with a draw like that of a study of a long lost city, rediscovered and offering answers to an incomplete history."

Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Executive Editor, BlackCommentator.com
co-author of Solidarity Divided

"Entrusted with the remains of Hubert Harrison's papers, Jeffrey B. Perry favors us with this meticulous chronicle of one of the century's most influential voices for democracy and freedom. Harrison, island-born, colonial subject, and immigrant, stirred the masses in Harlem, at the time the center of Black radical thought, to a "new race-consciousness" and an apprehension of "their powers and destiny"" in the United States and world. Hubert Harrison testifies to the remarkable durability of lives well lived and truths told straight."

Gary Y. Okihiro
Columbia University
author of Island World: A History of Hawai'i and the United States

"Jeffrey Perry's significant biography lives up to the promise of its title. Finally, the voice of this major Harlem Renaissance progressive is to be heard again loud and clear."

David Levering Lewis
New York University
author of a two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois

"Hubert Harrison was in his lifetime the leading American black intellectual socialist, but he receded from memory after his death. We are all in debt to Jeffrey B. Perry for his devoted and fastidious recuperation of Harrison's memory. This assiduously researched biography, an extraordinary feat of scholarship, restores Harrison to his proper standing in the pantheon of other Afro-Caribbeans, from Marcus Garvey to C. L. R. James, who contributed to reshaping American political thought in the twentieth century."

Christopher Phelps
Ohio State University

"One of the most significant 20th century African American philosophers, Jeff Perry finally accords Harrison his place among the forebears of modern African American political and cultural thought, and also suggests the sweeping scope of Harrison's life and achievement."

Portia James
Cultural Resources Manager & Senior Curator
Anacostia Community Museum

"Jeffrey B. Perry's Hubert Harrison is not simply an archaeological uncovering of a century old Black icon. Harrison's life and his insights on race and class, especially during wartime, leap off the page. They particularly resonate today. Harrison challenged the government's hypocritical notion of sending Black men to fight and die to make "the world safe for democracy" in World War I, while they were being lynched, segregated and disenfranchised at home. I see Harrison's ghost on a Harlem soapbox today exposing the links between the destructive wars abroad and the need to expand the fight for civil liberties and civil rights and to forge a new global partnership with the world's people. This is a ghost that needs to be listened to."

Gene Bruskin
National Co-Convener
US Labor Against the War

"A groundbreaking biography and act of historical recovery that restores Hubert Harrison’s vital importance to African American history and politics during the New Negro era. Meticulously written and painstakingly researched, Hubert Harrison is a major work of scholarship that will transform understanding of black life during the early twentieth century."

Peniel E. Joseph
Brandeis University
author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

"Perry’s detailed research brings to life a transformative figure who has been little recognized for his contributions to progressive race and class politics."

"Perry's clear prose allows access to a three-dimensional picture of Harrison's life."
Library Journal

"An excellent work and a great contribution to scholarship . . . Perry must be applauded."

Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Z Magazine

"[Hubert Harrison] offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America."
Industrial Worker

"Through Perry's prodigious research Harrison's brilliance can once more engage a generation eager to find inspiration and renewed political spirit."

Herb Boyd
The Neworld Review

"[A] brilliant masterpiece."

Wilson J. Moses
American Historical Review

"This critically important book will do for Harrison what David Levering Lewis did for Du Bois . . . Essential."

"This meticulously-researched book fills and enormous gap in the knowledge of black activist intellectuals in the US."

Carole Boyce Davies
Working USA

"Rich and exhaustively researched."

Clarence Lang
Against the Current

"Scholars and students . . . are indeed indebted to Jeffrey Perry for this magisterial study of Hubert Harrison."

Larry A. Greene
New Politics

"Perry offer(s) new and provocative analyses of African American leadership during the early twentieth century."

LaShawn Harris
Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era

"Hubert Harrison is more than a work of scholarship. It is a timely act of generous recognition and restitution of a Black Caribbean scholar who played a significant role in the story of Harlem Radicalism."
Black Theology: An International Journal

"Perry's biography gives an illuminating account not only of Harrison's strengths and weaknesses but also of the larger historical contradictions informing Black radicalism and Marxism during Harrison's lifetime."
Science & Society

"Perry's rich biography of Harrison is filled with examples of leadership that would eventually be followed nationwide and result in black political power in Harlem."

Sterling Johnson
Journal of American Ethnic History

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"The Letter to the Editor that 'Science and Society' Refused to Publish"

To: David Laibman, Editor of "Science and Society"
From: Jeffrey B. Perry, jeffreybperry@gmail.com, www.jeffreybperry.net
Correspondence Submission
Re: Review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (in April 2011 issue)
August 5, 2011

“In the first place, remember that in a book review you are writing for a public who want to know whether it is worth their while to read the book about which you are writing. They are primarily interested more in what the author set himself to do and how he does it than in your own private loves and hates.”

Hubert Harrison, 1922

St. Croix-born, Harlem-based Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers in "World’s Great Men of Color" as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” A. Philip Randolph referred to him as the “Father of Harlem Radicalism.” (Perry, 2008, 1, 5)

Harrison merited such praise. He was a radical political activist who served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday; as the founder and leading figure of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement; and as the editor of the "Negro World" and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920. He was also a class conscious and race conscious “radical internationalist” whose views profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants that included the class-radical socialists Randolph and Chandler Owen, the future communists Cyril V. Briggs, Richard B. Moore, and Williana Burroughs, and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and Owen and more class conscious than Garvey, Harrison is a seminal figure in 20th century Black radicalism. (Perry, 2008, 2, 4, 94, and 437-38 n. 45)

He was not only a political radical, however. Harrison was also an immensely popular orator and freelance educator; a highly praised journalist, editor, and book reviewer; a promoter of Black writers and artists; a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library popularizer (who helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into an international center for research in Black culture). In his later years he was the leading Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education. (Perry, 2008, 5-6)

One area where Harrison, has much to offer, concerns book reviewing. At age twenty-four he authored two front-page "New York Times Saturday Review of Books" pieces on literary criticism; he initiated what was described as the “first regular book review section known to Negro newspapedom”; he authored some 70 reviews and regularly reviewed books in the newspapers that he edited including "The Voice" (1917-1918), "New Negro" (1919), and "Negro World" (1920); he was praised for his insights as a critic by Nobel Prize winner Eugene O’Neill; and he has recently been described as a “patron saint” of book reviewers by Scott McLemee in the online "Columbia Journalism Review." It was in the "Negro World" that Harrison offered the sound advice on book reviewing quoted in the epigraph above. (Perry, 2001, 2, 295-6)

I think "Science and Society" readers would have been better served if Margaret Stevens, in her April 2011 review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918," had followed Harrison’s advice more closely and if she had put more accuracy and less innuendo (Harrison’s “predilection,” “it is curious,” “it is curious that Perry, repeatedly,” etc.) in her review. Readers would have been better informed about both Harrison and the biography and they would be better able to decide, in Harrison’s words, “whether it is worth their while to read the book.”

Here are some failings of the review –

1. Stevens writes that “Perry . . . emphasizes Harrison’s role in founding the Liberty League in Harlem . . . . He does not, however, examine Harrison’s continuing ties with ‘old crowd’ Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois.”

Regarding Washington, Stevens’ statement makes absolutely no sense. Harrison was an outspoken critic of Washington for years, described him as a “subservient,” and characterized his political philosophy as “one of submission and acquiescence in political servitude.” Harrison was summarily fired from the Post Office through the efforts of Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine” (in 1911) after writing two letters to the "New York Sun" critical of Washington. Stevens’ statement also makes no sense since Washington died in 1915 – over a year-and-a-half before the founding of Harrison’s Liberty League in June 1917! (Perry, 2008, 123, 132-3, 261, 285, 389)

Regarding Du Bois, in Hubert Harrison I describe how Harrison started out as a supporter of Du Bois and how political differences emerged in the period covered by the first volume.

Harrison differed from Du Bois on “The Talented Tenth,” which Du Bois described as the “educated and gifted” group whose members “must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people.” Harrison thought that the “Talented Tenth” hadn’t provided the leadership that was needed, that they should come down from their Mt. Sinais and get among the people, and that the “Colored” leadership implicit in that concept was not “pre-ordained” to lead Black people.(Perry, 2008, 125, 238)

During 1911-12 Harrison, drawing from the work of autonomous women’s clubs and Foreign Language Federations in the SP, initiated a Colored Socialist Club in a special effort to attract “Negroes” to the party. Du Bois, while still an SP member, did not support that effort. (Perry, 2008, 148, 169-71)

In the 1912 election Harrison supported and campaigned vigorously for the SP Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, while Du Bois left the SP in order to support Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party candidate. (Perry, 2008, 19, 269, 281)

In 1916 Harrison articulated a plan for developing bottom-up race unity that would eventually lead to the founding of the Liberty League. The plan was consciously in opposition to the approaches of both Washington and Du Bois whom Harrison felt started at the wrong end – i.e. they began at the top when they should have began at the bottom. Interestingly, in his third autobiography, "Dusk of Dawn" (1940), Du Bois would reach a similar conclusion. (Perry, 2008, 271)

In 1917-1918 with the Liberty League and then with the Liberty Congress Harrison advocated federal anti-lynching legislation, which the NAACP declined to push at this time and did not publicly support until later. In 1917, according to historian Robert L. Zangrando in "The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950," the NAACP “actually declined to make an open push for” federal anti-lynching legislation.” Zangrando concluded that NAACP’s failure to wholeheartedly support the anti-lynching legislation reflected the fact that it “was reaching for southern support and still pulling its punches on the matter of federal statute.” (Perry, 2008, 9, 288-9, 298-9, 310, 375, 381, 515 n 29)

The Harrison/William Monroe Trotter-led Liberty Congress of 1918 was a major Black national protest effort during World War I. It opposed lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement and petitioned Congress for federal anti-lynching legislation. Joel E. Spingarn, the head of the NAACP, attempted to have it called off. Spingarn was a major in Military Intelligence (that branch of the War Department that monitored the Black and radical communities) and he was a pro-war socialist at a time when Lenin and others in the international socialist movement were criticizing that position. When Spingarn’s attempt to get the Liberty Congress called-off didn’t work, he spoke with Du Bois and they agreed to host a “Colored Editors Conference” to meet a week earlier in a blatant effort to steal the thunder from, and undermine, the Liberty Congress. In this period Du Bois put in an application for a captaincy in Military Intelligence and, as part of the quid-pro-quo related to his captaincy application, he wrote his infamous July 1918 "Crisis" editorial entitled “Close Ranks.” In that editorial Du Bois urged African Americans to “forget our special grievances [lynching, segregation, disfranchisement] and close ranks” behind Wilson’s war effort. (Perry, 2008, 232, 373-6, 381, 385-6, 473-4 n 36)

In response to Du Bois’s “Close Ranks” editorial and his application for the captaincy in Military Intelligence, Harrison wrote a scathing editorial in "The Voice" entitled “The Descent of Dr. Du Bois.” Harrison’s exposé was a principal reason that Du Bois was denied the captaincy and, more than any other document, it marked the significant break between the “New Negroes” and the older leadership. (Perry, 2008, 386-91, 408 n. 34; Aptheker, 1983, 159)

Because of such criticism, Du Bois never mentioned Harrison in "The Crisis" and seemingly went out of his way to avoid doing so. (Perry, 2008, 352-3, 386-91, 408 n 34.)

2. Stevens questions my “placing Harrison rather than Garvey at the helm of Harlem’s burgeoning Black radical community” and not “more clearly” elucidating some related “larger theoretical and historical” issues (which she does not name or define).

The record left by contemporaries is clear about Harrison's importance as a radical and his signal influence on Garvey's radicalism. Through mid-1918 (when volume one ends) Harrison was clearly the dominant figure in Harlem radicalism. For anyone to even suggest that Garvey, not Harrison was the dominant radical figure at that time, is, based on the record, utter nonsense. My biography sought to document what actually happened and I think this is a proper task for both a biographer and an historian.

The Jamaica-born Garvey came to the United States in 1916 in order to raise funds to set up an industrial school in Jamaica along the lines of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, which he admired. At first, he did not fare very well in the U.S. and he had, in his own words, "made up his mind to return to Jamaica in the spring of 1917, when he became associated with [his old boyhood friend] Mr. W. A. Domingo and Mr. Hubert Harrison.” Domingo, a socialist and the first editor of Garvey’s "Negro World," explained that Harrison “was a brilliant man, a great intellectual, a Socialist and highly respected” and “Garvey like the rest of us [A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Cyril Briggs, Grace Campbell, Richard B. Moore, and other “New Negro” militants] followed Hubert Harrison.” (Perry, 2008, 2, 294)

Anselmo Jackson, a writer for both Harrison’s "Voice" and Garvey’s "Negro World," further explains that beginning in 1916:

outdoors and indoors, Hubert Harrison was preaching an advanced type of radicalism with a view to impressing race consciousness and effecting racial solidarity among Negroes. . . . [The] atmosphere was charged with Harrison’s propaganda; men and women of color thruout the United States and the West Indies . . . pledged their support to Harrison as they became members of the Liberty League. Garvey publicly eulogized Harrison, joined the Liberty League and took a keen interest in its affairs. . . . [Harrison] was the forerunner of Garvey and contributed largely to the success of the latter . . . (Perry, 2008, 338)

As regards “larger theoretical and historical” issues – they appear throughout the biography: I will mention a few.

From 1911 to 1914 Harrison was America’s leading Black Socialist and he made major theoretical contributions on the subject of “The Negro and Socialism” by advocating that socialists champion the cause of African Americans as a revolutionary doctrine; that they develop a special appeal to and for African Americans; and that they affirm the duty of all socialists to oppose race prejudice. These three themes would contribute significantly to left activism in the U.S. in the twentieth century. (Perry, 2008, 7)

When he left the SP Harrison offered what is arguably the most profound, but least heeded criticism, in U.S. left history. He stated simply that the Socialist Party [like the labor movement] has “insisted on [white] Race First and class after.” That the “white men” of the Party put “[the white] ‘race first’ rather than ‘class first.’” As I explain, “Harrison was suggesting that a primary reason for limited working-class consciousness and for the absence of socialism in the United States was white supremacy.” (Perry, 2008, 87-8; Perry, 2001, 109, 115)

I also make clear that Harrison’s “experiences with white supremacy within the socialist and labor movements” was an important factor leading to his founding of “the ‘New Negro Movement’ . . . which laid the basis for the Garvey movement and contributed so significantly . . . to the social and literary climate leading to the 1925 publication of Alain Locke’s well-known 'The New Negro.'” I emphasize that “Harrison’s mass-based political movement was, however, qualitatively different from the more middle-class, arts-based, apolitical movement associated with Locke.” (Perry, 2008, 7, 8)

3. Stevens writes “it is curious that Perry repeatedly refers to Harrison as African American rather than Caribbean American or even Afro-Caribbean.”

In the biography I refer to Harrison as “Negro,” “Negro American,” “Black,” “Black Caribbean,” “a key figure in developing Caribbean radicalism”; a “poor, working-class, Black Caribbean immigrant,” “poor, Black, foreign born, and from the Caribbean,” “African American,” and so on and I refer to his parents as “Afro-Caribbean.” In response to Stevens’ assertion that my biography “repeatedly refers to Harrison as African American” – she is simply wrong. In the entire book I count two times that I refer to Harrison as an “African American” – hardly the “repeatedly” that Stevens tells readers. (Perry, 2008, 3, 5, 23, 16-7, 159)

I have no problem referring to Harrison as an African American, however, particularly since that is one name that has come to replace “Negro American”; since Harrison referred to himself with pride as an “untamed, untamable African” and a “Negro American”; since he named his organization the “Liberty League of Negro Americans”; since he wrote “I was born Danish and am now twice an American; first by my own free choice and next by Uncle Sam’s purchase of the Danish islands”; and since he wrote:

I became an American because I was eager to be counted in the fight wherever I happened to be, to bear the burden and heat of the day in helping to make conditions better in this great land for the children who will come after me. And although I am not SATISFIED with American conditions as they now are, I realize that in these days of change and unrest I would not have been satisfied anywhere else. In China I would be fighting against foreign domination, in Egypt, India, South Africa or West Africa I would be fighting against the British oligarchs, in Jamaica against the sinister repression of black people practiced by both whites and mulattoes, and in the Dutch, French or American West Indies against crackerism, stupidity or cowardice. (Perry, 2001, 92, 254, 256, 282, 302)

4. Stevens writes (p. 284) that Harrison had a “predilection for electoral struggles.”

To the contrary, Harrison is a prime example of a radical activist who would struggle, as the saying goes, “by any means necessary.” During his life he was a militant proponent of direct action, sabotage, armed self-defense, strikes, boycotts, migration, and direct challenges to the KKK. In volume two I will cite Military Intelligence that he frequently advocated Bolshevism. (Perry, 2008, 7, 11, 197-8, 201, 291, 298-9, 311.)

He functioned both inside and outside the electoral arena and arguably his most important contribution to revolutionary strategy in the U.S. was related to that fact.

While in the Socialist Party during a period when the key political debates concerned positions on revolutionary vs. evolutionary socialism and revolutionary unionism vs. AFL craft unionism, Harrison, in 1911 and 1912, appealed to both wings of the Party and proposed a new litmus test, a new “crucial test,” for U.S. Socialists—“to champion” the cause of the “Negro.” He thought this was the key to revolutionary strategy in the United States. (Perry, 2008, 180)

5. Stevens writes: “Perry’s emphasis on Harrison’s primacy among the leading ‘race men’ in Harlem’s Black radical scene in 1917 occludes the role of women in the Black radical tradition.”

Stevens creates a “straw man.” The phrase that Stevens puts in quotes -- “race men” -- never appears once in "Hubert Harrison." Stevens doesn’t mention one woman on the Harlem scene in this period that was “occluded.” This volume, covering the period up to 1918, contains information on many women active in Harlem and highlights, in particular, the contributions of Williana Jones Burroughs and Frances Reynolds Keyser. It also offers interesting new information on Eslanda Cardoza Goode.

6. Stevens finds it “curious” that I don’t compare Harrison’s marriage to several others (including two second marriages) that all occur outside the time frame of this volume and include Du Bois’s 1951 marriage to Shirley Graham.

The book is a biography of Hubert Harrison’s life up to 1918. It is not a work focusing on comparative marriages, particularly not on one 24 years after Harrison’s death.

Hubert Harrison was popular and extremely influential in his day. Fully aware of that popularity and influence Arthur A. Schomburg, the outstanding book collector of the African Diaspora, presciently pointed to Harrison’s importance for future generations when he eulogized at his funeral that Harrison was “ahead of his time.” Schomburg was correct. Harrison’s life story and insights have much to offer readers today, particularly in this period of intensifying class and race oppression. (Perry, 2008, vii, 395)

I think that "Science and Society" should have offered a more accurate and less innuendo-laden review that better informed readers about the biography of Hubert Harrison, the most important Black Socialist in early twentieth-century America. Because this was not done, I hope you will share my response – keeping in mind the inspiring words from the front page of Hubert’s Harrison’s "Voice" –

“For the future in the distance
And the good that we can do.”

In solidarity,

Jeffrey B. Perry


Perry, Jeffrey B., ed. 2001. "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Middletown, Ct: Wesleyan University Press)
Perry, Jeffrey B. 2008.

"Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (New York: Columbia University Press)

Note this letter can also be found in pdf format at http://www.jeffreybperry.net (top left). Read More 
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Background and Comments on "The Letter to the Editor that 'Science and Society' Refused to Publish"

Background and Comments on "The Letter to the Editor that 'Science and Society' Refused to Publish”
by Jeffrey B. Perry
February 5, 2012

On September 12, 2011, I received an email from David Laibman, the Editor of "Science and Society," in response to a “Letter to the Editor” that I had submitted to that journal on August 5, 2011. My letter, submitted as “Correspondence,” followed the guidelines for such submission that are printed in the journal and on "Science and Society’s" webpage. My submission, “On Hubert Harrison,” was a response to a review of my book "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008) published in the April 2011 (Vol. 75, No. 2) issue of "Science and Society."

My “Correspondence” sought to set the historical record straight. It also put forth the position that readers of "Science and Society" “would have been better served” if the review “had more accuracy and less innuendo.” The letter addressed a number of specific issues and cited specific page references (the review cited no page references). My submission can be found at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/index.htm (top left) and at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/blog.htm entry dated February 5, 2012)

In his letter to me Laibman wrote that he was in receipt of my Communication "On Hubert Harrison" and that it had been read by the Manuscript Collective of Science and Society. Laibman then stated: “The problem is that *Science & Society* (like, I think, most journals) has a firm policy against allowing book authors to respond to book reviews.” He further stated that he had “also learned after many years in this business that there are exceptions to every rule in publishing, this one included,” but in “the present case,” Science and Society’s manuscript readers feel “that no exception should be made.”

The problems I have with Laibman’s “firm policy” statement are the following:

1. If the “firm policy” was so firm a policy one would think it would be listed in "Science and Society," or on the journal’s website, as are other policies. It is not.

2. If the “firm policy” was so firm a policy one would think it would be well known by the journal’s “Editorial Administrator.” In fact, it was the Editorial Administrator of "Science and Society" who, in the "Science and Society" office, showed me a pre-publication version of the review, printed out a copy and gave it to me, and suggested that I should submit any corrections I cared to make in a letter for the “Correspondence” section of the journal.

3. My own recent experiences with other journals make clear that Laibman’s “firm policy” is not as widespread as he suggests. Specifically, in the period since "Science and Society’s" refusal to publish my letter, I have had two pieces published in journals that offer concrete evidence that other journals do publish letters from authors in response to reviews of their books. In both cases journals have indicated that serious efforts by an author to set the historical record straight, take precedence over any policy of not allowing an author to respond to a review.

In one case the journal "Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas" edited by Leon Fink printed my letter (Volume 8, No. 4, Winter 2011, pp. 175-77) in response to a review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" by Brian Kelly. In the second case, my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy,” (published in "Cultural Logic" on January 1, 2012 at http://clogic.eserver.org/2010/2010.html), quotes from Theodore W. Allen’s letter to the editor of the "Journal of Southern History" (Vol. 66, No. 1, February 2000, pp. 196-2000) that was published in response to a J. Douglas Deal’s review of Allen’s "The Invention of the White Race" in that journal.

4. I believe that any “firm policy” against publishing an author’s response, especially if that author’s response seeks to correct inaccuracies in a review, works against "Science and Society’s" stated interest in being part of a “serious community both rooted in and developing a systematic alternative vision and method” in the Marxist traditions. [I note in contrast that I received very different treatment from another Marxist publication, the online SocialistWorker.org, which on November 30, 2010 published a letter by me that aimed to set the historical record straight in response to a piece by one of their editors who discussed Hubert Harrison. See http://socialistworker.org/2010/11/30/response-on-race-and-racism .]

Further Background and Comments

In early 2011 I was shown into the office of "Science and Society" by that journal’s Editorial Administrator, who was also a member of a class I taught at the Brecht Forum in New York on “Hubert Harrison, Theodore W. Allen, and the Continuing Centrality of the Struggle Against White Supremacy.” (The "Science and Society" office is on the same floor of the same building as the Brecht Forum.) The Editorial Administrator proceeded to show me on screen, and then to print a copy for me of, a submitted review about my book "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" (Columbia University Press, 2008), which is the first volume of my two-volume Harrison biography. When I read the review I found inaccuracies, innuendos, and a failure to even attempt to substantiate any statements with page references. I mentioned this to the Editorial Administrator who suggested that a response in the form of a letter to the editor, published as “Correspondence,” would be appropriate, could generate important discussion, and should be submitted.

It was the Editorial Administrator who suggested to me that I write the letter to the editor and submit it as “Correspondence.” It was also the Editorial Administrator who told me that the reviewer of my book had a parent on the Manuscript Collective of "Science and Society" and I should know that. It was the Editorial Administrator who subsequently advised me that I should keep my submission under the 3,000-word limit so that its length would not be used as a basis for non-publication.

After being so informed by the Editorial Administrator, I then read on the "Science and Society" webpage that, “Unlike the practice of many journals, assigned book reviews are evaluated by the Manuscript Collective prior to publication.”

In the course of the overall editorial process (in the period between when I received the initially submitted review from the Editorial Administrator and the final publication of the review) several statements were elided from the reviewer’s original submission. Among the statements that were removed and did not appear in the published review are the following:

“ . . . this volume is a well-thought out, meticulously researched narrative of Hubert Harrison’s life.”

“This volume is an indispensible [sic] addition to our understanding of Black radical history and Marxist praxis in the early twentieth century.”

“Perry makes an important contribution to academic writings produced over the past few decades initiated with the magnum opus by Winston James that discuss the significance of the Caribbean for Black radicalism in the U.S.”

I found what was elided from the review during "Science and Society’s" editorial process to be of interest.

Finally, I think that David Laibman, in his letter to me put forth a strawman argument not consistent with being part of a “serious community both rooted in and developing a systematic alternative vision and method” when he wrote “Authors will understandably wish to ‘answer’ every criticism; the resulting cacophony of argument would quickly drown out the review process as such, and would discourage reviewers from writing candid reviews.” I do not think what Laibman describes has to be the case, nor do I think that it was the case in this instance.

Most importantly, I think that encouraging more well-thought-out and documented exchange of ideas would lead to higher quality reviews and would help push our collective understanding to a higher level. Read More 
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