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

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

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

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

The Life and Political Contributions

of Hubert Harrison


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry


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


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


"The Invention of the White Race"


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


"White race" privilege


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


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

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


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


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


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



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

Groundbreaking Analysis Continues to Grow in Importance


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


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


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


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


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BOOK REVIEW: Review of The “Invention of the White Race” by Sean Ahern

BOOK REVIEW: Review of The "Invention of the White Race" Volume I: "Racial Oppression and Social Control" and Volume II: "The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America" by Theodore William Allen (1994, 1997, New Expanded Edition, Verso 2012)

Sean Ahern - August 28, 2013

"I ask indulgence for only one assumption, namely that while some people may desire to be masters, all persons are born equally unwilling and unsuited to be slaves." The Invention of the White Race (I, 1).


Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race (2 Vols., I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America), has been recognized by increasing numbers of scholars and activists as a seminal work since it was first published by Verso Books in the 1990s. The second edition offers a number of entry points and is designed to attract a broader audience. It features an expanded index, an internal study guide, a selected bibliography and a biographical sketch of the author all prepared by Jeffrey B. Perry, Allen's literary executor and author of the acclaimed Hubert Harrison The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, and editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader. The Invention of the White Race is a scrupulously documented, fairly argued, and profoundly radical history. Given the central place that race occupies in the corporate assault on public education and teacher unions, it will be of particular interest to readers of Substance, educators, students and working people interested in understanding the role of white supremacism and the white identity in the defeat of popular movements in our nation's history. It contains the root of a general theory of United States history and the basis for a revolution in US labor history and in social history. Students of African American history, political economy, Irish American history, gender studies and colonial history will find in Allen's work much of interest to recommend. For those considering the projected impact of demographic change in the 21st century, The Invention offers a lens through which to assess how the "white race" was invented and reinvented in the past and the ways in which ruling class-interests may seek to adjust, adapt or reinvent it in the present. After 300 years of functioning as a ruling class social control buffer, the US bourgeoisie will not, in this writer's opinion, willingly abandon its tried and trusted guardian, the so called "white race."

Genesis of the thesis

Theodore Allen.Allen's view of the history of class struggle in the U.S. was radically altered by his reading of W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in the early1960's. Dubois described Black Reconstruction as a "normal working class movement, successful to an unusual degree, despite all disappointments and failures." Its final defeat was due to "the race philosophy" of white supremacy, which made labor-unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. Together with Esther Kusic, to whom the Invention is dedicated, Allen developed a new approach that placed the struggle against white supremacy and the white skin privilege system at the center of a strategy for proletarian revolution in the US.

Two quotations from Black Reconstruction identify key sparks of insight that eventually led Allen to write The Invention of the White Race:

"The south, after the war [Civil War], presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see for many decades. Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States." [emphasis added]

"It is only the Blind spot in the eyes of America, and its historians, that can overlook and misread so clean and encouraging a chapter of human struggle and human uplift."

Allen came to refer to that "Blind spot" identified by Du Bois as the "white blindspot." Recognition of the "white blindspot" was a critical first step that led Allen to develop his thesis on the invention of the "white race."

Informed by Dubois's Black Reconstruction and his reference to the "kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States," Allen set out in the late-1960's to re-examine three previous periods of economic crises and intensified class struggle: 1) the Civil War and Reconstruction, 2) the Populist Movement and 3) the Great Depression. His aim was to discern the effects of the white skin privilege system and the prevalence of white chauvinism in the defeat of past working class and populist movements. Allen took Du Bois' phrase "the kernel and meaning" as the title for his own unpublished manuscript that set forth his findings. He shared this manuscript with comrades in the late sixties and early 70's. This background provides some context to The Invention as it led Allen to a critical review of what he termed the reigning consensus on "American Exceptionalism." This is in reference to a body of work that offered explanations, all "white blind" in Allen's estimation, for why there was no working class-based political alternative to the bourgeois parties. Contributors to this "consensus" included socialists and non-socialist students of labor history. Although the old 'consensus' was tattered, no alternative had yet emerged. The Invention may be viewed in this context as Allen's opening contribution "Toward a Revolution in U.S. Labor History." In fact this was the working title of Allen's last book, which he did not live to complete.

The debate over the origin of "anti-negro prejudice" in the US was a central preoccupation of many American historians, not only African American historians, since racism first came to be viewed by much of official society as an evil in itself following World War II. The Civil Rights movement and urban rebellions made racial discrimination a central defining issue in the political life of the nation; a central issue that continues down to the present day. Some of America's most prominent historians participated in a search for understanding how white supremacy and racial oppression originated in the hope that we might in fact end it. It came to be known as the "Origins Debate." [Note Allen preferred the singular "Origin," which he used in the subtitle to volume two. He saw the origin of racial oppression in class struggle.]

By 1968 with the forces of white supremacy rallying around the George Wallace campaign and other instances of the "white backlash" north and south (which the 1968 NYC teachers strike is a particularly tragic example of) "so from the ranks of American historians there emerged a cohort of defenders of the basic validity of the old assumption of 'natural racism'" (Allen, Invention, I, 4) The fullest expression of this view was put forward by Winthrop D. Jordan in his 1968 book entitled White over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro 1550-1812. Jordan's book was offered in the context of the "Origins Debate" to refute the thesis of Oscar and Mary Handlin that racism was a deliberately contrived ruling class policy rather than the outcome of some inborn or preconditioned "race consciousness." Chapter 2 of White Over Black was entitled "An Unthinking Decision" and in it Jordan attributed racism to an inherent, timeless aversion to all things black that existed in the psychological and cultural make up of the English.

The breadth of the counter revolution as evidenced by the well orchestrated "backlash" in the intellectual and political life of the nation led Allen to a comprehensive review of the "Origins Debate" and a more probing consideration of what he came to describe in the volumes under consideration as the invention of the "white race" and the "incubus of white identity."

As an independent scholar, autodidact, and self-described proletarian intellectual, Allen joined this search in the early 1970s. His startling thesis first presented at a 1974 talk before the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) was published in Radical America and republished with complete annotation as a pamphlet under the title "Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race." This is available on line at Cultural Logic and in pamphlet form from the Institute for the Study of Working Class Life at SUNY Stony Brook. It serves the new reader well as a concise introduction to volume two of The Invention of the White Race in particular. Over the course of the next twenty years of writing and researching The Invention of the White Race, Allen reviewed a remarkable amount of the scholarly literature and conducted his own exhaustive examination of the primary sources; those colonial records that survived the Civil War.

Thesis Summation

Allen's thesis on the invention of the white race is based on certain key historical facts that came into focus for him once his own "white blind spot" was removed. In the acknowledgements section of volume one Allen identifies in first place his "obligation to two fellow proletarian intellectuals in this regard; Charles Johnson and William Carlotti who "cleared away ideological barnacles left from my previous moorings and taught me to say, as Carlotti did, 'I am not 'white.'" (Note here may be made of Allen's reference to his own past. Allen was a West Virginia coal miner and UMW local leader during the heyday of the CIO and a member of the Communist Party from 1936 until the mid-late 50s. Perry's biographical essay on Allen is appended to volume one.)

Allen's thesis posits a causal connection between the "so-called 'white race,' the quintessential 'Peculiar Institution" and bourgeois social control extending from the colonial era to the present:

Only by understanding what was peculiar about the Peculiar Institution [the "white race"] can one know what is exceptionable about American Exceptionalism; know how in normal times, the ruling class has been able to operate without "laborite" disguises; and know how, in critical times, democratic new departures have been frustrated by reinventions of the "white race."

Allen's thesis is not based on his discovery of any formerly unknown facts. Rather it is his claim that certain aspects of the historical record of great significance were passed over while others of truly minor significance were incorrectly emphasized as the impetus for massive, misdirected scholarly tomes such as was the case with Jordan's White Over Black. Additionally he points out that on certain crucial matters even so esteemed a scholar as Edmund Morgan cast a blind eye to facts of great significance in his American Slavery, American Freedom. These were related to the impact of racial slavery on the class position of the European American laborers after the invention of the "white race."

Allen's argument presented in his thesis article and fully elaborated in the two volumes rests, in his estimation, on: . . . three essential bearing points from which it cannot be toppled. First, that racial slavery constituted a ruling class response to a problem of labor solidarity. Second, that a system of racial privileges for the propertyless "whites" was deliberately instituted in order to align them on the side of the plantation bourgeoisie against the African-American bond laborers. Third, that the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African-Americans, but was "disastrous" for the propertyless "whites" as well.

In Allen's review of the literature only the African American historian Lerone Bennett Jr. in his 1970 Ebony article, "The Road Not Taken," and in chapter III of The Shaping of Black America (Chicago 1975) had set these three bearing points together.

Volume One

Allen's introduction to volume one is an excellent literature review of the "Origins Debate" for the specialist and non-specialist alike. He frames the debate as occurring between two groups; the psycho-cultural and the socio economic. Allen identifies "with" the socio economic category, but "is not altogether of them." "This book" Allen states, "is intended as a contribution toward freeing the socio-economic thesis" of "serious compromising ambiguities and inconsistencies." He recasts the socio-economic argument in "a new conceptual mode." This new mode is based on a definition of racial oppression.

Allen defines racial slavery in volume one "as a particular form of racial oppression, and racial oppression as a sociogenic – rather than a phylogenic – phenomenon, homologous with gender and class oppression." Allen expands this definition of racial oppression as it evolved in the colonial era through what he calls the "Irish Mirror." "Irish history presents a case of racial oppression without reference to alleged skin color…" "The assault upon the tribal affinities, customs, laws and institutions of the Africans, the American Indians and the Irish by English/British and Anglo American colonialism reduced all members of the oppressed group to one undifferentiated social status, a status beneath that of any member of any social class within the colonizing population. This is the hallmark of racial oppression in its colonial origins, and as it has persisted in subsequent historical contexts."

Allen distinguishes racial oppression from national oppression by reference to the needs of the elite for social control over the subject population. In societies in which those to be racially oppressed constitute a majority of the population the racial oppressor group had to rely on a purely military/police form of social control in the absence of intermediate buffer control group on which to rely.

Such systems proved to be inherently unstable and costly to sustain and led the ruling elite to seek to co-opt a stratum of the subject population thereby enlisting them in a new social control system based on national oppression. In societies where those to be racially oppressed were a minority, a system of racial privileges for the laboring class members of the oppressor group was used to ensure that these laborers would not make common cause with their counterparts among the racially oppressed and that they would, in any confrontation, take the side of the elite in keeping the racially oppressed down. Under national oppression social control rested on an intermediate strata which was differentiated by class and status and was permitted to manage their own affairs to some degree and to control aspects of the society on behalf of the elite.

In contrast to national oppression, racial oppression relied on strata from amongst the laboring class of the oppressor race. Their enlistment into the oppressor race was based on a system of privileges that did not alter their subordination to the elite. To the contrary these privileges fastened them more tightly to the ruling class by sealing off the possibility of joining with the racially oppressed in struggle against the system of racial oppression (that had been put in place by the ruling elite) and challenging the existing order. To the counterfeit of mobility in the 17th century was added the counterfeit of freedom in the 18th but that is not the subject of this review. Racial oppression took different forms in the colonial era depending on the particular conditions, need for social control and cost benefit calculation of the ruling elite.

After the plantation elite established the system of racial oppression of African-Americans, the Indians in Anglo America, were increasingly displaced from their ancestral home. The African-Americans in the continental Anglo American colonies, who were kidnapped, transported in chains and sold as chattel, became the main plantation labor force after the "white" race was invented. The Irish Catholics in Ireland were reduced to cotters and agricultural laborers in their own land under the rack-renting religio-racial oppression of the Protestant Ascendency, absentee English landlord, and Ulster Plantation. The Indian was not allowed to assimilate as illustrated in the case of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

The African American could not pass even with only one drop of African blood in their lineage. The Irish Catholic was effectively prevented from converting. The common threads linking these examples of racial oppression were the destruction of original forms of social identity and the blockage of the oppressed group from assimilation into the social identity normal to the colonizing power. Distinctions of rank or wealth within the subject population were accorded no recognition. Civil rights were eliminated. Literacy was made illegal. Family rights were displaced and traditional authorities were denied. Below the lowest member of the oppressor race, by definition, all members of the oppressed were made subordinate.

Racial oppression as a form of social control in societies in which the majority is from the oppressor race is based on the counterfeit of social mobility accorded the laboring class members of the oppressor race in the form of racial privileges. The privileges are the basis on which the laboring class members of the oppressor race are enlisted by the elite to hold down the subject population. They perform this social control function, even though they share a class position with the large majority of the racially oppressed.

Volume Two

In colonial Virginia and Maryland the particular conditions of labor shortage and capitalist monoculture first led the Anglo-American planter bourgeoisie to create a peculiar form of chattel bondage for the largely European-American workforce.

Exploitation of Indian labor as a primary source of profit in Virginia was not possible due to: the initial vulnerability of the English colonialists; to the fact that the Powhatan were not highly organized (as were the Aztec and the Inca); and to the fact that the English lacked the ability to subdue the native population who had an entire continent to their backs. As the plantation system grew and pushed the Indians off the coastal tidewater plains, the planter bourgeoisie relied on the Indians as a buffer to return escaping bond-laborers and for trade with the interior even while they continued to amass great wealth through expanded land grabs that pushed the native population further inland.

The reduction of the largely English workforce from wage laborers and tenants to bond servitude was undertaken by the plantation bourgeoisie in the 1620's and is described in volume two, chapter 5 entitled "The Massacre of the Tenantry." The interest on the part of the plantation bourgeoisie to extend the length of service of bond-laborers is well documented. The status of the African American bond-laborers prior to the establishment of the "white race" was according to Allen "indeterminate" in that it was being fought out.

Extending the term of bond-servitude was an effort by the exploiters of labor power to increase their rate of profit under the particular conditions of labor shortage they faced in the pattern-setting Chesapeake Bay colonies in the 17th century. Efforts to extend the term of service to life on African American laborers and even to extend that to their offspring is consistent with such bourgeois aims. The English had imposed slavery on English vagabonds in England in 1547, Scottish coal miners and salt pan workers were enslaved from the first decade of the 17th century to the last decade of the 18th century and the English were heavily involved in the "Irish slave trade" of the 1650s. Most importantly from the perspective of the invention of the" white race," efforts to extend the term of servitude of bond laborers, European or African, only inflamed the situation and incited further resistance. High mortality rates also lessened the significance of a limited term versus a life term of bondage.

In volume two Allen relies on the primary sources to show how the "white race" was invented as a ruling-class social control formation by the planter bourgeoisie in the latter part of the 17th century. The "white race" as described by Allen was based on a series of racial privileges first put in place in the latter part of the 17th century by the planter bourgeoisie to divide and control a rebellious agrarian proletariat composed of European-American and African-American laborers in the Chesapeake Bay colonies of Virginia and Maryland. The character of these privileges laid the basis for the "white identity" that altered the class stand but not the class position of the European-American laborers (both bond and free), who were officially now defined as "white" through a series of laws passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1705 and 1723.

Allen finds no mention of the term "white" used in reference to European-Americans in any Virginia statute or court papers until 1691. Hence his 1994 volume one book jacket comment-- "When the first African-American arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no 'white' people there." The plantation was a capitalist enterprise. Although the bond labor form was a contradiction of the basic requisites of capitalist development it was sought by the plantation bourgeoisie because of the relative labor shortage that prevailed in the colonial period. There was no reserve army of labor and a thirst for profit did not incline the planter bourgeoisie to wait for one. Although bond-labor had existed in surplus producing societies prior to capitalism the bondage that prevailed in pre-capitalist societies was a two-way bondage; the workers could not leave and the master could not send them away.

Bond-labor in the capitalist monoculture plantation society in the Anglo American continental colonies created a one-way bondage in which the worker could not quit, but the capitalist could end the tie with the worker through their sale or exchange.

The profit motive and the crisis of overproduction that depressed the price of tobacco for much of the 17th century prompted the planter bourgeoisie to increase the term of servitude by recourse to a number of policies that fomented rebellions and resistance from the bond laborers themselves. The planter bourgeoisie, following the drive for capital accumulation, was in the process of digging their own graves. While there is much in the way of specific content that shows in detail how the "white race" was invented by the ruling elite that no single review can summarize, there is one crucial piece related to family life that is especially instructive. The imposition of lifetime hereditary bond-servitude on the African American was dependent on the denial of the English Common Law principle of partus sequitur patrem (the descent of the child follows that of the father).

Elizabeth Key?In 1656 Elizabeth Key a bond-laborer, daughter of an African American bond-laborer and a European-American father to whom her mother was bound, successfully sued for her freedom dues by asserting the right under English common law that "the child of a woman slave begotten by a freeman ought to be free." Both of her parents had died and her father's estate had passed through a number of overseers.

Although her father's will left specific instructions for her release from bondage, the overseers of the estate refused to grant Elizabeth Key her freedom. In the Northumberland County court the defense claimed that the status of the child (Elizabeth Key) should follow that of her mother who was alleged to be that of a lifetime bond laborer.

A jury of 12 men, however, followed English common law and supported Key's claim for freedom and arrears for the excess time she had been held. The Northumberland ruling was appealed to the Virginia General Court by the overseers of her father's estate. The exact ruling of the General Court was destroyed by fire in 1865 but a transcript made in 1860 and dated 12 March 1656 is believed by historians to refer to the General Court's' acceptance of the defense's argument and overturning of the Northumberland County Court ruling.

Only days later a special committee of the Virginia Assembly was chosen to make a determination of the matter and expressed the sense of "of the Burgesses of the present Assembly," holding that Key was entitled to freedom, freedom dues and compensation "for the time shee hath served longer than shee ought to have done." One of the estate overseers appealed to Governor Berkeley who ordered a suspension of further proceedings pending a rehearing by the General Court.

There is no record of any further rehearing but the Northumberland Court that had initially supported Key's suit, disregarded Governor William Berkeley's instructions and ordered that Key be released immediately and compensated. The attention and controversy indicated by the surviving records gives us a sense of the importance of the case to both planters and laborers at the time. Six years later, the Assembly, in 1662, reversed itself and English common law by asserting that "all children born in this country shall be held bond or free by the condition of their mother."

The reversal of this long-standing law of patrilineal descent was not done for the sake of egalitarianism. The 1662 ruling of the Assembly followed pragmatically as a matter of course from the proprietary interest of the owners of bond-labor in securing control over those laborers and extending it to their offspring. It removed a major legal obstacle to the later imposition of lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude. In Allen's view: "If the principles affirmed in the findings of the Northumberland County jury and the special committee of the General Assembly had prevailed, the establishment of racial slavery would have been prevented." (II, 196) The following year in 1663 the English Government re-chartered the Company of Royal Adventurers to Africa to challenge the Dutch monopoly over the trade in human chattels.

This challenge led to the Second Anglo Dutch War which was concluded with The Treaty of Breda (1667) that gave the Anglo-American colonies direct access to African labor. In 1672 the Royal Africa Company was given the monopoly by England to supply African labor to the Anglo-American colonies. The reversal of English common law and the increase in the supply of chattel labor from Africa were crucial steps towards the imposition of lifetime hereditary chattel bond-servitude, but merely increasing the numbers of lifetime bond servants did not establish racial oppression or racial slavery and in fact actually stoked the spirit of rebellion among the laboring population, European and African. In the latter part of the 17th century in Virginia that spirit reached a peak during the civil war phase of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676-1677.

Racial slavery in the Chesapeake was not according to Allen an "unthinking decision," but rather it was the solution developed by the plantation bourgeoisie in the wake of Bacon's Rebellion (1676) to the two over-riding challenges faced by them in 17th century Virginia since the establishment of the tobacco monoculture, namely labor shortage and social control.

Allen cites the numerous examples and forms of common resistance by the European- and African American proletarians as prima facie evidence that the "white" race did not exist. The most significant and widespread example of this resistance was the second phase of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 when an army composed of European-American and African American bondservants and freemen, drove the planter bourgeoisie from the mainland to the safety of ships offshore and burnt the capital city of Jamestown to the ground.

William Berkeley, the Royal Governor of the Virginia Colony during Bacon's Rebellion, who 20 years earlier had tried and failed to block Elizabeth Key from attaining her freedom; to overrule the finding of the special committee of the Assembly; and to stop the Northumberland County court from following through on the decision of a jury, now gazed woefully on the shore from which he had been force to flee by an army of Elizabeth Keys. Berkeley wrote in despair to a friend "How miserable that man is that Governes a People where six parts of seaven are Poor, Endebted, Discontented and Armed."

May we live to hear the plaintive cries of woe from the oligarchs of our own day!

Bacon's Rebellion was the turning point that brought home the necessity of social control to the planters, without which as Allen notes, "no profit may be derived." Through the guile of the elite and their own faltering leadership the rebels were eventually subdued and subjected to vicious reprisals. Charles II is reported to have reacted to news of Berkeley's vendetta by noting "that old fool has hanged more men in that naked country than I did for the Murther of my father." (II, 370n104) Subsequent revolts only highlighted the instability of elite power in the face of labor unrest. Their answer to the problem took shape early in the acts of reprisal taken against the rebels that took the harshest form against the African-American.

Gradually a body of laws and customs were drummed up to divide the European from the African through the gradual imposition of a series of privileges for the European, including European bond-servants and through severe racial proscriptions on the African. The planter bourgeoisie response over the course of the next 30 years was to create a new status for European-American bond labor increasingly referred to as "whites," a new term that does not appear in the Virginia statutes until 1691. Nascent "white" laborers were marked as favored through the degradation of the African American. In this way, combined by the force of laws and all the powers that accrue to the wealthy, a counterfeit of mobility was cast like a veil over European-American laborers and a spike was driven through the solidarity that had joined them in arms together with the African Americans during Bacon's Rebellion.

The white race was enshrined by statute in 1705 and 1723. English lawmakers charged with reviewing the laws and rulings of the colonial courts and Assembly questioned why property- owning African Americans should be denied the right to vote and acquire property like other free persons. The Governor of Virginia at this time, William Gooch, responded and declared that the Virginia Assembly had decided "to fix a perpetual Brand upon Free Negros & Mulattos." Allen considers Gooch's response to be an important example from the historical record that has been given scant notice by historians. An analysis of Gooch's explanation, in Allen's view, "gets to the heart of the motives of the Anglo-American continental plantation bourgeoisie in imposing not just a system of lifetime bond-servitude only on persons of African descent, but a system of racial oppression, by denying recognition of, refusing to acknowledge, delegitimizing, so far as African-Americans were concerned, the normal social distinctions characteristic of capitalist society." (II, 242) This was no "Unthinking Decision."

Gooch also defended the law of 1723 on grounds that bring to mind the case of Elizabeth Key, the "mulatto" offspring of an African American mother and European American father whose suit for freedom was upheld by a jury. Gooch had prefaced his defense of the law by reference to an alleged revolt plot among African American bond laborers in 1722, "wherein the Free Negros & Mulattos were much suspected to have been concerned…" Gooch added that the law was passed to "make the free Negros sensible that a distinction ought to be made between their offspring and the descendants of an Englishman." "Those descended from a white Father or Mother," were in his estimation "the worst of our imported Servants and convicts." Gooch argued that the law served as a way of "discouraging that kind of copulation."

The Act of 1723 also specifically denied, amongst a host of other things, the right of any Negro to defend him or herself against any "white" person, or to bear witness against the attacker in a court of law. Allen points out that the denial of the right of self-defense to all African-Americans also becomes a point of convergence between white supremacy and male supremacy. It essentially legalized the rape of any African American woman by any European- American male. The American form of male supremacy develops into the peculiar form of white male supremacy from this point on.

These statutes capped over two generations of effort on the part of the planter bourgeoisie to extend chattel bond-servitude to lifetime hereditary bond servitude and now they had found the means to an end; one that divided European against African laborers and enlisted the former as captor and enforcer of the system over the latter. In churches and from the courthouses the new laws were read out loud and posted on walls to drive home the message of the new racial order. What had been the rights of Englishmen now became the privileges of "whites." A counterfeit of social mobility was the privilege created by the imposition of racial slavery on the African American. Additionally to that counterfeit of social mobility was added the very clear cut "right" of any white male to assume familiarity with any African-American woman.

Racial oppression was merged with gender oppression. For the plantation elite this right added rape as a form of exploitation that increased their wealth and they exercised this form of exploitation with abandon. We have that rapist of Monticello, author of the Declaration of Independence, still hailed today in classrooms across America as the apostle of American Democracy. For the poor white male however, this "right" further obscured the injustice and cruelty of the system that the "white identity" was established to defend.

It was a "right" that planted the seed of hatred between men and women and deepened the divide between the poor "white" and the racially oppressed Black, woman, man and child. A hatred that comes down to us through that strongest invective of American slang: Motherfucker! The plantation elite prospered off the labor of the enslaved but the majority of the "whites" who did not own enslaved laborers did not. But, as Allen describes in detail, the effect of the invention of the "white race" secured the dominance of the plantation bourgeoisie whose wealth and plantations grew in inverse proportion to the impoverishment of the "free white" laborer.

The counterfeit of mobility did not allow the poor white to rise upwards in the social order, only to flee to the mountains, the west, to drive the Indians further inland and then squat on "unclaimed" land, clear it, only to be displaced again by the land engrossing plantation bourgeoisie who had taught them to hate the enslaved rather than the system of racial slavery that was responsible for their own marginalization and impoverishment. The poor whites fled a system that had little place for them except as patrols and overseers and social control force over the enslaved who they had once fought side by side with as European-Americans, (not as "whites") for a true freedom. They fled from a system, they did not understand but they carried with them the seeds of their own misfortune, the white identity.

The transformation of the misery of the Berkeley's to the Golden Age of the Chesapeake was achieved by the invention of the "white race," which has come down to us as the "Ordeal of America." Edmund Morgan's American Freedom, American Slavery had done so much to challenge the natural racism of the psycho-cultural group, but it now dropped the ball. Morgan claimed that the enslavement of the African left "too free poor [Europeans] to matter," thereby leaving open the interpretation that enslavement of the African had benefited the "white" laborer. Conclusion

Theodore W Allen's The Invention of the White Race began as a spark of intuition that came to him "in the charged ambience of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s." The concluding paragraph from Volume Two points the reader to the author's motivating impulse:

"… the present day United States bears the indelible stamp of the African-American civil rights struggle of the 1960s and after, a seal that the "white backlash" has by no means been able to expunge from the nation's consciousness. Perhaps in the impending renewal of the struggle of the "common people" and the "Titans" the Great Safety Valve of white skin privileges may finally come to be seen and rejected by laboring-class European-Americans as the incubus that for three centuries has paralyzed their will in defense of their class interests vis-à-vis those of the ruling class."

Frankly speaking, three centuries of paralyzed will does not exactly inspire hope in the laboring class European-American's prospects for a successful defense of their class interests. Allen's reference here to labor history is sure to incite outraged responses that damn him as a reprobate and recite the list of past martyrs for labor's cause. But as Allen said at the beginning of his project in 1969, "If it was Solidarity Forever, why must it be again?" The intent of his reference to "paralyzed will" in the concluding paragraph cited above is not to disparage the revolutionary potential that inheres in the European-American sector of the proletariat, but only to free its putative leaders, the so-called conscious element, from their "white" identity.

The issue at stake is not whether or not the European-American worker can be radicalized, but whether the "white" radical can be. Allen's use of the terms "perhaps" and "may" in the concluding paragraph admits the possibility for change, but it is a far cry from any pre-determined optimism that the choice made will be the correct one from the perspective of proletarian solidarity. The correct choice is an informed, conscious one based on particular conditions, strategic and tactical considerations all viewed in the light of history. Yet regarding the impending renewal of the struggle between the "common people" and the "Titans" there is no doubt in Allen's view as expressed here that this conflict is indeed irrepressible and that where there is repression there is resistance. Nor is there any doubt expressed concerning the immediate and long-term interest of the European-American proletarian in seeing and rejecting what he terms the "Great Safety Valve of white skin privileges."

The revolutionary prospects for the European-American proletarian then hinges, in Allen's view, on the urgent necessity and willingness to see, for once "seen," the "white" identity, which seemed solid and timeless, a "natural attribute," shows itself to be the "incubus" that has "paralyzed their will." While it has not been common for privileged laborers of the oppressor race to have thrown off their privileges and their oppressor race identity and made common cause with the oppressed race, there has also not been such a well-supported case made for why it is in their interests to do so and for this we may be thankful to Theodore W. Allen for never giving up even when he knew he would not live to see the day. Theodore W. Allen's "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" and selected other writings are available online.

[Sean Ahern. NYC parent and public school teacher/member United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, AFL-CIO. 2013].


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Hubert Harrison Assumes Managing Editor Position at Marcus Garvey's "Negro World" in January 1920

Hubert Harrison assumed the managing editor position at the "Negro World" (the paper of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association) in early January 1920 (102 years ago). 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 African American 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. This is discussed in "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press) by Jeffrey B. Perry.

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Hubert Harrison: A Portrait with Comments on Democracy, Race Consciousness, and the Struggle for Socialism by Jeffrey B. Perry

Draft copy sent to "Socialism and Democracy" for publcation in 2003



Hubert Harrison:

A Portrait with Comments on Democracy, Race Consciousness,

 and the Struggle for Socialism



Jeffrey B. Perry


The historian Joel A. Rogers, in World's Great Men of Color, describes the brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) as "the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time" and "one of America's greatest minds." Rogers adds (amid chapters on Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey), "No one worked more seriously and indefatigably to enlighten his fellow-men" and "none of the Afro-American leaders of his time had a saner and more effective program."[1]

Variants of Rogers' lavish praise were offered by other contemporaries. William Pickens, field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a former college dean, and an oratory prize winner at Yale, described Harrison as "a plain black man who can speak more easily, effectively, and interestingly on a greater variety of subjects than any other man I have ever met in the great universities." Pickens added that it made "no difference" whether he spoke about "Alice in Wonderland or the most extensive work of H. G. Wells; about the lightest shadows of Edgar Allen Poe or the heaviest depths of Kant; about music, or art, or science, or political history."[2] The novelist Henry Miller, a socialist in his youth, remembered Harrison on a soapbox as his "quondam idol" and as an unrivaled, electrifying speaker.[3] Eugene O'Neill, America's leading playwright and a future Nobel Prize winner for literature, lauded Harrison's ability as a critic and considered his review of the ground-breaking play The Emperor Jones to be "one of the very few intelligent criticisms of the piece that have come to my notice."[4] W. A. Domingo, one of the early Black socialists and the first editor of Marcus Garvey's Negro World, emphasized the fact that Garvey, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Cyril Briggs, Grace Campbell, Richard B. Moore and the other leading Black activists of their generation, "all followed Hubert Harrison."[5] Hodge Kirnon, a freethinker and one of those activists in Harlem, praised the fact that Harrison "lived with and amongst his people," "taught the masses," and was "the first Negro whose radicalism was comprehensive enough to include racialism, politics, theological criticism, sociology and education in a thorough-going and scientific manner."[6]

Despite such high praise from his contemporaries and despite being rated "one of the 20th century's major thinkers" by Pulitzer Prize winning Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis, Harrison is, as Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, "a major but neglected figure in our history." While his name has an "almost mythical character" to activists such as Black Radical Congress co-chair Bill Fletcher, he is largely a "forgotten" and "unknown" radical. Historian Gerald C. Horne considers him "a scandalously ignored thinker and activist." Columbia University's Winston James, placing this neglect in perspective, observes that "Seldom has a person been so influential, esteemed, even revered in one period of history" and within a matter of years become "so thoroughly unremembered."[7]

The effects of this historical neglect were again brought home at the recent 2003 International Socialist Scholars Conference where discussions with participants made clear that many progressive activists and intellectuals remain unaware of Harrison's life and work. There is great loss in this since his life was one of remarkable contributions; since he exerted major influence on a generation of early twentieth-century activists and "common people"; since many of his views, as historian James points out, became "the stock-in-trade of the black left" in the twentieth century; and since his writings and speeches offer profound insights on the struggle against white supremacy, on socialism and democracy in America, and on a wide range of other subjects.[8]


His Message and Importance


Harrison's class and race conscious political message merits special attention. More than any other political leader of his era he combined class consciousness and (anti-white supremacist) race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism. He opposed white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism; challenged the idea that racism was innate; developed a socio-historical as opposed to a religious or biological understanding of race; maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States; argued that racism and racist practices were not in workers' class interests; and urged "Negroes" not to wait on white Americans while struggling to shape their future.

This class and race conscious message was combined with a consistent internationalism, a scientific approach to social problems, and an impressive grasp of history, science, politics, religion, freethought, literature, and the arts. His militant, mass-based approach broke from the patron-based leadership of Booker T. Washington and the "Talented Tenth"-based leadership of W. E. B. Du Bois and profoundly influenced a generation of activists that included Randolph and Garvey. Harrison was more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey and he is the key ideological link in the two great trends of twentieth-century African American struggle--the labor and civil rights trend associated with Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the race and nationalist trend associated with Garvey and Malcolm X.

Harrison's political message, repeatedly delivered to the masses, enabled him to uniquely play signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest 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 (SP) 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 also worked with the Industrial Workers of the World, the Communist Party, the Farmer Labor Party, the American Negro Labor Congress and a number of other radical and progressive organizations. Such efforts, during the period when Harlem became the "international Negro Mecca" and "the center of radical Black thought," led Randolph and others to revere him as "The Father of Harlem Radicalism."[9]

Harrison was not only a radical activist, however. He was also an immensely popular orator and freelance educator; a highly praised journalist, editor, literary critic, and book reviewer (who initiated the first "regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom"); a promoter and aid to Black writers and artists (including writers J. A. Rogers and Claude McKay, actor Charles Gilpin, musician Eubie Blake, and sculptor Augusta Savage); a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements; and a bibliophile and library popularizer (who helped to found and develop the 135th Street Public Library into an international center for research in Black culture known today as the Schomburg Center). In his later years he was the leading Black lecturer for the New York City Board of Education when such lectures served as a principal form of adult education in the city.[10]


Biographical Portrait


St. Croix


Hubert Henry Harrison was born at Estate Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883. Little is known with certainty about his parents. Rogers writes that they were of "unmixed African ancestry" and church records indicate that his mother was a poor, laboring-class woman, who was not formally married at the time of Hubert's birth, had several other children, and died in 1899.[11]

Harrison's first seventeen years on St. Croix provided a firm foundation for his future work. In St. Croix he became familiar with important traditions "rooted in the African communal system" (including free public gardens and Saturday markets) which mitigated some of the oppressive pressures of the capitalist economy on laboring families. He learned of the Crucian people's rich history of direct action mass struggle including the 1848 enslaved-led emancipation victory and the 1878, week-long, island-wide, labor protest known as "The Great Fireburn" (led by rebel leaders "Queen Mary" Thomas, "Queen Agnes" and "Queen Matilda"). He also came to know poverty, and that experience, he said, helped to keep his "heart open to the call of those who are down" and kept him from developing "such airs as might make a chasm between myself and my people."[12]

Interestingly and instructively, Harrison claimed that as a youth he knew nothing of the "doctrine of chromatic inferiors and superiors" which was thrust on islanders by the occupying U.S. Navy after the United States purchased the Danish West Indies in 1917. Due to different historical particulars, class struggle, and social control, the color line and "race relations" in St. Croix were different than those in the United States. In St. Croix there was a historic policy of promotion of a sector of the African-descended population (under slavery, Crucian "coloreds" were the key to the social control force, served in the militia, and were extended an edict of full equality in 1834). In the United States laboring "whites," not "coloreds," were the historic key social control force and the general rule under slavery (as described in the 1857 Dred Scott decision) was one of severe racial proscription for the African-descended population (African Americans "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect"). The extension and development of these differences took such form that the St. Croix of Harrison's youth did not have the lynching, formal segregation, virulent white supremacy, or severe racial proscriptions against advancement for those of African descent that Harrison would encounter in the United States.[13]

These differences help to explain why Harrison was provided more encouragement to pursue his educational interests in St. Croix than was afforded the overwhelming majority of African American youth in the southern United States. He utilized the library at St. John's Episcopal Church in Christiansted, studied under one of the island's best teachers (Wilfurd Jackson, whose son, D. Hamilton Jackson, was Harrison's friend and schoolmate, and became the island's foremost labor leader), and excelled enough as a student that he was chosen as a teaching assistant. When he left for the United States, though virtually penniless, the fires of learning were burning and Harrison believed he was the equal of any other.[14]


Early Years in New York


Shortly after his mother died Harrison emigrated to the United States, arriving in 1900 as a seventeen-year-old orphan. His move from the rural, agricultural island of St. Croix to the teeming urban/industrial metropolis of New York was truly a move from the nineteenth into the twentieth century. His arrival coincided with U. S. capitalism's ascent to new imperialist heights, with the period of intense racial oppression of African Americans known as the "nadir," and with the era of critical writing and muckraking journalism that, according to one social commentator, produced "the most concentrated flowering of criticism in the history of American ideas." These factors would play an important part in shaping the remainder of his life.[15]

Over the next twenty-seven years, until his unexpected death at age forty-four (from appendicitis-related complications), Harrison made his mark in the United States by struggling against class exploitation and racial oppression; by participating in and helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life; and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of "the common people." His political/educational work emphasized the need for working-class people to develop class consciousness; for "Negroes" to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to develop modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation. His work was especially marked by his focus on education of the masses in which he utilized indoor and outdoor talks, mass oriented publications, and, in at least two instances, the newly developing mass media, radio.

Soon after his arrival in New York he began working low paying service jobs and attending high school at night. He finished school, read constantly, and, after several years, obtained postal employment, married Irene Louise Horton (whose family came from Antigua, Demerara, and Puerto Rico), and started to raise a family that eventually included five children born between 1910 and 1920. His insatiable thirst for knowledge and his critical mind led him to break from "orthodox and institutional Christianity" and to develop an "agnostic" "philosophy-of-life" that stressed rationalism, modern science, and evolution and placed humanity at the center of its worldview. In his "Diary" Harrison wrote that he would never "be anything but an honest Agnostic" because "I prefer . . . to go to the grave with my eyes open."[16]

During his first decade in New York Harrison set out to write a "History of the Negro in America" and he began to participate in the vibrant intellectual life that was created by working-class Black New Yorkers. He was active in church lyceums, the YMCA and YWCA, the White Rose Home social work center, a postal worker study circle, and a press club. He befriended working-class scholar/activists such as bibliophiles Arthur Schomburg and George Young, the journalist John E. Bruce, the actor Charles Burroughs, and the social worker/educator/activist Frances Reynolds Keyser. Harrison's approach, especially his efforts at getting "in full-touch with the life of my people" as an aid "to understanding them better," makes clear that he was what Antonio Gramsci would later describe as an "organic intellectual."[17]

Harrison was a critical and independent thinker and his wide-ranging interests included history, politics, science, freethought, literature, social and literary criticism, and the protest philosophy of activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois. Like Du Bois, Harrison criticized the approach of Booker T. Washington. His differences with Washington centered on politics, education, labor unions, protest, and dissent. Washington, the most powerful Black man in the U. S., had achieved his position of influence by building an extensive patronage machine made possible through ties to powerful whites. Washingon's policy was one of Black subordination in political and economic spheres and his core philosophy emphasized industrial over higher education for African Americans, Christian character-building, economic base-building before demands for equal civic and political rights, and co-operation with wealthy and powerful Southern "white friends." He warned that "the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly," advised that African Americans must begin "at the bottom of life" and "not at the top," and emphasized that "the Negro" was "not given to strikes and lockouts." Washington also pledged unquestioning loyalty to President Theodore Roosevelt and firmly opposed those African Americans who dared to criticize him.[18]

Harrison described Washington as a "subservient." He criticized the core of Washington's philosophy which he referred to as "one of submission and acquiescence in political servitude." In contrast to Washington, Harrison was staunchly anti-Republican Party and favored protests and struggles for equality, "modern education," thought unfettered by religion, support of trade unions, and Black leaders who were chosen by Black people rather than by powerful whites. Only in the area of economic base-building, and only at a later date, would Harrison articulate some views remotely similar to Washington.[19]

Harrison's readings in history and politics along with events like the 1906 Brownsville, Texas, affair (in which, under Republican leadership, 167 Black soldiers were unjustly dishonorably discharged from the army), led him to reject the Republican Party to which African Americans had been wedded since the Civil War era. (He repeatedly challenged what he called "the great superstition" that "the Negro is a born Republican" whose "political philosophy is presumed to be summed up in the aphorism that 'The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the open sea.'") In addition, as his readings extended further into sociology, economics, evolution, and single taxism, he became familiar with the authors Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer, Lester F. Ward, Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Henry George, Karl Kautsky, T. Thomas Fortune, Mary MacLean, Francisco Ferrer, and Du Bois and he moved in the direction of socialism. The rejection of the Republican Party and the sympathy for the socialist message accelerated his move toward third-party politics and toward the Socialist Party.[20]

In this vibrant intellectual environment and with a developing self-confidence, Harrison began lecturing, teaching, and writing letters to newspapers. (His first piece on literary criticism, at age twenty three, appeared in The New York Times Saturday Review of Books Literary Section in 1907). His boldness soon affected him economically. After he wrote two 1910 letters to the New York Sun that criticized Booker T. Washington (for inaccurately portraying abroad the oppressive conditions faced by African Americans at home) Harrison lost his postal employment through the efforts of Washington's powerful "Tuskegee Machine." It was a devastating blow and the resultant loss of income and security seriously impacted his remaining years with his family and at times influenced his political and educational efforts.[21]




Shortly after his postal firing, Harrison, who had briefly served as assistant editor of The Masses, turned to full-time work with the Socialist Party. From 1911 to 1914 he was America's leading Black socialist--a prominent party speaker (at times delivering over twenty talks in a week) and campaigner (especially in the 1912 presidential campaign of Eugene V. Debs), an articulate and popular critic of capitalism, the leading Black socialist organizer in New York, and the initiator of the Colored Socialist Club--an unprecedented effort by U.S. socialists at organizing African Americans. His most important theoretical contributions were two series of articles on the subject of "The Negro and Socialism" which appeared in the Socialist Party's New York Call and in the International Socialist Review. The articles provided the first comprehensive political, economic, social, and educational analysis of "The Negro Question" by a Black Socialist, challenged the racism is innate and the racism is in workers' class interest arguments used to support white supremacist thinking, moved "Negro problem" discussion from the biological and religious spheres to the socio-historical arena, and broke new ground by calling on Socialists to champion the cause of African Americans as a revolutionary doctrine, to develop a special appeal to and for African Americans, and to affirm the duty of all socialists to oppose white supremacy. His proposal that "the crucial test of Socialism's sincerity" was its "duty" to "champion" the cause of the African American anticipated by over a year Du Bois's dictum that the "Negro Problem . . . [is] the great test of the American Socialists."[22]

In his writings Harrison maintained (in an assessment that offers insight into the catalytic nature of Civil Rights struggles fifty years later) that simple democracy for Black people in America implied a revolution "startling to even think of." In direct reference to the philosophy of Booker T. Washington he explained "that the prevailing social philosophy among Negroes -- that which white capitalism will pay to have them taught -- is one of submission and acquiescence in political servitude." He described the dehumanizing and anti-working class effects of the betrayal of democracy and noted that "the broad denial of justice to colored men as exemplified in lynchings, segregation, public proscription and disfranchisement results in the vitiation of democratic faith." This provided "the supplying power" for other deceitful practices and as the public mind accustomed itself to seeing such inhumanity it became immunized to the injustice in "the jailing of innocent labor leaders and the murder of working girls in a fire trap factory" [a reference to the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in which 146 were killed].[23]

     Harrison focused particular attention on "The Duty of the Socialist Party." He suggested that the party take up the largely ignored "Negro Question" at its 1912 National Convention because the time was ripe "for taking a stand against the extensive disfranchisement of the Negro in violation of the plain provisions of the national constitution." He asked: "If the Negroes, or any other section of the working class in America, is to be deprived of the ballot, how can they participate with us in the class struggle?" He directly challenged the party's practices citing instances of gross racism within the Socialist Party including: "dirty diatribes against the Negro in a Texas paper [The Rebel]" that was still on the national list of Socialist papers; the experiences of party speaker Theresa Malkiel in Tennessee "where she was prevented by certain people from addressing a meeting of Negroes on the subject of Socialism"; and "other exhibitions of the thing called southernism." He emphasized that the party could no longer ignore the question -- "Southernism or Socialism -- which?"[24]

As he placed his challenge before the national party leadership Harrison also addressed the two large groupings in the party, the political (evolutionary) socialists and the industrial (revolutionary) socialists, on their own terms. In each case, using the logic of their theoretical positions, he called for special emphasis on African Americans in the interests of the working class.

     First he addressed the political socialists. He agreed that the power of the voting proletariat could be expressed through the ballot and that with good political organization the workers could "secure control of the powers of government by electing members of the working class to office" and could "secure legislation in the interests of the working class until such time as the workers may be able, by being in overwhelming control of the government, to 'alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.'" He stressed, however, that in this work for "the abolition of capitalism, by legislation," the "Negro, who feels most fiercely the deep damnation of the capitalist system[,] can help" and would be "the balance of power" in certain elections.[25]

     While recognizing the need for political work in electoral politics, Harrison also sought to reach the industrial socialists. He recognized that there was a serious problem to be faced -- the majority of African Americans, particularly in the South, were disfranchised. This fact led him to his ultimate conclusions on "The Negro and Industrial Socialism." He argued for an IWW type, point-of-production, economic organizing, even in the South, and explained that "even the voteless proletarian can in a measure help toward the final abolition of the capitalist system." These workers, though absent the ballot, possess "labor power -- which they can be taught to withhold" and they can organize themselves "at the point of production" and "work to shorten the hours of labor, to raise wages, . . .  [and] to enforce laws for the protection of labor." He noted that the Western Federation of Miners, an IWW union, had done this and had successfully won the eight-hour workday "without the aid of the legislatures or the courts." This approach required "a progressive control of the tools of production and a progressive expropriation of the capitalist class." In such work African Americans could help. Thus far many, under the influence of the pro-capitalist philosophy of Booker T. Washington, remained unorganized industrially, but, industrial unionism beckoned to them. The program of the Socialist Party in the South, in Harrison's opinion, could "be based upon this fact."[26]

     The implications of Harrison's analysis were profound. For the majority in the party the key political debates concerned positions on revolutionary vs. evolutionary socialism and revolutionary unionism vs. AFL craft unionism.  Harrison, in 1911-12, proposed a new litmus test, a new "crucial test," for U.S. Socialists -- "to champion" the cause of the "Negro." He thought this was central to revolutionary change. For the rest of his life he would seek "to champion" the cause of the "Negro" and to get others to do the same.[27]

The Socialist Party's National Convention met in Indianapolis from May 12 to 18, 1912, and essentially ignored the "Negro Question." The only person who raised the issue was William D. "Big Bill" Haywood who argued that industrial unionism was the best way to organize disfranchised, southern Blacks. The convention, however, did not limit itself to mere indifference and neglect on the race issue. In the debate over Asian immigration, the Socialists, couched in the cloak of "science," expressed some of the most rabidly racist sentiments in U.S. left history and effectively gave Harrison the answer to his question, "Southernism or Socialism?" In this case it was not only "Southernism," but "Westernism," too, for the racism in the Party seemed to know no sectional bounds. Immigration was an issue of particular concern among Western "white" delegates who spoke of fear of an influx of Japanese workers. Both the Majority Report and the Minority Report were approved and each opposed Asian immigration. The Majority Report of the Committee on Immigration, energetically pushed by Western delegates and signed by Party leaders Ernest Untermann, J. Stit Wilson, and Robert Hunter along with Call editor Joshua Wanhope, went even further and declared, in words Harrison would never forget, that:


     Race feeling is not so much a result of social as of biological evolution. It does not change essentially with changes of economic systems. It is deeper than any class feeling and will outlast the capitalist system. It persists even after race prejudice has been outgrown. . . .  We may temper this race feeling by education, but we can never hope to extinguish it altogether.

     Class-consciousness must be learned, but race-consciousness is inborn and cannot be wholly unlearned.[28]


     Here was the "racism is innate" argument -- that Harrison dubbed the core of all racist arguments -- and it was proclaimed loudly by national leaders of the Socialist Party at their convention. If race feeling was innate, if race consciousness superseded class consciousness, then the Socialist Party was implicitly saying that corrective actions against racism would be minimal and that they would be of no real importance to a Socialist agenda.[29].

     The significance of this convention towards Harrison's future work is clear. The Majority Report on the Committee on Immigration favored Asian exclusion as "legislation restricting the invasion of the white man's domain by other races." In a similar debate at the 1908 convention Victor Berger had argued that socialism would be victorious only by keeping the U.S. a "white man's" country" and warning that if something were not done it "would become a black-and-yellow country within five years." The convention debates support the point made by historian Mark D. Naison that "beneath their rhetoric of class struggle, most Socialist Party leaders accepted the political and economic hegemony of whites over non-white peoples . . . ." Leading white socialists were, in Harrison's words, putting [the "white"] "'race first' rather than 'class first.'" Harrison later referred to such "white" Socialists as "the bourgeois opportunists of the Socialist Party" and during the remainder of his life his theoretical development and race consciousness would be shaped, in part, by his efforts to respond to their positions.[30]

     In later years Harrison would cite passages from the 1912 Convention's Majority Report on the Committee on Immigration as he emphasized the necessity for African Americans to develop race consciousness and to put "race first." He would call for race consciousness as a protective reaction, as a means of defense, against the "white-race"-first sentiments that permeated U.S. society and the labor and socialist movements. As long as racist "whites" put "white race" interests first, he would argue, there was a need for Black people to develop race consciousness and to similarly put "race first."[31]

     The relation between white supremacy and class consciousness in the United States, offers insights into one of the most important questions in U.S. left history -- what German scholar Werner Sombart asked in 1906 -- "Why is there no socialism in the United States?" The answer that Harrison repeatedly suggested was that there was no socialism because whites, particularly white socialists and white workers, put race first before class. Over time Harrison would stress that race consciousness among African Americans was necessary, not only as a measure of self-defense, but also as a means of challenging white supremacy (which was the principle roadblock to class consciousness among European Americans).[32]

     At the 1912 National Convention the Socialist Party not only took its "white race" first position on the immigration question; it also, as historian Sally M. Miller has explained, "abruptly terminated" activities of its woman's sector "by an arbitrary decision by the party's executive committee." After years of intensive work, the Woman's National Committee "was phased out by the National Executive Committee" of the Party. In the period after the convention woman's work was increasingly denied financial assistance and "meetings were discouraged while further propaganda or organizational work were simply suspended." It was in some ways similar to the treatment afforded to the Colored Socialist Club earlier. Harrison considered "the Negro [as] the touchstone of the modern democratic idea" and, in fact, the demise of the Woman's Clubs had been preceded by, and was similar to, the demise of the Colored Socialist Club, the Party's effort at special work among African Americans.[33]

Socialist Party theory and practice as well as a number of personal incidents contributed toward Harrison's move toward the more egalitarian, militant, action-oriented, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). He was a featured speaker (along with the IWW leaders "Big Bill" Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Carlo Tresca, and Patrick Quinlan) and the only Black speaker, at the historic 1913 Paterson silk strike. He also publicly defended Haywood against attack by the right wing of the Socialist Party on the issue of "sabotage." SP leaders soon moved to restrict Harrison's speaking, however, and as their attacks on both his political views and his principal means of livelihood intensified, his disenchantment grew, he was suspended, and he then left the Socialist Party.


Race Consciousness and the Founding of the "New Negro Movement"


After leaving the Socialist Party, Harrison took what he revealingly described in his "Diary" as the first truly self-initiated step of his life--the founding of the Radical Forum. The forum was an effort at drawing together radicals from various different movements who were "sick of the insincerities of cults and creeds" and desired to receive "the awakening breath of the larger liberalism, from which all alike may draw inspiration." In this same period he began teaching at the Modern School (along with some of America's foremost artists and intellectuals) and he lectured indoors and out on birth control, the racial aspects of World War I, religion, science, evolution, sex, literature, and education.[34]

Harrison's outdoor lectures pioneered the tradition of militant street-corner oratory in Harlem. As a soap-box orator he was brilliant and unrivalled. He had a charismatic presence, wide-ranging intellect, remarkable memory, impeccable diction, and wonderful mastery of language. Factual and interactive, he utilized humor, irony, and a biting sarcasm. With his popular indoor and outdoor style he paved the way for those who followed--including A. Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey--and, much later, Malcolm X.[35]

By 1915-1916 his experiences with the racial oppression, glaring racial inequality, and white supremacy of U.S. society as well as with the "white first" attitude of the organized labor movement and the Socialists, led Harrison, the former leading Black socialist, to respond with a "race first" political perspective.[36] Important steps in this direction were made through the frontier of art as Harrison wrote several theater reviews in which he described how the "Negro Theatre" revealed the "social mind . . . of the Negro."[37]

During the summer of 1917, as the "Great War" raged abroad, along with race riots, lynchings, segregation, discrimination, and white-supremacist ideology at home, the race-conscious Harrison founded the Liberty League and The Voice. They were, respectively, the first organization and the first newspaper of the "New Negro" movement.[38] The Liberty League was called into being, he explained, by "the need for a more radical policy" than that of existing civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. Harrison felt that the NAACP limited itself to paper protests, was dominated by white people's conceptions of how Black people should act, concentrated too much on "The Talented Tenth," and repeatedly stumbled over the problem of "white" minds that remained "unaffected" and refused "to grant guarantees of life and liberty."[39]

In contrast to the NAACP, the Liberty League encouraged direct action, was not dependent on "whites," and aimed beyond "The Talented Tenth" at the "common people" of "the Negro race." Its program emphasized internationalism, political independence, and class and race consciousness. In response to white supremacy, The Voice called for a "race first" approach, full equality, federal anti-lynching legislation (which the NAACP did not support at that time), enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, labor organizing, support of socialist and anti-imperialist causes, and armed self-defense in the face of racist attacks. It stressed that new Black leadership would emerge from the masses.[40]

Harrison's core race-conscious message, which would became more pronounced during the sacrifices and social upheaval of World War I, would remain as his political staple for the remaining thirteen years of his life. The call to race consciousness would become the center of his strategic perspective, and it was basically a call for African Americans to recognize the racial oppression they faced and to use that awareness to unite, organize, and respond as a group.[41]

As Harrison later explained, he had grown dissatisfied with strategies such as those advocated by the NAACP that sought "to secure certain results by affecting the minds of white people" when, in fact, African Americans had "no control" over those minds and had "absolutely no answer to the question, 'What steps do you propose to take if those minds at which you are aiming remain unaffected?'" As an alternate strategy he began to advocate "the mobilizing of the Negro's political power, pocket book power and intellectual power," which were "within the Negro's control" in order "to do for the Negro the things which the Negro needs to have done." This would be accomplished "without depending upon or waiting for the co-operative action of white people." Though interracial cooperation, whenever it came, would be "a boon" which "no Negro, intelligent or unintelligent" would "despise," he emphasized that Blacks could not "afford to predicate the progress of the Negro upon such co-operative action," because such action "may not come."[42]

At first, in the early stages from perhaps 1915 through around 1920, Harrison advocated the propagandistic doctrine of "Race First!" (the phrase subsequently was treated as the essence of the Garvey movement in Tony Martin's Race First). He considered it "propaganda" and described it as "a response to the "American doctrine of Race First" and to the American socialists and labor movement who repeatedly put the white race before class. Harrison emphasized to the socialists: "We say Race First, because you have all along insisted on ["white"] Race First and class after when you didn't need our help."[43]

With this new "race first" approach Harrison served over the next few years as the founder and intellectual guiding light of the "New Negro" Movement. This race and class conscious, internationalist, mass-based, autonomous, militantly assertive movement sought political equality, social justice, civic opportunity, and economic power and laid the basis for the Garvey movement. It also encouraged mass involvement with literature and the arts and contributed mightily to the vibrant literary climate leading to the 1925 publication of Alain Locke's well-known The New Negro.[44]

Contemporaries readily acknowledged that Harrison's work laid the groundwork for the Garvey movement. From the Liberty League and The Voice came the core progressive ideas and leaders later utilized by Marcus Garvey in both the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Negro World (this included two presidents of the UNIA, the secretary of the New York local of the UNIA, the first three editors of the Negro World, the president of the Ladies Division, and the originator of the idea for, president, and vice-president of the Black Star Line). Harrison himself claimed, with considerable basis, that from the Liberty League "Garvey appropriated every feature that was worthwhile in his movement" and that the secret of Garvey's success was that he "[held] up to the Negro masses those things which bloom in their hearts--racialism, race-consciousness, racial solidarity--things taught first in 1917 by The Voice and The Liberty League."[45]

After The Voice ceased publication in early 1918, Harrison briefly served as an organizer for the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and then chaired the Negro-American Liberty Congress. The June 1918 Liberty Congress (co-headed by the long-time activist William Monroe Trotter) issued wartime demands against discrimination and segregation and petitioned the U. S. Congress for federal anti-lynching legislation. This autonomous and militant effort was undermined by the U.S. Army's anti-radical Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) in an ominous foreshadowing of future government tactics.

The Military Intelligence campaign was spearheaded by the prominent NAACP founder and leader Joel E. Spingarn who enlisted the support of Emmett Scott (Booker T. Washington's former chief assistant) and the NAACP's Du Bois in speedily calling a preemptive June Editors Conference of more moderate leaders to undermine the Liberty Congress and support President Woodrow Wilson's war effort. During this period Du Bois attempted to secure a commission in Military Intelligence (that branch of government which monitored radicals and the African American community) and wrote what was probably the most controversial editorial of his life--"Close Ranks"--which appeared in the July 1918 issue of the Crisis. It urged African Americans, "while this war lasts," to "forget our special grievances and close ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and allied nations that are fighting for democracy."[46]

Following the Liberty Congress, Harrison initiated "New Negro" criticism of Du Bois for urging African Americans to forget justifiable grievances, for "closing ranks" behind President Woodrow Wilson's war effort, and for following Spingarn's lead and seeking a captaincy in Military Intelligence. Harrison's exposé, "The Descent of Dr. Du Bois," was a principal reason that Du Bois was denied the captaincy he sought in Military Intelligence and, more than any other document, it marked the significant break between the "New Negroes" and the older leadership.[47] Harrison's Liberty Congress strategy of pushing wartime demands for equality, rather than DuBois's infamous "Close Ranks" and "forget our special grievances" approach, was a clear forerunner of the A. Philip Randolph led March on Washington Movement (MOWM) during World War II and to the 1963 Randolph/Martin Luther King, Jr.-led March on Washington during the Vietnam War.[48]

This was Harrison's most forceful critique of Du Bois, but over the years he developed others. He was particularly critical of Du Bois's notion of "The Talented Tenth"--the "educated and gifted" group whose members "must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people" in order to lead African Americans forward. Harrison, in contrast, emphasized education of, and self-development of the masses, the so-called "common people." He also increasingly equated "The Talented Tenth" concept with the concept of "Colored" [or "Mulatto"] leadership of the "Negro race." His opposition to such a leadership was because he did not think that such a "Talented Tenth" was in any way preordained to lead the "Negro race" and he did not think that it had provided the leadership needed by African Americans. Harrison rejected the white domination that unchallenged acceptance of such leadership implied. As he explained--for two centuries African Americans "have been told by white Americans that we cannot and will not amount to anything except in so far as we first accept the bar sinister of their mixing with us." Thus, "always when white people had to select a leader for Negroes they would select some one who had in his veins the blood of the selector." Under slavery, according to Harrison, "it was those whom Denmark Vesey of Charleston described as 'house niggers' who got the master's cut-off clothes, the better scraps of food and culture which fell from the white man's table, who were looked upon as the Talented Tenth of the Negro race." Historically, "the opportunities of self-improvement, in so far as they lay within the hand of the white race, were accorded exclusively to this class of people who were the left-handed progeny of the white masters."[49]

Harrison's differences with Du Bois extended beyond domestic protests for equality and redress of grievances during World War I, the "Talented Tenth," relations with "white friends," and the NAACP program. Other differences over the years included those on the question of lynchers and lynching--Harrison called for armed self-defense and federal anti-lynching legislation when Du Bois and the NAACP did not; on the Socialist Party's approach to African Americans--Harrison had called for a special effort, the Colored Socialist Club, which Du Bois opposed; on the 1912 presidential election--Harrison had supported the Socialist candidate Debs while Du Bois left the Socialists in order to support the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson; and on segregated military camps during World War I--Harrison had opposed them, while Du Bois supported them. By the end of the war Harrison's core differences with Du Bois were clear. Whereas, to Harrison, Du Bois's strategy revolved around "The Talented Tenth," paper protests, and hoped for inter-racial cooperation, Harrison increasingly advocated the alternate strategy of "mobilizing of the Negro's political power, pocket book power and intellectual power" rather than "depending upon or waiting for the co-operative action of white people."[50]

During the First World War Harrison was deeply concerned with international matters and the racial implications of the conflict. In particular, he opposed the imperialist and white-supremacist aims of the major war powers, the imperialist oppression of nations, the imperial powers' designs on Africa, and the use of working people as cannon fodder. He also noted, however, that the conflict was destroying many resources of the "white world" and facilitating contact among oppressed peoples and thus was providing the oppressed an opportunity to press their demands and improve their conditions. After the war he offered instructive comments on the white supremacist aims of the disarmament sought by the U.S. and European powers.[51]

Sensing the need to articulate a new direction, Harrison restarted The Voice and worked on a daring plan to bring it into the deep South.[52] Ill health caused him to abort that plan. After the resurrected Voice failed, Harrison next edited the monthly New Negro magazine from August through October 1919. The New Negro was "intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races--especially of the Negro race" and it aimed to be for African Americans what The Nation was for "white" Americans. Harrison's attention to international matters intensified over the next several years and he wrote many powerful pieces critical of imperialism ("the most dangerous phase of developed capitalism") and supportive of internationalism. He was abreast of current events and wrote knowledgeably on Africa, India, Asia, the Islamic world, the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, Russia, and the Russian Revolution. He repeatedly began his analysis of situations from an international perspective and emphasized that it was important for Black people to overcome ignorance of international events and for African Americans "to get in international touch" with "the downtrodden section of the human population of the globe and establish business, industrial and commercial relations with them."[53]

On the domestic front, Harrison's criticism of left, labor, and Black leadership grew. He increasingly sought to mobilize "the Negro's political power, pocket book power and intellectual power." What was particularly new in his strategy was his conception of, and approach to, race unity. As he later explained, many who sought race unity were unclear of what they actually meant--was it to be "unity of thought and ideas," "unity of organization," "unity of purpose," or "unity of action?" For Harrison unity of thought was neither desirable nor possible, except in the graveyard, and unity of organization was exceedingly difficult and not likely. Unity of purpose was a real possibility, however. The fault with previous efforts, he wrote, was that the uniters (and here he referred principally to Washington and Du Bois) had "generally gone at the problem from the wrong end." As he explained, "They have begun at the top when they should have begun at the bottom." "To attempt to unite the 'intellectuals' at the top" was "not the same thing as uniting the Negro masses," who were the key to "racial solidarity."[54]


The 1920 to 1927 Period


In December of 1919 Marcus Garvey approached Harrison and asked him to head a college that he planned to develop. Harrison was a superb educator and considered modern educational work in the Black community to be a revolutionary endeavor. In an article "Education and the Race" he explained how, in "the dark days of Russia, when the iron heel of czarist despotism was heaviest on the necks of the people, . . . Leo Tolstoi and the other intelligentsia began to carry knowledge to the masses." Then, as "knowledge spread, enthusiasm was backed by brains, and the developing Russian revolution 'began to be sure of itself,' thus confirming the age-old wisdom that 'Knowledge is power.'" Harrison repeatedly emphasized that "brains and . . . the product of brains" offered the power to open "political, social and economic" doors.[55]

Though Garvey approached Harrison to head a UNIA college, in fact, he wanted him to edit his organization's paper, the Negro World. Harrison became the principal editor of the NW in January 1920 and proceeded to reshape and develop that paper--changing its style, format, content, and editorial page. He was primarily responsible for developing it into the preeminent radical, race-conscious, political and literary publication of the day. He initiated the "Poetry for the People" and "West Indian News Notes" sections and, over the first eight months of 1920, he was the Negro World's chief radical propagandist. In August, at the UNIA's 1920 convention, he was the one who gave "radical tone" to the UNIA's "Declaration of the Negro Peoples of the World."[56]

By the 1920 convention, however, movement was under way to have Harrison "dismissed from the editorship of the paper." Harrison, in turn, was highly critical of Garvey. His criticisms concerned the extravagance of Garvey's claims, his ego, the conduct of his stock-selling schemes, and his politics and practices. Though Harrison continued to write columns and book reviews for the Negro World into 1922, their political differences grew and Harrison worked against, and sought to develop political alternatives to, Garvey. In particular, Harrison urged political action in terms of electoral politics; he attempted to build the all-Black Liberty Party (to run African American candidates for political offices, including the presidency); he consistently maintained the position that African Americans' principal struggle was in the United States (and that they should therefore not seek to develop a state in Africa); he opposed imperialism and did not seek an African empire; he argued that Africans, not African Americans, would lead struggles in Africa; he vociferously opposed the Ku Klux Klan; and he favored reason, science, and fact-based knowledge over more exaggerated claims to the masses.[57]

In the 1920s, after breaking with Garvey, Harrison continued his full schedule of activities. He lectured on a wide range of topics for the New York City Board of Education and for it's "Trends of the Times" series, which included prominent professors from the city's foremost universities. His book and theater reviews and other writings appeared in many of the leading periodicals of the day--including the New York Times, New York Tribune, New York World, Nation, New Republic, Modern Quarterly, Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Amsterdam News, Boston Chronicle, and Opportunity magazine. He also spoke against the revived Ku Klux Klan and the horrific attack on the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Black community, and he worked with numerous groups, including the Virgin Island Congressional Council, the Democratic Party, the Farmer-Labor Party, the single tax movement, the American Friends Service Committee, the Urban League, the American Negro Labor Congress, and the Workers (Communist) Party.

One of his most important activities in this period was the founding of the International Colored Unity League (ICUL) and its organ, The Voice of the Negro. The ICUL was Harrison's most broadly unitary effort (particularly in terms of work with other Black organizations and with the Black church). It urged Blacks to develop "race consciousness" as a defensive measure and its 1924 platform had political, economic, and social planks urging protests, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and collective action. It also included as its "central idea" the founding of "a Negro state, not in Africa, as Marcus Garvey would have done, but in the United States," as an outlet for "racial egoism." It was a plan for "the harnessing" of "Negro energies" and for "economic, political and spiritual self-help and advancement" (which preceded a somewhat similar plan by the Communist International by four years).[58]

Overall, in his writing and oratory, Harrison's appeal was both mass and individual. He focused on the man and woman in the street and emphasized the importance of each individual's development of an independent, critical attitude. The period during and after World War I was one of intense racial oppression and great Black migration from the South and the Caribbean into urban centers, particularly in the North. Harrison's race-conscious mass appeal utilized newspapers, popular lectures, and street-corner talks and marked a major shift from the leadership approaches of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, the paramount Black leaders of his youth. Harrison's affective appeal (later identified with that of Garvey) was aimed directly at the urban masses and, as the Harlem activist Richard B. Moore explained, "More than any other man of his time, he [Harrison] inspired and educated the masses of Afro-Americans then flocking into Harlem."[59]

Though he was extremely popular among the masses who "flocked to hear him," Harrison, according to Rogers, was often overlooked by "the more established conservative Negro leaders, especially those who derived support from wealthy whites." Others, "inferior . . . in ability and altruism, received acclaim, wealth, and distinction" that was his due. When he died on December 17, 1927, the Harlem community, in a major show of affection, turned out by the thousands for his funeral. A church was (ironically) named in his honor and his portrait was to be placed prominently on the main floor of the 135th Street Public Library, where he, along with the bibliophile Arthur Schomburg and others, had helped to found and develop the world-famous "Department of Negro Literature and History" (which grew into the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture).[60]


The Great Neglect


Despite these manifestations of love and respect from his contemporaries, Harrison has been greatly neglected in death. He lies buried in an unmarked, shared plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx; the church named in his honor was abandoned; his portrait donated to the library cannot be found; and his life story and contributions have largely been ignored.

Some reasons for this neglect are readily apparent. Harrison was poor, Black, foreign born, and from the Caribbean. Each of these groups has suffered from discrimination and neglect in the United States. He opposed capitalism, racism, and the Christian church--dominant forces of the most powerful society in the world. He supported socialism, "race consciousness," racial equality, women's equality, freethought, and birth control. The forces arrayed against the expression of such ideas were, and continue to be, formidable. Others, most notably (the similarly poor, Black, Caribbean-born) Garvey, who challenged the forces of white supremacy only began to emerge from similar historical neglect with the increase in Black studies and popular history that were by-products of the civil rights/Black power struggles of the 1960s. Even then, however, Harrison was largely overlooked. In part this was undoubtedly due to his "radicalism" on issues other than race--particularly on matters of class and religion.[61]

There is one other important factor that has served to keep Harrison's achievements and ideas from the prominence they deserve. He was a critic whose style was candid and, at times, bitingly sarcastic. He would not, as he said, "bow the knee to Baal, because Baal is in power." He criticized the ruling classes, white supremacists, organized religion, organized labor, politicians, civil rights and race leaders, socialists, and communists. Though his comments were usually perceptive, well researched, and without malice, they often challenged the established order and existing leaders and engendered reaction. As Rogers explains,


Most of the enmity against Harrison was incurred by his devastating candor. . . . He spoke out freely what he thought, and more often than not it was with such annihilating sarcasm and wit, that those whom he attacked never forgave him. Before he began his attacks, he usually collected "the evidence" as he called it, consisting of verbatim utterances, verbal or printed, of the prospective victim. . . . There was, however, no personal malice in Harrison's shafts. . . . he was willing to shake hands with an opponent as soon as he had descended from the platform, and was surprised and hurt that others were not.[62]


In particular, Harrison's willingness to directly challenge prominent leaders in left and African-American circles stung many of the people most likely to keep his memory alive. In his writings he had pointed out that "those who live by the people must needs be careful of the people's gods." It was advice he did not always heed himself. He was often more candidly critical than calculatingly cautious and leaders who might have publicly preserved his memory made little effort to do so; some actually led in the great neglect that followed.[63]

In February 1928, less than two months after his massive funeral, Hodge Kirnon, an influential grassroots Harlem activist, ominously observed in a letter to the editor of the Black weekly New York News,


It has now become a subject of popular discussion among thoughtful people as to the reason for the absence of any mention of the late Hubert Harrison in the columns of the three leading Negro monthly periodicals in this country. The Messenger--"a journal of scientific radicalism" has not a word to say concerning the death of the first and ablest Negro exponent of scientific radicalism. The Crisis--"A Record of the Darker Races" laments the passing of [boxer] "Tiger" Flowers, but omits to record the services of a man who was a lecturer for the Board of Education, and of whom William Pickens says "can speak more easily, effectively and interestingly on a greater variety of subjects than any other man I have met, even in the great Universities." Opportunity--"a Journal of Negro Life" is equally silent over the demise of an acknowledged first rate thinker--one who gave liberally to the intellectual life of the Negro, and whose writings have appeared in that journal.

This concerted silence is ominous. It does appear that there is something wrong somewhere.[64]


There was indeed something wrong. An important figure, compared to Socrates by his peers, was being ignored.[65] The tragedy in this lies in the fact that Harrison's life story has much to offer. His life was lived in poverty, yet he struggled relentlessly for knowledge, understanding, and the uplift of common people. He was, according to Rogers, one of those "individuals of genuine worth and immense potentialities who dedicate their lives to the advancement of their fellow-men." According to the Pittsburgh Courier, "despite the handicap of poverty, . . . [he] became one of the most learned men of his day and was able to teach the wide masses of his race how to appreciate and enjoy all the finer things of life, to glance back over the whole history of mankind, and [drawing from G. B. Shaw] to look forward 'as far as thought can reach.'"[66]


An Important Voice


While students of African American history are familiar with the work of the early twentieth-century leaders Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey it is important to understand that there was a major alternative intellectual and political voice, rooted in the working class, with significant mass appeal. It belonged to the editor of The Voice and the founder of the New Negro movement, the man J. A. Rogers said was the foremost Afro-American intellect of the era and the leader with the sanest program. It was the voice of the brilliant and influential, critical thinking, class and race conscious, mass-oriented, internationalist, Hubert Harrison.[67]




On Democracy in America


In his writings and talks Harrison often returned to the theme of "'Democracy' in America." He continued to consider "the Negro [as] the touchstone of the modern democratic idea" and to suggest that true democracy for African Americans would imply "a revolution" [that was] startling even to think of." He also, however, developed a deeper understanding of the complexities of democracy--an awareness of both the misuse of "democracy" and of democracy's great potential.

During and after World War I, for instance, he repeatedly described how the "cant of democracy" served as "a convenient camouflage behind which competing imperialists masked their sordid aims." That cant was "dust in the eyes of the white voters" and "bait for the clever statesmen" who were "fishing for suckers." He explained that those leaders who proclaimed the new democratic demands never had any intention of extending "democracy." He also detailed how their slogan came back to "plague" them as the oppressed millions demanded democracy and demanded that democracy "be made safe for them."[68]

In October 1921 in the Negro World Harrison offered reasons for African Americans' lack of faith in "democracy." He explained that "[we] are shut out from places of public accommodation; from the church, the ballot and the law's protection. We are jim crowed, disfranchised and lynched without redress from law or public sentiment" and "left out from the plans being put forward . . . for the reorganization and reconstruction of American affairs on the basis of 'democracy.'"[69] He eloquently continued:


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 [Woodrow Wilson] of this country 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 Christians brutalized and their souls blasted while it 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.[70]


Harrison, however, also saw signs of hope. In 1923 he told a radio audience that "even in Dixie" a new day was "beginning to dawn" and "the better minds of that section" were "coming together in the new spirit of neighbors rather than masters." The North offered "to the Negro better opportunities of civic advancement than the South" and this resulted "in the migration in ever-increasing members from the South, which must eventually compete with the North for Negro labor by offering better opportunities in turn." Northern cities afforded possibilities -- "education, opportunities for civic advancement," "rights of civic participation," "the ballot and elective representation." The significance of all this to Harrison was that "the Negro is an integral part of the American nation: not a mere incident or problem. The strands of his soul are woven into the fabric of our national existence. . . . The destiny of the American Negro lies in the future of America."[71]

Several years later, in a July 1926 speech in the Bronx on the "New Americanism" Harrison elaborated on that future. After again insisting (as he repeatedly did) that "the Negro is the touchstone of all our democratic pretensions in America," he went on to describe America as a "great experiment in democracy" that was "unique in the history of the world." He predicted that "the great American experiment" would determine "whether we can make out of the welter of races and nations one people, one culture, one democracy." He thought it possible, and his remarks received thunderous applause.[72]


Race Consciousness and Class Struggle


When Harrison first developed his call for "race first" it was, in part, a reflexive response to both the "white race first" of the socialists and to the inadequacy of the socialists' "class first" in the face of class and racial oppression. "Race first" urged placement of the racial struggle to the fore, before the class struggle. It tended to de-emphasize struggle against class oppression; and in its propagandistic fervor it at times suggested an almost fatalistic biological permanency to racism among European Americans. There was little indication of anything temporal in the use of the slogan, which responded to white supremacy as if it was ubiquitous and permanent.

Over time, Harrison seemed to replace his call for "race first" with a call to develop race consciousness.[73] Though the phrases were at times interchangeable and Harrison at times seemed to move between biological and social understandings of race, the call to race consciousness suggested a broader and deeper appeal, more compatible with class consciousness, not "rigidly determinist," more sociohistorical (as opposed to biological), and more temporal.[74] It is this message that his children remembered Harrison delivering. There was, however, overlap in his use of the slogans and nowhere did he clearly compare and differentiate the concepts.[75]

In his writings Harrison explained that race consciousness was needed as a self-defense measure under existing societal conditions and that it was a necessary counter to white supremacy. It was also a strategic component in the struggle for a racially just and socialist society. Thus, where "the feeling of racial superiority" among the white population was pronounced, there was necessarily produced "in the mind of the masses of the black, brown and yellow peoples" what is termed in psychology "a protective reaction." This protective reaction was "race consciousness," and like loyalty, it was "neither an evil nor a good." The "good or evil of it" depended "upon the uses to which it is put." As long as the outer situation remained the same, reasoned Harrison, "We must evoke race-consciousness to furnish a background for our aspirations, readers for our writers, a clientele for our artists and professional people, and ideals for our future." So long as a Black child could "not aspire to be Governor of Massachusetts or President of the United States, like the son of an immigrant, German or Russian, so long will we need race-consciousness."[76]

Race consciousness took various forms. Harrison cited opposition to "Jim Crow," objection to "educational starvation," "racial independence in business," opposition to mimicking "whites," rejection of "our conservative leaders," and "reaching out into new fields of endeavor" as manifestations. The slogan did not mean that Blacks "hate white people," he noted, but it did mean "that in sheer self-defense, we too must put race very high on our list of necessities." If such effort had not been made all along, there would have been no "'Negro progress' to boast about" as proof of equal human potential. Black churches, newspapers, life insurance companies, banks, fraternities, colleges, and political appointees all indicated Black race consciousness.[77]

Organizing efforts among working people offer a clear example of what Harrison's race-conscious message entailed. Essentially, it was a proactive policy that did not wait for "white" laborers to act in their class interest by struggling against white supremacy. Harrison pointed out that "the black worker was opposed by the general run of white working men, who kept him out of their unions for the most part and yet called him 'scab' for getting their jobs at the only time when those jobs were available to him." Though he called on Black workers to support "the program of the advanced labor movement in this country," he also advocated that African-American workers should--when confronted by racist, exclusionary unions--"Form your own unions." These unions could then "co-operate in every possible way with the white unions," when "allowed that right." He considered this policy not "the best," but "the most helpful."[78]

The strategic importance of this race-conscious message in terms of labor was strikingly revealed in a 1920 review of the labor leader William Z. Foster's The Great Steel Strike. After explaining that it was "conceded on all sides that the white organized labor movement has been and still is pronouncedly anti-Negro" Harrison challenged Foster's urging that "the best Negro leaders must join heartily in destroying the pernicious anti-union attitude . . . [that is] so deeply rooted among their people.["] Harrison countered that "self-respecting Negro leaders [would] abstain from urging the laboring masses of their race to join forces with the stupid and short-sighted labor oligarchy which refuses to join forces with them" and he emphasized that it was a principal duty of whites to oppose racism. He explained that until that was done there would be little prospect for real joint effort--"It is up to the white unions and the American Federation of Labor and the great railroad brotherhoods themselves and not up to the Negro leaders to change this deep seated aversion which American Negroes have for white American labor."[79]

In 1921, in the pages of the Negro World, Harrison offered more on the importance to his strategic perspective of both race consciousness by African Americans and "white worker" opposition to racism. After clarifying that the principal enemy of the darker peoples of the world was "capitalist imperialism" and its "economic motive," he explained that "structures of racial self-protection" were "defensive structures" that arose in response to white "racial solidarity." He stressed that it was particularly the task of "white" revolutionists to "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." The reason was that Black race consciousness "arose as a consequence of the former ["white" "racial solidarity"], and the cause should be removed before the consequence can fairly be expected to disappear." He emphasized that those "who will meet us on our common ground will find that we recognize a common enemy ["capitalist imperialism"] in the present world order and are willing to advance to attack it in our joint behalf."[80]

Thus, for Harrison, the key to the class question and to class unity was the breaking down of white racial solidarity and the system of racial oppression. Harrison, the former leading Black socialist and a consistent class radical, concluded that in the United States progressives would have to go through race to get to class. Most particularly, as long as white supremacy and racial oppression remained, proponents of working-class struggle would have to fight against them to succeed.

The particular significance of Harrison's call for race consciousness should not be overlooked. The historian Nathan Huggins in his perceptive study of the Harlem Renaissance has argued that race consciousness "most likely leads to provincialism," that it can be tied to an identity crisis and to race guilt, and that it is often reflected in a hatred of whites. Yet, in Harrison's case we see something quite different. Rather than a provincial, he was an extremely well educated (though self-educated) and critically independent intellectual. He had travelled some, he was abreast of domestic and international events, and he was well versed in modern and scientific thought. He was not undergoing an identity crisis or expressing race guilt; rather, he quite rationally, and in a well-thought-out fashion, was attempting to point a way forward. His analysis was based on his study of society.[81]

Rather than moving from a "hate white[s]" analysis, Harrison, an internationalist and a true educator, was approaching the Black masses with a call for self- and group awareness and unity with "the darker peoples of the world" and he was urging white workers to fight against white supremacy. Quite simply, he had concluded, after considerable practical experience and intellectual analysis, that as long as the United States remained a white supremacist society a needed and necessary corrective, in the interest of all, was for African Americans to develop race consciousness. In the United States (where a system of racial oppression was central to capitalist rule), to heighten the class struggle, people would have to wage struggle against racial oppression and the supremacy of "the white race." In that way, the leading class-conscious African American radical led in the advocacy of race consciousness.[82]

Among African-American leaders of his era, Harrison was the most class conscious of the race radicals, and the most race conscious of the class radicals. This seeming incongruity was made possible by the political-economic system of the United States in which a system of racial oppression was central to capitalist rule. His radicalism was grounded in his study, his analysis of society, and his practical work. He was not rhetorical, utopian, or dogmatic. He stressed modern and historical knowledge, critical and scientific approaches to problems, political independence while working with different groups and parties, and concern with the great democratic issues of the day. He worked tirelessly and indefatigably for those he referred to as the "common people." The radicalism in all this stems from the fact that it came from an African American who would not deny that race and class divided America. Then, as now, the demands for economic justice premised on true racial equality struck at the very heart of the existing social order and were inherently radical.[83]





[1].  J[oel] A. Rogers, "Hubert Harrison: Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator (1883-1927)," in J[oel] A. Rogers, World's Great Men of Color, [hereafter WGMC] edited with an introduction, commentary, and new bibliographical notes by John Henrik Clarke, 2 vols. (1947; New York: Collier Books, 1972), 2:432-42, esp. 432-33.
[2].  William Pickens, "Hubert Harrison: Philosopher of Harlem," Amsterdam News, February 7, 1923, 12.
[3].  Henry Miller, The Rosy Crucifixion, Book Two: Plexus (1963; New York: Grove Press, 1965), 560-61.
[4].  Eugene O'Neill to Hubert Harrison (hereafter HH) June 9, 1921, copy in HH Papers, Correspondence, possession of author.
[5].  W. A. Domingo, interview with Theodore Draper, January 18, 1958, New York, Theodore Draper Papers, Robert W. Woodruff Library for Advanced Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, Preliminary listing as Box 20, Folder 7, "Negro Question for Vol. 1 (cont.)," Notes re: W. A. Domingo, 2.
[6].  Hodge Kirnon, "Hubert Harrison: An Appreciation," Negro World [hereafter NW], December 31, 1927.
[7].  David Levering Lewis to author, August 13, 2001, possession of author; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to author, December 12, 1996, possession of author; Gerald C. Horne, BRC-Discuss, general internet discussion group of the Black Radical Congress, June 1, 2001, http://www.mail-archive.com/brc-discuss@lists.tao.ca/msg01433.html ; Bill Fletcher, Jr., "Radicals Known and Unknown," Monthly Review, December 2001, 57-59, quote 57; Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (New York: Verso, 1998), 123.
[8].  Winston James, "Notes on the Ideology and Travails of Afro-America's Socialist Pioneers, 1877-1930," Souls, 1 no. 4 (Fall 1999): 45-63, esp. 54. Bibliographic material on Harrison is found in Jeffrey B. Perry, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), (hereafter cited as AHHR), 407-09 and Jeffrey B. Perry, "Hubert Henry Harrison 'The Father of Harlem Radicalism': The Early Years--1883 Through the Founding of the Liberty League and The Voice in 1917" (Ph. D. Diss., Columbia University, 1986), 711-809.
[9].  On Harrison as the "Father of Harlem Radicalism" see Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 79-80; Roi Ottley and William J. Weatherby, eds., The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History (New York: The New York Public Library, 1967), 223; Warren J. Halliburton with Ernest Kaiser, Harlem: A History of Broken Dreams (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1974), 45; and Robert Hill, "On Collectors, Their Contributions to the Documentation of the Black Past," in Elinor Des Verney Sinnette, W. Paul Coates, and Thomas C. Battle, eds., Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1990), 47-56, esp. 47.
[10].  Rogers, WGMC, 2:432; HH, "On a Certain Condescension in White Publishers [Part I]," NW, Vol. 12, no. 4 (March 4, 1922), 7, rptd. in AHHR, 293-95.
[11].  Baptism Record of "Hubert Henry [Harrison]," July 7, 1883, in "Baptisms Solemnized During the Years March 3, 1883--October 21, 1899," St. John's Anglican Church, Christiansted, Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands, 9; HH, "Diary," cover, possession of author; Rogers, WGMC, 2:433.
[12]. HH, "The Virgin Islands," October 31, 1923, 3, rptd. in AHHR, 241-50, esp. 243, 420-21 n. 49. For the St. Croix years see Perry, "Hubert Henry Harrison," 1-40.
[13].  HH, "The Virgin Islands," AHHR, 247; Perry, "Hubert Henry Harrison," 7-12; Neville A. T. Hall, Slave Society in the Danish West Indies, B. W. Higman, ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 6, 13, 154-58, 160-61; Florence Lewisohn, St. Croix Under Seven Flags (Hollywood, FL: Dukane Press, 1970), 234, 248-72, 308-30; Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race 2 vols. (New York: Verso, 1994 and 1997) 1:113, 2:238; and Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia, 5. For a comment similar to Harrison's by Marcus Garvey see Robert A. Hill, ed. The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 12 vols. projected, vols. 1-7 and vol. 9, 1983-1995), 1:179 (hereafter cited as MGP).
[14].  "A St. Croix Creole" [HH] to the Editor, New York Evening Post, May 15, 1922, rptd. in AHHR, 240-41; Perry, "Hubert Henry Harrison," 14-19.
[15].  Daniel Bell, "The Background and Development of Marxian Socialism in the United States," in Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons, eds., Socialism and American Life, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), 1:213-405, quote 268; Philip S. Foner, The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism 1895-1902, 2 vols. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972); and Rayford W. Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, New Enlarged Edition, originally published as The Negro in American Thought and Life: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (1954; New York: Macmillan Company, 1970), 11, 62.
[16]. HH to Frances Reynolds Keyser, May 20, 1908, in AHHR, 36-39, 428-429 n. 8. Harrison considered his agnosticism to be similar to Thomas Huxley. Huxley explained his agnosticism as "not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle. . . .  the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, follow your reason as far as it can carry you without other considerations. And negatively, in matters of the intellect, do not pretend the conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable." With such a perspective, a person "shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store." See Thomas Henry Huxley, "Agnosticism," Nineteenth Century, February 1889, v, rptd. in Thomas Henry Huxley, Science and the Christian Tradition (1894), rptd. in Gordon Stein, ed. and comp., An Anthology of Atheism amd Rationalism (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1980), 42-45, quotes 43, 44.

Harrison's break from religion made possible a critical approach to all matters as had been noted in 1844 by a young Karl Marx who pithily concluded that "criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism." See Karl Marx, "Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right," Deutsche-Französiche Jahrbücher, rptd. in Lewis S. Feuer, ed., Marx & Engels: Basic Writings on Philosophy and Politics (Garden City: Doubleday, 1959), 262-66, quote 262.  Freethought also influenced other Black activists and writers of Harrison's era including Randolph, Rogers, Briggs, Moore, McKay, Chandler Owen, Walter Everette Hawkins, George S. Schuyler, and Rothschild Francis while Du Bois was influenced by agnosticism. See AHHR, 35-36, 427-28 n. 6.

[17].  HH, "Diary," November 25, 1907 and May 20, 1908 in AHHR, 33-39; Antonio Gramsci, "The Modern Prince" and Other Writings (New York: International Publishers, 1957), 118-20; Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971; New York: International Publishers, 1978), 5-11; and Manning Marable, Black Leadership (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 97-101.
[18].  AHHR, 13, 442 n. 58.
[19]. HH, "The Negro American Vol. VIII: The Negro Factions. The Negro Factions, The Protestants, The Subservients," scrapbook [5], HH Papers, possession of author.
[20]. "Frances Dearborn" [HH], "The Black Tide Turns in Politics," n.p., c. December 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 157-61; HH, "Lincoln and Liberty: Fact Versus Fiction (II)," NW, March 12, 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 129-33; HH, "Lincoln and Liberty: Fact Versus Fiction (III). Lincoln and Republican Party Favor Perpetual Slavery," NW, March 19, 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 133-36; HH, "The Grand Old Party," NW, c. July 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 151-54; and HH, "When the Tail Wags the Dog," NW, c. July, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 154-55.
[21].  HH to the Editor, New York Times Saturday Review of Books, April 13, 1907, 242 and April 27, 1907, 274; HH to the editor, New York Sun, December 8, 1910, 8 and December 19, 1910, 8; Charles W. Anderson to Booker T. Washington September 10 and October 30, 1911, in Louis R. Harlan and Raymond W. Smock, eds. The Booker T. Washington Papers, 13 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972-1984), 11:300-01, 351.
[22].  HH, "Postal Department is Made Goat of All Other Federal Business," New York Call, November 6, 1911, (hereafter cited as NYC); HH, "The Negro and Socialism: 1--The Negro Problem Stated," NYC, November 28, 1911, rptd. in AHHR, 52-55; HH, "Race Prejudice--II," NYC, December 4, 1911, rptd. in AHHR, 55-57; HH, "The Duty of the Socialist Party," NYC, December 13, 1911, rptd. in AHHR, 57-60; "How to Do It--And How Not," NYC, December 16, 1911, rptd. in AHHR, 60-62; HH, "Summary and Conclusion," NYC, December 26, 1911; HH, "The Black Man's Burden, [I]," International Socialist Review, 12, no. 10 (April 1912) (hereafter cited as ISR): 660-63; HH, "The Black Man's Burden [II]," ISR, 12, no. 11: (May 1912): 762-64; HH, "Socialism and the Negro," ISR, 13, no. 1 (July 1912): 65-68, quote 65-66, rptd. in AHHR, 71-76; W. E. B. Du Bois, "Socialism and the Negro Problem," New Review, 1, no. 5 (February 1, 1913): 138-41, quote 140; HH, "Race First Versus Class First," NW, March 27, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 107-09; HH, "Southern Socialists and the Ku Klux Klan," c. 1914, rptd. in AHHR, 76-78; HH, "An Open Letter to the Socialist Party of New York City," NW, May 8, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 113-16.
[23].  HH, "The Negro and Socialism," AHHR, 54-55.
[24].  HH, "Socialism and the Negro" AHHR, 75. The Malkiel article, "'Socialists' Despise Negroes in South," NYC, August 21, 1911, 3, had a Memphis dateline. Other "dirty diatribes" included the reprinting of Kate Richards O'Hare's Nigger Equality "in local SP newspapers throughout the South and the Southwest." Nigger Equality was published first as a pamphlet and then was reprinted in 1912 by the National Rip-Saw which was actually in St. Louis. It called for "segregation" as the solution to the race problem, said that social equality was undesirable, and stated "No, we Socialists don't love the 'nigger' any better than he loves us . . . ." See Kate Richards O'Hare: Selected Writings and Speeches, ed., with intro. and notes, by Philip S. Foner and Sally M. Miller (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 44-9, esp. 45-6, 48.
[25].  HH, "Socialism and the Negro," in AHHR, 76; HH, "How to Do It -- And How Not," NYC, December 16, 1911, p. 6, rptd. in AHHR, 60-62; Henry Lee Moon, Balance of Power: The Negro Vote (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1949), 84.
[26].  HH, "Socialism and the Negro," in AHHR, 76; Seth M. Scheiner, Negro Mecca: A History of the Negro in New York City, 1865-1920 (New York: New York University Press, 1965), 73.
[27].  David A. Shannon, The Socialist Party of America: A History (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 10-11; Bell, "The Background and Development of Marxian Socialism in the United States," in Egbert and Persons, eds., Socialism and American Life, 1:275, 277.
[28].  Socialist Party, National Convention of the Socialist Party Held at Indianapolis, IN, May 12 to 18, 1912, Stenographic Report by Wilson E. McDermut, assisted by Charles W. Phillips, ed. by John Spargo (Chicago, 1912), 209-11, quote 210; Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans, 350.  Background to the Socialist party on the immigration question is provided in Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 ([1952] New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 276-88 and Mark Pittenger, American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870-1920 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 168-79.
[29].  HH, "Race Prejudice -- II," in AHHR, 55-56.
[30].  Socialist Party, National Convention of the Socialist Party . . . May 12 to 18, 1912, 210. In HH, "An Open Letter to the Socialist Party of New York City," NW May 8, 1920, 2, rpt. in AHHR, 113-16, Harrison adds that "The quoted passage [on immigration] cuts the very heart out of their [the Socialist's] case." See also Philip S. Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans: From the Age of Jackson to World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975), 258; The American Labor Yearbook, 1916, 124-25; HH, "An Englishman Visits America: The Soul of John Brown -- by Stephen Graham," NW, February 12, 1921, HH Papers-Scrapbook, 33, possession of author; James Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America: 1912-1925 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), 66-67; Mark Naison, "Marxism and Black Radicalism: Notes on a Long (and continuing) Journey," Radical America, May-June 1971, rptd. by New England Free Press, Somerville, Mass., [1971?], 3-25, quote 6. [HH], "Race Consciousness," Voice of the Negro, 1, No. 1 (April 1927), 3, 4, rptd. in AHHR, 116-17.

     Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor president, promoted "Oriental exclusion," advocated restriction of immigration for Asians, and authored several anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese pamphlets. See Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 64.

     In apparent response to such positions, V. I. Lenin would develop a criticism of U.S. treatment of Japanese and African Americans. In his "Notebooks on Imperialism" in preparation for his 1916 book on that subject he criticized "American workers and their chauvinism" and the "Soc.[ialist] Party likewise" in "respect of the Japanese" and the treatment of the Japanese "and Negroes" in America. See "Notebooks on Imperialism," in Lenin on the United States: Selections from His Writings (New York: International Publishers, 1970), 606-08.
[31].  [HH], "Race Consciousness," in AHHR, 116-17; HH, "Race First Versus Class First," NW, March 27, 1920, rpt. in WAA, 107-09.
[32].  Werner Sombart, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? [1906], ed. and with an introductory essay by C. T. Husbands, foreword by Michael Harrington (White Plains, N.Y., 1976), esp. xix-xxiii.

The work of historian Theodore W. Allen is instructive on the theme of white supremacy as the principal retardant of class consciousness in the US. Allen's work poses a challenge to what he terms the "classical consensus" on the "low level of class consciousness" in the U.S. He reviews a host of Marxist and labor historians (including Frederick Engels, Frederick A. Sorge, Richard T. Ely, Morris Hillquit, William Z. Foster, John R. Commons, Selig Perlman, Norman J. Ware, Mary and Charles Beard, Allan Nevins, Henry Steele Commager, and Frederick Jackson Turner) whom, he argues, created a classic consensus which ascribes the low level of class consciousness to "six peculiar objective factors of United States historical development." The six factors which Allen maintains were adopted, at least in part, by all of the writers he cites, include: 1) early existence of the right to vote and other democratic liberties; 2) heterogeneity of the working class; 3) the "safety valve" of western homesteading opportunities; 4) social mobility; 5) relative shortage of labor and higher wages; and 6) development of trade unions prior to development of a labor party. Allen argues that each point of this six-pronged rationale is refuted or seriously challenged by factual analysis and that each thesis of the consensus "must be decisively revised in the light of the question of white supremacy." For Allen, "the key to the defeat of labor and popular forces" in the U.S. has historically been the theory and the practice [as exhibited by the Socialist party in 1912] of white supremacy. See Theodore W. Allen, "'The Kernel and the Meaning . . .,' A Contribution to a Proletarian Critique of United States History," n.p., c. 1967, possession of author, 1-6, esp. 1-2, 8-41, esp. 8-9, 13-14, 20-21; Theodore W. Allen, "Can White Radicals Be Radicalized?,"  in Noel Ignatin and Ted Allen, "White Blindspot" "Can White Radicals Be Radicalized?" (New York, 1969), 12-18, esp. 13; and Theodore W. Allen, "On Roediger's Wages of Whiteness," CLogic, 4:2,  esp. paragraphs 7-10, at http://eserver.org/clogic/4-2/allen.html .
[33].  Sally M. Miller, "Other Socialists: Native Born and Immigrant Women in the Socialist Party of America, 1900-1917," Labor History, 24, No. 1 (Winter 1983), 84-102, esp. 101.
[34].  HH, "Diary," September 28, 1914.

[35].  "The Reminiscences of A. Philip Randolph," interview with Wendell Wray, July 25, 1972, 152, in Oral History Project, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York; Lester A. Walton, "Street Speaker Heralds Spring in Harlem," New York World, March 23, 1928, 17; Hill, "On Collectors," 47; and Theodore G. Vincent, Black Power and the Garvey Movement (San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1972), 137.
[36]. HH, "Introductory," in HH, When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story" of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World (New York: Porro Press, 1920), 5-8. Harrison is considered "the originator [among African Americans] of the 'race first' concept" which he said derived from "the American doctrine of 'Race First.'" See HH, The Negro and the Nation (New York: Cosmo-Advocate Publishing Co., 2305 Seventh Avenue, 1917), 3 n; Robert A. Hill, "Introduction: Racial and Radical: Cyril V. Briggs, The Crusader Magazine, and the African Blood Brotherhood, 1918-1922," in The Crusader, 3 vols. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), 1:lviii n. 122; [HH], "Program and Principles of the International Colored Unity League," Voice of the Negro, 1, no. 1 (April 1927): 4-6; and Hodge Kirnon, "Hubert Harrison," NW, December 31, 1927.
[37]. HH, "Negro Society and the Negro Stage, Preamble [Parts 1 and 2]," c. July 1915, HH Papers, Writings, rptd. in AHHR, 370-76.
[38]. [HH], "The Liberty League of Negro-Americans," Voice, September 19, 1917, (originally in Voice, July 4, 1917), rptd. in AHHR, 86-88; and MGP, 1:470 n. 1.
[39].  HH, "Our Professional Friends," Voice, November 7, 1917, rptd. in AHHR, 143-47; and HH, "Shillady Resigns," NW, June 19, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 177-78.
[40].  [HH], "Shillady Resigns" and [HH], "The Liberty League of Negro-Americans."
[41]. [HH,] "The Need for It" [and "The Nature of It"], New Negro, September 1919, rptd. in AHHR, 101-02; HH, "Two Negro Radicalisms," New Negro, October 1919, rptd. in AHHR, 102-05; and HH, "Race Consciousness."
[42]. HH, "Shillady Resigns."
[43]. HH, "Diary," May 24, 1920; HH, The Negro and the Nation, 3; HH, "Race First Versus Class First," NW, March 27, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 107-09; and Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976).
[44]. [HH,] "As the Currents Flow," NN, Vol. 3, no. 7 (August 1919), 3-4; Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 53-59; Anselmo Jackson, "An Analysis of the Black Star Line," Emancipator, March 27, 1920, 2; and William H. Ferris, "The Spectacular Career of Garvey," Amsterdam News, February 11, 1925, pt. 2, sec. 2, 9. Alain Leroy Locke served as special editor for the extraordinarily successful March 1925 Survey Graphic (subtitled Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro) which included a wide variety of articles, stories, and poems by prominent Black writers. Eight months later he brought out The New Negro (1925; New York: Athenaeum, 1968), an anthology which included, in revised form, many of the pieces from the Survey Graphic and which called attention to the "new race consciousness" and internationalism"; to the fact that the "rank and file" were "leading" and the "leaders" following; and to the fact that the "New Negro" was "an augury of a new democracy in American culture." See Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, gen. eds., Norton Anthology of African American Literature (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 960-70, esp. 960, 964-65, and 969. Author Tony Martin in Race First, 91-92; Literary Garveyism: Garvey Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance (Dover, MA: The Majority Press, 1983), ix-x, 2, 5; and African Fundamentalism: A Literary and Cultural Anthology of Garvey's Harlem Renaissance (1983; Dover, MA: The Majority Press, 1991), xv-xvi, correctly emphasizes the major literary importance of the Garvey movement and the NW (starting around 1920 [when Harrison became editor-JP]) to the literary epoch known as the Harlem Renaissance. The Harrison Papers make clear that the Garvey movement was a component part of the New Negro movement and that Harrison, who began editing the Negro World in January 1920, was a principal architect of that paper's mass literary appeal--particularly through the regular book reviews he inaugurated and the "Poetry for the People" section he created.
[45].  HH, "Marcus Garvey at the Bar of United States Justice," Associated Negro Press, c. July 1923, rptd. in AHHR, 196-97 and HH, "Two Negro Radicalisms," 104.
[46].  W. E. B. Du Bois, "Close Ranks," Crisis, 16 (July 1918): 111; AHHR, 168-174; Ernest Allen, Jr., "'Close Ranks': Major Joel E. Spingarn and the Two Souls of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois," Contributions in Black Studies, No. 3 (1979-1980), 25-38; HH, "The Descent of Dr. Du Bois," The Voice, July 25, 1918; HH, "When the Blind Lead," NW, c. February 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 173-74; Mark Ellis, "W. E. B. Du Bois and the Formation of Black Opinion in World War I: A Commentary on 'The Damnable Dilemma,'" Journal of American History 81, no. 4 (March 1995): 1584-90. According to the historian Mark Ellis, over the next forty years, Du Bois would refer to his activity around the period of the Great War with "a mixture of shame and bitterness." See Mark Ellis, "'Closing Ranks' and 'Seeking Honors': W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I," Journal of American History, 79, no. 1 (June 1992), 96-124, esp. 96, 98, 122.
[47].  HH, "The Descent of Dr. Du Bois," Voice, July 25, 1918, rptd. in AHHR, 170-73.
[48].  The Liberty Congress's strategy of wartime demands for equality was a clear forerunner of A. Philip Randolph's March on Washington Movement (MOWM) during World War II and to the 1963 Randolph/Martin Luther King, Jr.-led March on Washington during the Vietnam War. The MOWM led to president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's signing of Executive Order 8802 (on June 25, 1941) which stated that it shall be the "policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin" and called for the establishment of a Fair Employment Practices Committee. After 8802 the African American presence in war industries increased from 3 to 8 per cent. The 1963 march led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (that forbade discrimination in public accommodations and employment). See Herbert Garfinkel, When Negroes March: The March on Washington Movement in the Organizational Politics for FEPC (1959; New York: Athenaeum, 1969), 56-57, 6-61, 117-21, and 127-31; James Gilbert Cassedy, "African Americans and the American Labor Movement," Prologue, 29, no. 2 (Summer 1997): 113-20, esp. 119; Paula E. Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 269-71; and Peter Bergman, ed., assisted by a staff of compilers under the direction of Mort N. Bergman, The Chronological History of The Negro in America (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969), 493, 583.

[49]. AHHR, 170-182, esp. 179-180.
[50]. [HH], "The Line-Up on the Color Line," NW, December 4, 1920, rptd. in  AHHR, 216-19; HH, "When the Blind Lead"; HH, "Shillady Resigns"; HH, "The Problems of Leadership," When Africa Awakes, 54-55; and AHHR, 20-21.
[51]. HH, "The White War and the Colored World, The Voice, August 14, 1917, rptd. in AHHR, 202-03; HH, "The White War and the Colored Races," 1918, New Negro, October 1919, rptd. in AHHR, 203-08; HH, "The Negro at the Peace Congress," probably in The Voice, December 1918, rptd. in AHHR, 209-10; HH, "Africa at the Peace Table," The Voice, December 1918, rptd. in AHHR, 210-12; HH, "The Washington Conference," NW, November 19, 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 229-31; HH, "Disarmament and the Darker Races," probably December 4, 1921, in NW, December 31, 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 231-34.
[52].  [HH,] "The Voice Is Coming Out to Stay!" leaflet, c. July 4, 1918, HH Papers, Writings; [HH,] "The Resurrection of the Voice," Voice, July 11, 1918, 4; [HH,] "To Our People in Washington, D.C.," Voice, July 11, 1918, 1.
[53].  HH, "The Need for It," and HH, "The Line-Up on the Color Line."
[54]. [HH], "The Right Way to Unity," Boston Chronicle, May 10, 1924, rptd. in AHHR, 402-04. Du Bois reached a similar conclusion in 1940 in his autobiography Dusk of Dawn. At that time Du Bois explained that Booker T. Washington had proposed "a flight of class from mass in wealth with the idea of escaping the masses or ruling the masses through power placed by white capitalists into the hands of those with larger income. My own panacea of earlier days was flight of class from mass through the development of a Talented Tenth." See W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept [1940] (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 216-17; Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 5.
[55]. HH, "Connections with the Garvey Movement," March 17, 1920, rptd. in AHHR, 183-88; HH, "Education and the Race," When Africa Awakes, 126-28, rptd. in AHHR, 122-24; HH, "Opening the Doors," Boston Chronicle, April 5, 1924, in HH Papers, Writings, possession of author; HH, "The Feet of the Young Men," Boston Chronicle, March 22, 1924, HH Papers, Writings, possession of author.
[56].  HH, "Diary," March 17 and 18 and August 18, 28, and 31, 1920, rptd. in part in AHHR, 182-88, 191-94. Comments from activist Bill Fletcher and historians Ernest Allen, Gerald Horne, and Portia James say much about the caliber of Harrison's editorials. Fletcher writes that Harrison was "a revolutionary intellectual who wrote eye-opening exposures and rigorous political analysis" that "ideologically and politically" were "clearly in the vanguard of Black political thought of the time." Allen views Harrison as "pivotal to black intellectual life from the Progressive to the post-war era" and he adds that "his editorials and commentary were certainly no less insightful--and often a good deal more so--than anything in this vein that Du Bois ever produced in the Crisis magazine." His writings "fill a gap not only in our understanding of black radical and nationalist writings around the World War I period and beyond, but [they] also, . . . change the way in which we have tended to look at black thought generally in this period." Gerald Horne agrees that "in many ways Harrison's analyses of the World War I era--and countless other matters--are sharper than those of Du Bois." Historian Portia James concludes that "It is impossible to have a full understanding of the 1900-1930 period in Black politics without knowing Harrison and his influential work." See Fletcher, Jr., "Radicals Known and Unknown," 58; Ernest Allen, letter to Suzanna Tammimen, June 21, 1999, copy in possession of author; Horne, BRC-Discuss, June 1, 2001; Portia James, letter to Suzanna Tammimen, c. June 1999, copy in possession of author.
[57].  HH, "Diary," March 23, May 24, August 28, and August 31, 1920 and HH, "Marcus Garvey at the Bar of United States Justice."
[58].  [HH], "Program and Principles of the International Colored Unity League," Voice of the Negro, 1, no. 1 (April 1927): 4-6, rptd. in AHHR, 399-402; "Dr. Harris(on) Candidate for Congress on Socialist [Single Tax] Ticket," Chicago Defender, June 7, 1924; "Wants State for Negroes," Boston Chronicle, June 21, 1924; "Negroes Plan New American State," Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 1924, 5B; "Separate Colored State Urged by Harrison," New York News, August 2, 1924; "Separate State for Negroes Urged," Baltimore Afro-American, August 8, 1924; "Lecturer Proposes Independent State for Negro Citizens," Pittsburgh Courier, August 30, 1924; Joseph G. Tucker, "Special Report of Radical Activities in the Greater New York District for Period Week Ending July 26, 1924," File 61-23-297, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C.; and "Wants Exclusive Negro Territory in U.S.," New York World, August 3, 1924.
[59].  Richard B. Moore, "Afro-Americans and Radical Politics" (March 19, 1969), rptd. in Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem: Collected Writings 1920-1972, ed. by W. Burghardt and Joyce Moore Turner (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 215-21, quote 216; Cary D. Wintz, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance (Houston: Rice University Press, 1988), 3, writes that Harlem "symbolized the central experience of American blacks in the early twentieth century--the urbanization of black America."
[60].  Rogers, WGMC, 2:433, 437; State of New York, Department of Health of the City of New York, Standard Certificate of Death, December 17, 1927, Register No. 28066; "Harlem Community Church Renamed in Honor of the Late Hubert Harrison," New York Age, May 12, 1928; "New Exhibition is Opened at 135th St. Public Library," Harlem Home News, May 13, 1925, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, SC Micro R-707, reel 6, Harlem vol. 1; "Hubert Harrison's Portrait in Library," Amsterdam News, September 10, 1930. The Hubert Harrison Memorial Church, headed by Rev. E. Ethelred Brown, was located at 149 West 136th Street. See "Lament Dream of Dr. Hubert Harrison," Amsterdam News, December 28, 1927, 1.
[61].  As the historian Tony Martin, Race First, p. 360, has correctly pointed out, "for two decades or so after his death [in 1940] Garvey was all but relegated to the position of an unperson" as "Afro-American, West Indian and African history books, with few exceptions, failed to mention him or glossed over his career in embarrassed and contemptuous haste." It was only with "the Black Power revolution of the 1960s" that the race activist Garvey received renewed recognition.
[62].  HH, "To the Young Men of My Race," Voice, January 1919, reprinted in AHHR, 175-77; Rogers, WGMC, 2:439. Baal, a God of the Canaanites often represented by a calf, was considered a false God by the Israelites; see Hosea 13:1.
[63].  HH, "The Negro a Conservative," Truth Seeker, Vol. 41, no. 37 (September 12, 1914), 583, rptd. in AHHR, 42-46; Rogers, WGMC, 2:439.
[64].  Hodge Kirnon, "Kirnon Flays Monthly Magazines," letter to the editor, New York News, February 28, 1928, HH Papers, Miscellany. Interestingly, Randolph edited The Messenger, Du Bois edited The Crisis, and Harrison had recently (1926) been engaged by the Urban League as promoter of publicity in Harlem.
[65].  The journalist Cleveland G. Allen wrote that "[Harrison] was a great scholar, and his scholarship and attainments were used unselfishly for the good of others. . . . He was the Socrates of his day, and one of the Prophets of his age." Cleveland G. Allen to Mrs. [Irene] Harrison, 1927, HH Papers, Correspondence. See also Oscar Benson, "Literary Genius of Hubert Harrison," New York News, December 24, 1927; Claude McKay, A Long Way From Home: An Autobiography (1937; New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), 41-42; and John G. Jackson, Hubert Henry Harrison: The Black Socrates, (Austin: American Atheist Press, 1987).
[66].  Rogers, WGMC, 2:432; "Hubert H. Harrison!" Pittsburgh Courier, December 31, 1927, sec. 2, 8; Portia P. James, "As Far as Thought Can Reach: Hubert Harrison and the New Negro Movement," unpublished manuscript, 1989, possession of author; and the final chapter ("As Far As Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920") in [George] Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921; rev. ed. with postscript, New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), 189-245.
[67].  Ralph Dumain of the C. L. R. James Institute writes perceptively that Harrison was "personally distinguished by some very admirable traits." He was "A working class autodidact, a street agitator, organizer, educator, critic, and much more, . . . closer to the black working class than any other revolutionary intellectual of his time." He was also "relentlessly independent, ruthlessly objective, intellectually rigorous, . . . and incapable of pandering, flattery, and mere propaganda." In addition, he was devoted to "education, erudition, scientific method, and the intellectual elevation of his constituency." Ralph Dumain, to author, June 17, 2001, possession of author.
[68]. HH, "Introductory."
[69].  H.H., "Democracy in America," Negro World, October 8, 1921, 3, rptd. in AHHR, 282-286, quote 283.
[70].  H.H., "Democracy in America," in AHHR, 283.
[71].  HH, "The Negro and the Nation," Address by Dr. Hubert H. Harrison of the Lecture Bureau, Dept. of Education, New York City, Thurs. June 21st, 1923--By Radio Broadcasting of American Telephone Telegraphic Co., rptd. in AHHR, 286-290. In his talk Harrison also discussed "repressions, restrictions and handicaps such as are imposed on no other race in America," "Jim-Crow cars," "disfranchisement that crushes political aspirations," the "policy of educational starvation in certain parts of our country" that condemns "children to 89 cents worth of education a year," and "the odor of fricasseed freemen."
[72].  "Hubert Harrison Addresses Bronx Rotary Club on 'New Americanism,'" Amsterdam News, July 28, 1926, 9.
[73]. HH, "Race Consciousness."
[74]. Though Harrison referred to race as a "shifting reality" (HH, "The Brown Man Leads the Way: A Review of The New World of Islam by Lothrop Stoddard [concluding part]," NW, November 5, 1921, 5, rptd. in AHHR, 313-19, quote 317), he seemed to move between biological and social-historical understandings of the concept, most often leaning toward the sociohistorical.
[75]. Aida Harrison Richardson and William Harrison, interview with author, August 4, 1983, New York City.
[76]. [HH], "The Need for It" and HH, "Race Consciousness."
[77]. [HH,] "The Need for It" and HH, "Race Consciousness."
[78]. HH, "The Negro and the Labor Unions," in HH, When Africa Awakes, 21, rptd. in AHHR, 79-81; "Negroes Meet Today to Seek Tulsa Redress: Hubert Harrison of Colored Liberty League Wires Oklahoma Gov. to Punish Responsible Whites," New York Call, June 5, 1921, 1, 2.
[79]. HH, "The Negro in Industry," review of The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons by William Z. Foster, NW, August 21, 1920, 2, rptd. in AHHR, 81-3; and William Z. Foster, The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons (New York: B. W. Huebsch, Inc., 1920).
[80]. HH, "Wanted--A Colored International," NW, May 28, 1921, rptd. in AHHR, 223-28
[81]. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 8-9, 49, 307-08.
[82]. HH, "Race First Versus Class First," NW, March 27, 1920.
[83].  Theodore W. Allen in "The Most Vulnerable Point," n.p., October 1972, p. 4, elaborates the position that "The principal aspect of United States capitalist society is not merely bourgeois domination, but bourgeois white-supremacist domination." He discusses the origins of the system of racial oppression and its centrality to class rule in the U.S. in Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 1:32-35, 133-35; 143-50 and 2:221-22 and 239-59.

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Noel Ignatin (Ignatiev) and Ted (Theodore W.) Allen, “White Blindspot” & “Can White Workers [crossed out] Radicals Be Radicalized?”

Noel Ignatin (Ignatiev) and Ted (Theodore W.) Allen, "White Blindspot" & "Can White Workers [crossed out] Radicals Be Radicalized?" (1967; Detroit: The Radical Education Project and New York: NYC Revolutionary Youth Movement, 1969.) See HERE PDF Will Download

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Ray Richardson, grandson of Hubert Harrison and producer of "Say Brother"

A striking, three-minute, 1969 video presentation is of Ray Richardson (1946-1971), grandson of Hubert Harrison and producer of "Say Brother" for Public Station WGBH TV (Boston) in 1968-1970 and be found HERE

On August 25, 2020 (August 27 in the print edition), the "New York Times" ran an article entitled "'Soul!' Brought Black Culture to TV in 1968. A New Doc Tells Its Story," which discusses the New York public education tv show "Soul" that began on September 12, 1968 (after the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.). [The article is entitled "Black Culture Front and Center Back in the Day" in the print edition.]


Earlier that year (on July 18, 1968) Boston Public Television station WGBH began airing "Say Brother" an extraordinary hour-long show that, would air prime time (and be repeated later on the weekend). It would be produced and directed by Ray Richardson and directed by Stan Lathan. Richardson was the grandson of Hubert Harrison and he and Vashti Lowns would die under suspicious conditions in 1971 after the show was taken off the air and Richardson was fired in July 1970 in the wake of the show's coverage of New Bedford, Massachusetts protests.


For background on Ray Richardson and "Say Brother" see "The Radicalization of Ray Richardson: Suspicion Still Surround Death of Black Activist TV Producer," which I co-authored in 2013 along with Charles Richardson (Harrison's grandson and Ray Richardson's brother). See HERE and see HERE

Unfortunately, the links cited in the above articles were moved. Two video clips from "Say Brother" are available HERE
and HERE


To see "'Soul!' Brought Black Culture to TV in 1968. A New Doc Tells Its Story" online see HERE


Some addiional Links to TV Segments from "Say Brother" involving producer Ray Richardson can be found HERE

For more information on Ray Richardson see "Say Brother: The Radicalization of Ray Richardson, Black Activist TV Producer" by Jeffrey B. Perry and Charles Richardson -- HERE


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Harlem World posting “On The 94th Anniversary Of The Death Of Harlem’s Hubert Harrison” (includes links to 13 “Harlem World” articles on Harrison)

Harlem World posting "On The 94th Anniversary Of The Death Of Harlem's Hubert Harrison" (includes links to 13 "Harlem World" articles on Harrison) see HERE

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THIS IS REVOLUTION>podcast Epiode 214: The Life of Hubert Harrison w/ Jeffrey B Perry

THIS IS REVOLUTION>podcast Epiode 214: The Life of Hubert Harrison w/ Jeffrey B Perry See HERE

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Columbia University Press Blog from Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscipt Library on Anniversary of Death of Hubert Harrison

Columbia University Press Blog from Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscipt Library on Anniversary of Death of Hubert Harrison  HERE

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Hubert Harrison: 94th Anniversary of Death of “Father of Harlem Radicalism”

From Black Star News December 16, 2021 HERE  (Has important links at the end.)

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On the 94th Anniversary of the Death of Hubert Harrison

December 17, 2021, marks the 94th anniversary of the appendicitis-related death in Bellevue Hospital of St. Croix-born, Harlem-based Hubert Harrison (1883-1927), who was described by A. Philip Randolph as "the father of Harlem Radicalism," It is an appropriate occasion to call attention to his extraordinary life and political and intellectual work.


Harrison was: the leading Black activist in the Freethought movement (c. 1911) and the Socialist Party (1912); the only Black speaker at the Paterson Silk Strike (1913); the founder of the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper ("The Voice") of the militant "New Negro Movement" (1917); author of "The Negro and the Nation" (1917);  editor of "The New Negro" ["an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races – especially of the Negro race"] (1919); principal managing editor of Marcus Garvey's globe-sweeping "Negro World" (1920); and author of "When Africa Awakes: The 'Inside Story' of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" (1920). He initiated the first "regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom" (beginning in 1920) and he was: a pioneering regular lecturer for the New York City Board of Education (beginning in 1922); a regular columnist for the "Boston Chronicle" (1924); a founding officer of the Committee that established the Department of Negro  History, Literature, and Art of the 135th St. Public Library (1924-1925) [which grew into the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem]; and founder of the International Colored Unity League (1924) and editor of its monthly "The Voice of the Negro" (1927).


Among the Black radicals of his day Harrison has been described as "the most class conscious of the race radicals and the most race conscious of the class radicals." He was a major influence on the class-radical Randolph and the race-radical Garvey, and on a generation of activists including Richard B. Moore, W. A. Domingo, Hodge Kirnon, and Cyril Briggs. He also supported artists, social workers, and literary figures such as author and poet Claude McKay, social worker Frances Reynolds Keyser, sculptress Augusta Savage, editor Drusilla Dunjee Houston, pianist Eubie Blake, and poet, composer, and lyricist Andy Razaf.


Harrison, a former postal worker who was fired after criticizing Booker T. Washington, opposed capitalism and imperialism and emphasized: that "racism" was not innate; that white supremacy was not in "white" workers class interests; that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States; and that struggle against white supremacy was central to radical social change efforts in the U.S.  He emphasized: that "politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea"; that "as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race" were "downright lying" and "the cant of 'Democracy'" was "intended as dust in the eyes of white voters"; that true democracy and equality for "Negroes" implied "a revolution . . . startling even to think of," and that "capitalist imperialism which mercilessly exploits the darker races for its own financial purposes is the enemy which we must combine to fight." When he left the Socialist Party, he offered the profound insight that the Socialists, like the labor movement, "put [the white] Race First, and class after" and he soon responded by calling on Black people to put "Race First!"

Described by Joel A. Rogers in "World's Great Men of Color" as an "intellectual giant" who was "perhaps the foremost Aframerican intellect of his time," the "radical internationalist" Harrison wrote and spoke knowledgeably on literary, political, domestic and international topics. Author Henry Miller, a socialist in his youth, remembered Harrison on a soapbox [he spoke before as many as 50,000 people at Union Square in 1912] as his "quondam idol." "There was no one in those days . . . who could hold a candle to Hubert Harrison," explained Miller. "He was a man who electrified by his mere presence."


At his 1927 funeral, the outstanding bibliophile, Arthur Schomburg eulogized that Harrison "came ahead of his time." Schomburg was correct! While Harrison was a leading activist of his day, his ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s and his thoughts on "democracy in America" offer penetrating insights on the limitations and potential of social change efforts in America in the twenty-first century.

When Harrison died, he was buried in an unmarked plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  Interest in him has increasingly grown in recent years, however, and a beautiful jet-black slant marker with etching was placed on the gravesite. It includes these words derived from the poem "Hubert H. Harrison" written by Andy Razaf, the unofficial poet laureate of the militant "New Negro Movement" –




"What A Change Thy Work Hath Wrought."


Hubert Harrison has much to offer current and future generations!



Columbia University Press recently completed publication of the second volume of Jeffrey B. Perry's two-volume biography of Harrison, which is believed to be the first, full-life, multi-volume biography of an Afro-Caribbean and only the fourth of an African American after those of Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. DuBois, and Langston Hughes.


Jeffrey B. Perry


Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry is the author of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" and "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize).  He also edited "A Hubert Harrison Reader" (Wesleyan University Press) and placed "The Hubert H. Harrison Papers" at Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library where a significant number have been placed online.

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The Life of Hubert Harrison with Jeffrey B Perry on "This Is Revolution" podcast

The Life of Hubert Harrison w/ Jeffrey B Perry on "This Is Revolution" podcast. See HERE



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Re 1619

In Theodore W. Allen, "The Invention of the White Race" vol. 1 "Racial Oppression and Social Control," p. 9, Allen writes --


Historians are cautioned to avoid the vice of "presentism," that is, the assignment of motivations for behavior to suit current vogues without proof that those motivations actually figured in the needs and feelings of the people of the historic period under consideration. One common example of this error is that of casually classing Negroes in colonial Anglo-America as "slaves" from the first mention in 1619 on, decades before there is any justification in the record for such a generalization.

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Hubert Harrison's 1926 "World Problems of Race" Course in Harlem

From July 8 to September 9, 1926, Hubert Harrison delivered a special ten-week seminar course on The ISS' eleven-member executive council included: Willis N. Huggins, chairman; Williana Burroughs, secretary; E. Elliot Rawlins, treasurer; Richard B. Moore, director; and Louise Jackson, Mabel Byrd, F. Eugene Corbie, Peter D. Codrington, N. E. White, Grace P. Campbell, and Harrison. Discussion of this course can be found in Jeffrey B. Perry, "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1926" (Columbia University Press). See HERE

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Hubert Harrison's Pioneering Series for the New York City Board of Education on "Literary Lights of Yesterday and Today"

In 1922 (ninety-nine years ago), Hubert Harrison was hired to deliver a regular series of Saturday evening lectures for the New York City Board of Education Lecture Bureau. The series on "Literary Lights of Yesterday and Today" at the 135th Street Public Library was "the first instance of any Negro attaining to that height." The board occasionally had Black lecturers, "but not a series." His schedule was:
"The Novels and Stories of [Charles] Dickens" (October 28),
"[Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow—The Poet of the Hearthside" (November 4),
"[Rudyard] Kipling in Prose and Verse" (November 1),
"Our Own Mark Twain" (November 18),
"The Poetry of [Alfred, Lord] Tennyson" (November 25),
"Edgar Allan Poe, Poet and Prose Writer" (December 9),
"Thirty Years of H. G. Wells" (December 16).

In 1922 (ninety-nine years ago), Hubert Harrison was hired to deliver a regular series of Saturday evening lectures for the New York City Board of Education Lecture Bureau. The series on "Literary Lights of Yesterday and Today" at the 135th Street Public Library was "the first instance of any Negro attaining to that height." The board occasionally had Black lecturers, "but not a series." His schedule was:
"The Novels and Stories of [Charles] Dickens" (October 28),
"[Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow—The Poet of the Hearthside" (November 4),
"[Rudyard] Kipling in Prose and Verse" (November 1),
"Our Own Mark Twain" (November 18),
"The Poetry of [Alfred, Lord] Tennyson" (November 25),
"Edgar Allan Poe, Poet and Prose Writer" (December 9),
"Thirty Years of H. G. Wells" (December 16).


This information is from Jeffrey B. Perry, "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press). For more information on that volume see HERE

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"The New Negro Monthly"

In the violent summer of 1919 Hubert Harrison began editing "The New Negro" monthly, which, as he explained in the August issue, was "intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races -- especially of the Negro race."
The Harrison edited "The New Negro" preceded by six years the 1925 Alain Locke edited anthology "The New Negro: An Interpretation."
This is discussed in volume 2 of the Harrison biography – "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press).

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Hubert Harrison's 1926 "World Problems of Race" Courses

"World Problems of Race" – Ninety-five years ago, in September 1926, Hubert Harrison completed a 10 week-course on "World Problems of Race" at 200 W. 135th St. in New York. It was attended by some 70 of Harlem's leading activists including Richard B. Moore, W. A. Domingo, and Williana Jones Burroughs. A photo of the class can be found in volume 2 of the Hubert Harrison biography – "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality" (Columbia University Press, December 2020) and a portion of the photo is on the cover of volume 2.
The course outline was:
"Rise of the Modern Idea of Race"
"The Expansion and Dominance of Europeans"
"The Black Man's Burden: Africa"
"Race Problems in America"
"India and the British Empire"
"China and the Powers
"Japan: The Frankenstein of European Imperialism"
"The Revolt of Islam"
"Epilogue: Caliban Considers"
This course was followed by a second course on "World Problems of Race" on 136th St. with an outline as follows":
1. Race and its Reactions in History and Science.
2. The Black Man in History and Civilization.
3. The White Race's Rise to Power and Privilege.
4. The Partition of Africa.
5. Race and Color Problems in America and the West Indies.
6. The Brown Bridge of Britain's Empire -- From Egypt to India.
7. China and the Power.
8. Soviet Russia: Its Bearing on White Rulership over Darker Races.
9. The League of Nations and the Future of the Darker Races.
10. The Collapse of the Caucasian: A Forecast.

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