Review Excerpts on Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918
"This is a superb study of a neglected but powerfully influential figure in African American history. As far as I can judge, Jeffrey B. Perry’s scholarship is formidable, his documentation impeccable, his writing lucid and graceful. If his promised second volume is as admirable and compelling as his first, then we would have to count him, with gratitude, among the finest living biographers of black men and women—indeed, one of our finest biographers, without reservation." — Arnold Rampersad, Author of two-volume biography of Langston Hughes and Professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
"Hubert Harrison is a historic work of scholarship. It is also an act of restitution -- belated but generous -- for the crime of historical neglect. For as Jeffrey B. Perry makes abundantly clear, Hubert Harrison's contemporaries, from the Harlem radicals of the 1920s (most notably Claude McKay and A. Philip Randolph), to Henry Miller, Eugene O'Neill, and Charlie Chaplin, recognized Harrison's genius and enormous contribution in a variety of fields, yet eighty years after his death he has not been honored with a biography. Perry's effort to make good this lack is a stupendous success. His book is exhaustively researched, richly detailed, beautifully written in a spare and restrained style, and succeeds in capturing the brilliance, wit, and astonishing political and intellectual courage of Harrison. It is a fine and magisterial portrait." — Winston James, Professor of history, University of California, Irvine
"Jeffrey Perry's biography, the finest I've ever read, tears away the curtain of obscurity that has kept several generations of Americans from learning about-and learning from-the scholar-poet-essayist-orator-journalist-civil rights pioneer-trade union activist and champion of socialism Hubert Harrison." -- John Woodford, former editor of Muhammad Speaks, in People's World, April 18, 2011
"For decades a brilliant and critical voice of the Harlem Renaissance has been practically ignored by historians. At last that serious gap will be filled by Jeffrey B. Perry who has thoroughly researched and carefully crafted a two-part definitive biography of the "Father of Harlem Radicalism," Hubert H. Harrison. These volumes, along with his previously published collection of Harrison's writings, are a significant contribution because they reveal in rich detail and masterful treatment the life of one of the most unique and influential African American thinkers of that time. The people of Harlem flocked to Harrison's "university level" street orations on a wide range of topics but few knew of his numerous journal articles on society, science and socialism. Perry was driven to conduct extensive research when he discovered Harrison's clarity of writing and perceptiveness of analysis. Surely his own clarity of writing, meticulous attention to events and other activists, and masterful analysis will prove in time to be an essential classic for understanding the political movements of the period." — Joyce Moore Turner, author of Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, and co-editor with W. Burghardt Turner of Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem
"For many years cognoscenti in all fields of African diaspora studies have foreseen and rejoiced at the coming of this brilliant masterpiece, in which Jeffrey B. Perry has reconstructed the early career of Hubert Harrison (1883–1927), the radical socialist and prophet of the New Negro Movement. . . . Perry's archival brilliance . . . illuminates not only the life of his subject but discloses much about black Manhattan before the Harlem Renaissance. He has dug up so much about Harrison that only the most remarkable serendipity is likely to reveal anything new about this brilliant . . . intellectual. . . . Thanks to Perry, we now have a somewhat proximate record of Harrison's strivings, offering evidence that . . . self-taught geniuses are capable of analyzing the complex forces that determine global historical events and control the realities of their own existence." -- Wilson J. Moses, Ferree Professor of American History, Pennsylvania State University, in American Historical Review, October 2009
"The most exciting and eagerly awaited title in this season’s haul from the scholarly presses is Jeffrey B. Perry’s study Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, just published by Columbia University Press."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed and National Board Member, National Book Critics Circle
"This meticulously-researched book fills an enormous gap in the knowledge of black activist intellectuals in the U.S. in the twentieth century . . . Relocating Hubert Harrison in this period further interrupts the facile limitation to only Booker T [Washington] and W. E. B. [Du Bois] and provides additional contours to this movement, adding as well an important Caribbean contribution to black activism in the U.S." -- Carole Boyce Davies, Professor of Africana Studies, English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University, author of Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, in Working USA, December 2009.
"A free thinking race conscious and class-conscious black working class socialist, Hubert Harrison (1883–1927) exerted profound influence among leading intellectual activists in the civil rights, New Negro, Black Nationalist, labor, and socialist movements mainly in Harlem, New York City. Harrison was a dynamic speaker, prolific writer, labor and community organizer, bibliophile, street corner orator, educator, newspaper publisher, advocate of women’s rights, and propagandist. From the late 1900s into the 1920s, he captured the attention of, and in some cases interacted with, numerous prominent individuals including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “Big Bill” Haywood, Chandler Owen, Cyril V. Briggs, Marcus Garvey, and Henry Miller. He earned the sobriquet “Father of Harlem Radicalism” from labor leader and socialist Asa Philip Randolph, and he received praise from Joel A. Rogers who wrote that Harrison was “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time” and that “none of the Afro-American leaders of his time had a saner and more effective program.” Harrison ranked high among black intellectuals, grappling to understand the workings of racism and building movements to end white supremacy within both the largest class radical movement (the Socialist Party) and, later, the largest race radical New Negro movement (the Universal Negro Improvement Association).
Harrison is the central subject in the first book of a meticulously documented and critically detailed two volume biography by independent scholar and post office labor union activist, now retired, Jeffrey B. Perry, . . . . Perry is well-positioned to write the biography because he preserved and inventoried the Hubert. H. Harrison Papers at Columbia University, and he edited A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001). He can be proud to have authored the first definitive biography of Harrison and an established point of reference for interested laypersons and scholars for decades to come." -- Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State University, in Socialism and Democracy, March 2011
"I recently read Jeffrey B. Perry’s excellent book on Hubert Harrison, the first of a projected two-part biography of this great Black radical of early 20th-century Harlem. In the book Perry repeatedly returns to the lodestar of Harrison’s political life: the principle (and practical necessity) that fighting racism must be paramount; that as long as white supremacy reigns, there can be no class unity. A socialist revolutionary must always remember this." -- Shelley Ettinger, Workers World
"The long-awaited biography by Jeffrey B. Perry of Hubert Harrison, the St. Croix immigrant to New York City, who became the leading Black Socialist Party organizer and later Black nationalist activist of the early twentieth century, has been well worth the wait. This comprehensive and thoroughly researched biography is a richly layered interpretation of one of black America’s leading, but not so well-known thinkers, and is bound to be the definitive work on Harrison.
Perry perceptively analyzes the life and thought of this major black radical public intellectual, whom A. Philip Randolph called “the father of Harlem radicalism.” Harrison was “more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than [Marcus] Garvey “ and consequently Perry asserts that, through his oratorical skill and clarity of his writings, he became “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 trend associated with Malcolm X” . . . this landmark biography . . . contributes so much to the understanding of Harlem, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean history in the United States. -- Larry A. Greene, Seton Hall University
"Hubert Harrison was one of the most gifted and creative intellectuals in the American Left and within black America in the twentieth century. Jeffrey B. Perry’s book presents a comprehensive analysis of the first phase of Harrison’s remarkable public career. Before Marcus Garvey came to Harlem in 1916, Harrison had blazed the trail as the leading voice of black radicalism. He founded the New Negro Movement and was a central antiwar leader during WWI. Perry captures Harrison’s brilliance, energy, and leadership during a remarkable period in African-American history. The outstanding scholarship of his study will reawaken popular interest in this remarkable figure." — Manning Marable, biographer of Malcolm X and former professor of public affairs, history, and African American studies, and director, Center for Contemporary Black History, Columbia University
"'Politicamente, o Negro é a pedra de toque da moderna idéia de democracia. A presença do Negro põe nossa democracia à prova e revela sua falsidade...; (Harrison, New York Call, 1911). Com essa citação de extremo potencial crítico, Jeffrey Perry inicia o primeiro volume da biografia de um dos mais importantes e, ao mesmo tempo, um dos mais esquecidos ativistas políticos Negros em toda a história norte-americana: o caribenho Hubert Harrison. Intelecutal auto-didata, pensador independente, escritor, orador e educador ingular, que chegou aos Estados Unidos em 1900, e transformou-se num dos principais opositores da chamada “supremacia branca”, denunciando todas as suas perversas consequências para a América. . . . Brevemente será lançado um segundo volume que retratará os últimos anos da vida de Harrison, de 1918 a 1927, período em que ele editou a revista militante New Negro, tornouse o principal editor do Negro World, ligado à Marcus Garvey, e publicou seu livro When Africa Awakes. Dada a qualidade demonstrada no volume 1, será impossível, agora, fecharmos os olhos para sua continuação." -- Elena Pajaro Peres, Sankofa: Revista de História da África e de Estudos da Diáspora Africana (São Paulo, Brasil), Ano 3, No. 05, Julho, 2010
"Buried in an unmarked grave in the Bronx lies the body of one of Black America's most important, yet largely unknown, historic figures, Hubert Harrison, the man who put the capital 'N"in Negro. In Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, Jeffrey B. Perry unearths the life and work of a man who influenced many future leaders of the civil rights and Black Power movements. . . . Harrison did the ground breaking street-corner organizing and educational work that gave birth to a new generation of political leadership and representation. Perry's rich biography of Harrison is filled with examples of leadership that would eventually be followed nationwide and result in black political power in Harlem." -- Sterling Johnson, Central Michigan University, in Journal of American Ethnic History (Summer 2011)
"This book is the epic tale of the lost ancestor of Black radicalism, Hubert H. Harrison, the great black working-class intellectual who stood at the epicenter of politics in the Harlem Renaissance. Like Malcolm X, Harrison was not only a revolutionary but also a master teacher and a leader of leaders, and his dramatic story of self-education, self-emancipation, and self-transformation will both awaken and reorient a new generation of Black liberation at the grassroots around the globe." — Komozi Woodard, Sarah Lawrence College
"It is difficult to convey the admiration I have for Jeff Perry's monumental Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. Perry has, through his meticulous gathering of Harrison's writings, contextualization of his experience, and this first volume of his two volume study of Harrison, resurrected a lost voice of black socialism and radicalism. The Harrison that emerges in Perry's pages is a heroic, but tragically human, figure: a disciplined autodidact, steeped in Caribbean culture of life-long learning that also produced, in different ways, figures like CLR James and George Padmore. Harrison preceded these figures and located himself at the interface of African-American and Caribbean challenges to colonialism and racism by settling and struggling in Harlem . . . . Hubert Harrison's previously unexamined life, explored so passionately and so politically rigorously in Perry's book, is a delight to the senses, a stimulation to the mind, and a provocation to the politics of the revolutionary left." -- Bryan D. Palmer, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada and editor of Labour/Le Travail.
"In rescuing a very particular hero and genius from what E. P. Thompson once called the 'enormous condescension of posterity,' this monumental and acute biography becomes the best point of entry into the whole history of modern radicalism in the United States." — David Roediger, University of Illinois, and the author of How Race Survived U.S. History
"A groundbreaking biography and act of historical recovery that restores Hubert Harrison's vital importance to African American history and politics during the New Negro era. Meticulously written and painstakingly researched, Hubert Harrison is a major work of scholarship that will transform understanding of black life during the early twentieth century." -- Peniel E. Joseph, Brandeis University, Author, Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America
"Jeffrey B. Perry has made a significant contribution to the history of Black radicalism through his biography of Hubert Harrison. With thorough research and compelling analysis, Perry offers the reader insight into a brilliant and under-studied activist and intellectual who played a major role in helping to shape the Black radical tradition. Hubert Harrison reads with a draw like that of a study of a long lost city, rediscovered and offering answers to an incomplete history." — Bill Fletcher, Jr., Executive Editor, Black Commentator BlackCommentator.com and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social Justice
"In his narratively rich and exhaustively researched Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, independent scholar and activist Jeffrey B. Perry — who also edited A Hubert Harrison Reader . . . goes far in making up for this negligence. Presented as the first of two volumes, the book establishes Harrison as a “freethinking, Black, Caribbean-born, race- and class-conscious, working-class intellectual-activist” who paved the way for radicalism as a cogent tendency in African-American political thought in the 20th century. . . . Perry has rendered a painstakingly detailed, yet highly readable biography attuned to both social and intellectual history. Perfect for scholars of the New Negro Movement and students of Black Nationalism more generally, Hubert Harrison also contributes immensely to recovering the Black radical tradition." -- Clarence Lang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Against the Current, Jan.-Feb., 2010
"This long-awaited first part of a double biography dedicated to Hubert Harrison is a very important book for those who are interested in US history and African American history in particular. . . . Perry not only places Harrison in the Olympus of the most influential African American activists of the Twentieth century but sheds new lights on the black radicalism of the Tens, which paved the way for both the Garvey movement and the Harlem Renaissance. -- Alberto Benvenuti, Review of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918" in the online German review journal "Sehepunkte," Vol. 12, No. 9 (2012)
“[Hubert] Harrison’s incomparable intellect, uncompromising integrity, and the influence he had on the thinkers of his day is gradually emerging from the shadows of obscurity, thanks largely to the yeoman and independent working class scholarship of Jeffrey B. Perry. . . .
Anyone interested in the history of Harlem will find an inexhaustible supply of information in Perry’s chapter “Focus on Harlem.” But it’s hard to single out any one chapter since Harrison’s life was inseparably attached to Harlem where his forums, his paper The Voice, his charisma and his redoubtable socialism made him one of the most compelling men of his times.
Indeed, during those days when he walked the streets of Harlem, or any other part of the city, he was widely acknowledged for his vast storehouse of facts and information, and now through Perry’s prodigious research Harrison’s brilliance can once more engage a generation eager to find inspiration and renewed political spirit.
As the pundits bandy about the possibility we may be living in a post-racial society given the ascendancy of Barack Obama, Perry’s study of Harrison’s life and the redemption of his legacy is never more pertinent than when he writes: “Hubert Harrison understood white supremacy to be central to capitalist rule in the United States.”
Add prophecy to Harrison’s impressive resume." -- Herb Boyd, Amsterdam News and Neworld Review (May 19, 2009)
"Hubert Harrison was in his lifetime the leading American black intellectual socialist, but he receded from memory after his death. We are all in debt to Jeffrey B. Perry for his devoted and fastidious recuperation of Harrison's memory. This assiduously researched biography, an extraordinary feat of scholarship, restores Harrison to his proper standing in the pantheon of other Afro-Caribbeans, from Marcus Garvey to C. L. R. James, who contributed to reshaping American political thought in the twentieth century." — Christopher Phelps, Ohio State University
"In [Hubert] Harrison, . . . we can see a common political ancestor of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King--the militant race-consciousness of Malcolm, and the labor movement orientation of Martin. That these two trends in the Black freedom struggle were once fused in Harrison suggests the possibility that they might become fused again.
Thanks to Perry's meticulous research, Hubert Harrison will finally take his rightful place in African American history--and not a moment too soon. It is fitting that we should rediscover this brilliant socialist just as capitalism is wracked by crisis.
And it is portentous that we are learning about this militantly race-conscious activist just as the first Black president takes office. If we're willing to learn what Harrison is trying to teach us, the greatest chapter in Black history may just be the one that is not yet written." -- Brian Jones, SocialistWorker.org
"He was the most significant black political figure of his time. His brilliance, energy, organizational and leadership skills are legendary. Then there were his speaking skills. Hundreds if not thousands gathered time and time again to hear him speak, then these crowds would wait for hours for his speeches to begin, and would stand for hours just to listen to him talk. He used the tools of his time to reach as many People of Color as possible.
No doubt, by now you are thinking I am talking about President-Elect Obama Barack. But, actually, I am talking about Hubert Harrison . . . . He was so radical he was the target of investigations by the Army's antiradical unit and the Bureau of Investigation – the forerunner of the FBI. . . . his influence was so great, it can be traced down to the two most prominent sides of the Civil Rights/ Black Power movement. Those two sides are the A. Philip Randolph-Martin Luther King, Junior movement and the Marcus Garvey-Malcolm X movement. . . . Don't miss this fascinating look at the life and history of Hubert Harrison."--Gwen Edwards, Host of Our Lives, Channel 12-TV Norwalk, Connecticut
"Entrusted with the remains of Hubert Harrison's papers, Jeffrey B. Perry favors us with this meticulous chronicle of one of the century's most influential voices for democracy and freedom. Harrison, island-born, colonial subject, and immigrant, stirred the masses in Harlem, at the time the center of Black radical thought, to a "new race-consciousness" and an apprehension of "their powers and destiny"" in the United States and world. Hubert Harrison testifies to the remarkable durability of lives well lived and truths told straight." — Gary Y. Okihiro, Columbia University, and author of Island World: A History of Hawai'i and the United States
"Well needed research into one of our most profound and closely hidden Black persons of the Harlem Reniassance period (even though he wasn't noted as contributing as such). I have recommended the book to my family, friends, and colleagues. They as well have found this work to be thought-provoking. I haven't been able to put this book down. These are the missing pages of Black history. Thanks for taking the time to do the work for the advancement of humanity." -- Lloyd Dev, Transit Worker and Radio Producer of Chicago House Radio
"Jeffrey B. Perry’s Hubert Harrison is not simply an archeological uncovering of a century old Black icon. Harrison’s life and his insights on race and class, especially during wartime, leap off the page. They particularly resonate today when a Black candidate will reach the White House if he can navigate the interplay of these same forces during yet another war.
Harrison challenged the government’s hypocritical notion of sending Black men to fight and die to make “the world safe for democracy” in World War I, while they were being lynched, segregated and disenfranchised at home. He foresaw that highlighting the contradictions between war and racism anticipated the future “sweeping tide of racial consciousness” in the US and the rise of national liberation struggles abroad.
Today the US government uses our tax money to send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight and die to “protect our way of life,” “promote democracy” in the Muslin world, and secure energy resources while simultaneously killing, imprisoning and torturing Muslims, arresting and deporting immigrants at home, cutting public services, spying on our own citizens and undermining habeas corpus rights.
I see Harrison’s ghost on a Harlem soapbox today exposing the links between the destructive wars abroad and the need to expand the fight for civil liberties and civil rights, alternative energy sources and immigrant rights at home and to forge a new global partnership with the world’s people.
This is a ghost that needs to be listened to." — Gene Bruskin, National Co-Convener, US Labor Against the War
"Hubert Harrison emerged in the first two decades of the twentieth century as one of the leading voices of Harlem radicals rejecting American claims to an egalitarian democratic heritage and commitment to such a future based on the undeniable persistence of massive racial and class inequalities. Jeffrey Perry’s exhaustive biography of Hubert Harrison elevates the lesser-known Harrison to the stature he so richly deserves as one of America’s most perceptive public intellectuals on the critically intertwined issues of American democracy, race relations, and class structure....Scholars and students of Harlem, Afro-American, and Afro-Caribbean history in the United States are indeed indebted to Jeffrey Perry for this magisterial study of Hubert Harrison whom A. Philip Randolph called the “Father of Harlem Radicalism.” Volume one of this biography should be read in conjunction with Perry’s edited volume of Harrison’s writings, A Hubert Harrison Reader. Readers will eagerly await volume two of Perry’s biography as he takes the Hubert Harrison saga from 1919 to his death in 1927, covering Harrison involvement with Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance, and other political and cultural currents in black America." --Larry A. Greene, Seton Hall University
Cornel West discusses Hubert Harrison, Thomas Paine, and Jeffrey B. Perry (author of "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918") at the Left Forum, June 3, 2014, in New York City. The panel was chaired by Laura Flanders and also included Chris Hedges and Richard D. Wolff. The book was published by Columbia University Press.
For more on “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” see http://www.jeffreybperry.net/disc.htm
"In this book, Jeffrey B. Perry introduces readers to Hubert Harrison, the preeminent black social activist of early twentieth-century America. . . . As an activist, Harrison took no prisoners and suffered no fools; he was an unrelenting foe of hypocrisy in a society that saw itself as the beacon of liberty and fulfiller of dreams. Confronted by evidence to the contrary, then as now, Americans preferred to ignore it. It was, and apparently remains, far easier to turn a deaf ear to Harrison than to confront him. In this first volume of a two-volume biography, Perry traces Harrison’s trajectory as a social activist from his arrival in New York City on September 21, 1900, through his rise as a leading Harlem-based critic and intellectual, his leadership in the local Social party, and his alienation from socialism, to his founding of the New Negro movement in 1915. . . . Harrison worked assiduously to alert black and white Americans to the material basis underlying labor and racial exploitation. . . . With this volume, Perry has provided an encyclopedia of resources and themes, which — more than illuminating the career of one neglected individual—cut to the heart of contradictions of race and class in twentieth century American life. . . . scholars will . . . confirm their debt to Perry’s magisterial piece of scholarship about an extraordinary man." -- Jonathan M. Hansen, Harvard University, Journal of American History, December 2009
"This is an extraordinarily thorough effort to preserve the history of a relatively unknown but important black radical organizer who was involved with the Socialist Party, Industrial Workers of the World, and other organizations in the early black liberation movement based in Harlem. This first of two volumes covers the years 1883-1918." -- Matt Witt, New Labor Forum, September 2010.