Information

Hubert Harrison


Hubert Harrison was born in St. Croix of the Virgin Islands in 1883. At the age of seventeen he travelled to New York City where he worked as a bellhop and an elevator operator. He also attended night school and studied sociology, science, psychology, literature, and drama.

Harrison's studies radicalized him and he became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He later joined the Socialist Party where he met other African American radicals such as Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, and Claude McKay. He impressed them with his intellect and was given the nickname, the "Black Socrates". According to Barbara Bair, Harrison "protested the quick abandonment of the recruitment campaign among blacks in 1912... while openly criticizing the racial prejudice manifested by some party leaders."

Harrison joined Bill Haywood, Carlo Tresca, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in the Industrial Workers of the World campaign during the Paterson Silk Industry Strike in 1913. This alienated him from the executive committee of the Socialist Party. In 1914 he was suspended from the party.

Max Eastman, editor of the The Masses, employed him on his journal. Harrison also edited The Voice and contributed to the The Messenger, The Call, The New Republic, the New York Times and the New York World. He also published two important books, The Negro and the Nation (1917) and When Africa Awakes (1920).

Harrison was a strong opponent of United States involvement in the First World War. This caused him to break with William Du Bois who had argued in The Crisis that: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks."

Harrison also lectured on socialism and African American civil rights from street corners and in September, 1922, the New York Times reported that he was drawing crowds of over 10,000 people and the New York City police had to stop the traffic. His friend, Joel Rogers, recalled that "he spoke wherever an audience could be had on subjects embracing general literature, sociology, Negro history, and the leading events of the day."

It is claimed that Harrison had a great influence on Marcus Garvey. Harrison, who was now claiming that race was more important than class and after leaving the Socialist Party he joined Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Harrison also edited the organizations journal, The Negro World, for four years. He also worked as a staff lecturer for the New York City Board of Education.

Harrison advocated the creation of a separate black state within the territory of the United States, and in 1925 he founded the International Colored Unity League and a new periodical, the Voice of the Negro.

Hubert Harrison died of an appendicitis-related illness on 17th December 1927.

The essence of the present situation lies in the fact that the people whom our white masters have "recognized" as our leaders (without taking the trouble to consult us) and those who, by our own selection, has actually attained to leadership among us are being revaluated and, in most cases, rejected. The most striking instance from the latter class is Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, the editor of the Crisis. Du Bois's case is the more significant because his former services to his race have been undoubtedly of a high and courageous sort.

Dr. Du Bois first palpably sinned in his editorial, "Close Ranks". But this offense lies in a single sentence: "Let, us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks." It is felt by all his critics that Du Bois, of all Negroes, knows best that our "special grievances", which the War Department Bulletin describes as justifiable, consists of lynching, segregation and disfranchisement and that the Negroes of America cannot preserve either their lives, their manhood or their vote (which is their political lives and liberties) with these things in existence.

Twenty years ago all Negroes known to the white publicists of America could be classed as conservatives on all the great questions on which thinkers differ. In matters of industry, commerce, politics, religion, they could be trusted to take the backward view. Only on the question of the Negro's "rights" could a small handful be found bold enough to be tagged as "radicals," and they were howled down by both white and colored adherents of the conservative point of view. Today Negroes differ on all those great questions on which white thinkers differ, and there are Negro radicals of every imaginary stripe — agnostics, atheists, I.W.W.'s, Socialists, Single Taxers and even Bolshevists.

He spoke wherever an audience could be had on subjects embracing general literature, sociology, Negro history, and the leading events of the day. He wrote for such radical and antireligious periodicals as The Call, The Truth Seeker, and The Modern Quarterly, being perhaps the first Negro of ability to enter this field. His views on religion and birth control were often opposed by Catholics and Protestants alike, and at his open-air meetings he and his friends were obliged to defend themselves physically from mobs at times. But he fought back courageously, never hesitating to speak no matter how great the hostility of his opponents.

One of the men who was very much influenced by Harrison was Marcus Garvey, later the most prominent of Negro agitators. Garvey's emphasis on racialism was due in no small measure to Harrison's lectures on Negro history and his utterances on racial pride, which animated and fortified Garvey's views. Harrison's slogan became "Race First," in opposition to his earlier socialistic one of "Class First."

Harrison's views profoundly influenced the Messenger Group, headed by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, two leaders who did more than anyone else to focus the attention of the government and of thinking whites on the injustices suffered by Negroes during the war. While the old leaders capitulated and urged the members of the race to submit while the war was on, these two brilliant young men spoke out fearlessly.


Hubert Harrison

Hubert Harrison was an immensely skilled writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist who, more than any other political leader of his era, combined class consciousness and anti-white-supremacist race consciousness into a coherent political radicalism. Harrison's ideas profoundly influenced "New Negro" militants, including A. Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey, and his synthesis of class and race issues is a key unifying link between the two great trends of the Black Liberation Movement: the labor- and civil-rights-based work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the race and nationalist platform associated with Malcolm X.

The foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician of the Socialist Party of New York, Harrison was also the founder of the "New Negro" movement, the editor of Negro World, and the principal radical influence on the Garvey movement. He was a highly praised journalist and critic (reportedly the first regular Black book reviewer), a freethinker and early proponent of birth control, a supporter of Black writers and artists, a leading public intellectual, and a bibliophile who helped transform the 135th Street Public Library into an international center for research in Black culture. His biography offers profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America.


Hubert Harrison, History's Unknown Black Radical

Somewhere on the road to becoming a Marxist during the 1970s, I heard about Hubert Harrison. A black radical from the early part of the century, his name was mentioned as an almost mythical character. Little was said about him, except that he was important and had been on the Harlem political stage. And then, almost like a ship disappearing into a fog bank, any further references vanished from view.

Trade unionist and scholar Jeff Perry has made a major contribution to activism and historical studies by introducing a new generation to the thinking and contributions of the West Indian-born black radical Hubert Harrison. A Hubert Harrison Reader is not only accessible to readers of different backgrounds, but it is comprehensive in displaying the various sides, as well as the political evolution, of this often forgotten character.

Harrison was, to borrow from Lenin, a publicist a publicist not in the sense that this word is currently used, but more specifically, a revolutionary intellectual who wrote eye-opening exposures and rigorous political analysis. Harrison saw himself as a revolutionary, first and foremost devoted to the liberation of black people. At the same time, to characterize him as such gives only part of the story. Harrison existed at the intersection of revolutionary Marxism, revolutionary nationalism, and revolutionary Pan-Africanism. His political evolution was not linear in any sense, but reflected the state of class struggle in the early twentieth century United States, and the struggle against white supremacist national oppression under which black America suffered.

Harrison was a West Indian immigrant. This fact is very important for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it reminds the reader of the critical inter-relationship of the West Indian and African-American experience. In particular, West Indian immigration directly influenced the culture and politics of black America in its fundamentals. Marcus Garvey, of course, is the most illustrative of political examples, but there were also characters such as Cyril Briggs (who was a major leader of the African Blood Brotherhood and, later, the Communist Party), Malcolm X (whose mother was Grenadian) and Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Harrison was a major activist in the pre-First World War Socialist Party an advocate for the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) an independent editor editor of Marcus Garvey's Negro World and an independent Harlem-based radical. Yet what I found most striking about Harrison was that in many respects he was almost an ideological precursor and descendent (as paradoxical as that may sound) of Malcolm X -- descendent in the sense of being ideologically further down a road which Malcolm X himself seemed to be traveling. Harrison situated himself, along lines similar to William Monroe Trotter and Cyril Briggs, on the left side of the aisle, speaking the voice of black radicalism. Harrison was not only highly critical of the accomodationist path articulated by Booker T. Washington, he was equally critical of what he saw as the essentially timid liberal/ radical approach taken by individuals such as W. E. B. Dubois (at least during that period). Harrison was a fervent defender of the right of self-defense in the face of the lynchings which were common occurrences for black America, and also believed strongly in the need for an independent black political voice. He had little patience with a legalistic approach to black freedom.

At the same time, Harrison, through most of his political life, was attempting to articulate the relationship between race and class. While in the Socialist Party, Harrison polemicized against the white blindspot economism which was common, not only within the right wing of the Socialist Party, but also within sections of the Party*s left wing. His disappointment with what he saw as the white-race-first approach of many white radicals and white trade unionists led him to shift gears toward a "race first" and later "race consciousness" approach toward black liberation. It becomes clear in reading Harrison that he never abandoned the class struggle, nor his recognition of its centrality. Rather, he believed that far too many whites in the union movement and on the left had abandoned it in practice, and certainly in theory.

Thus, Harrison's involvement with the Garvey movement is both understandable and contradictory. Harrison actually influenced the early Garvey and helped develop his direction. He then went on to serve as Garvey's editor. This did not, however, stop Harrison from offering sobering and critical analysis of Garvey-as-leader. In fact, Harrison's relationship with the Garvey movement was somewhat analogous to that which revolutionary nationalists have in a united front with other anti-imperialist (though not necessarily revolutionary) forces.

Jeff Perry's nearly twenty-year effort to uncover and reintroduce Harrison to contemporary scholars and activists is a major contribution. In reading Harrison one rediscovers a significant though nearly forgotten chapter in the history of black radicalism. Harrison's greatness must be historically situated. Ideologically and politically, he was clearly in the vanguard of black political thought of the time. At the same time, he was without question a product of his era. Harrison, for example, was not far advanced on the matter of women. His views, though not reactionary, seemed fairly conservative and at odds with his otherwise radical approach to life and politics. This is not offered as a condemnation of Harrison, but rather a reminder to the reader that Harrison must be read in the context of the times.

Harrison's views offer us another vantage point on the struggles of the early twentieth century, as well as food for thought in two respects. One, the lingering problem of white racial economism in the political realm, i.e., the belief that taking on issues of racism and national oppression are somehow divisive and, thus, political movements should restrict themselves to common economic issues which will somehow unite us in the struggle. This is all part of the trip wire which movements have faced in the United States.

The second aspect of Harrison to ponder as we proceed into the twenty-first century is the manner in which black radicalism is called upon to correctly articulate the relationship between race and class for black America. In other words, this is not simply a matter vis a vis the white working class and how unity can be built. Rather, in struggling to lead the African-American movement out of its current strategic doldrums, the relationship between race and class becomes critical. Black America itself looks different than it did one hundred years ago, and the future of black liberation must mean an increasing importance of class*and specifically the black working class*but not at the expense of the struggle against white supremacist national oppression/ racist oppression.

In thinking through these and other strategic questions, A Harrison Reader offers us a means to reflect on the various dilemmas we face, by borrowing the insight of a long dead champion of a revolutionary approach to black liberation.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is National Co-Chair of the Black Radical Congress Vice President of the George Meany Center/National Labor College and a member of the Board of Directors of the Monthly Review Foundation.


July 4, 1917: Hubert Harrison Urges Armed Self-Defense at Harlem Rally

On July 4, 1917, The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro—the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement,” edited by Hubert H. Harrison—made its debut at a rally at the Metropolitan Baptist Church at 120 W. 138th Street, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues in Harlem.

The rally was called by Harrison’s Liberty League (which was the first organization of the “New Negro Movement” and which Marcus Garvey and many other activists joined) and drew national attention as it protested against lynching, segregation, and disfranchisement.

The protest rally came in the wake of two white supremacist pogroms (from May 27–May 30 and July 1–3, 1917) against the African American community of East St. Louis, Illinois. Estimates of the number of African Americans killed in East St. Louis ranged from 39 to 250 and the attacks were widely attributed to “white” labor’s opposition to Black workers.

The front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of July 3, 1917, with a photograph of Blacks leaving East St. Louis and an article by reporter Carlos F. Hurd describing the carnage.


At the rally, one of the speakers reportedly said, “They are saying a great deal about democracy in Washington now,” but, “while they are talking about fighting for freedom and the Stars and Stripes, here at home the whites apply the torch to the Black men’s home, and bullets, clubs and stones to the body.”

As president of the Liberty League, Harrison advised Black people who faced mob violence in the South and elsewhere to take direct action and “supply themselves with rifles and fight if necessary, to defend their lives and property.”

According to the New York Times, Harrison received great applause when he declared that “the time had come for the Negroes [to] do what white men who were threatened did, look out for themselves, and kill rather than submit to be killed.” He was quoted as saying, “We intend to fight if we must . . . for the things dearest to us, for our hearths and homes,” and he encouraged Black people everywhere who did not enjoy the protection of the law “to arm for their own defense, to hide their arms, and to learn how to use them.”

He also called for a collection of money to buy rifles for those who could not obtain them, emphasizing that “Negroes in New York cannot afford to lie down in the face of this” because “East St. Louis touches us too nearly.”

As he later put it, “‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ and sometimes two eyes or a half dozen teeth for one is the aim of the New Negro.”

Harrison stressed that it was imperative to “demand justice” and to “make our voices heard.”

Related Resources

People’s History of Fourth of July

A collection of people’s history stories from July 4th beyond 1776. The stories include July 4th anniversaries such as when slavery was abolished in New York (1827), Frederick Douglass’s speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (1852), the Reconstruction era attack on a Black militia that led to the Hamburg Massacre (1876), protest of segregation at an amusement park in Baltimore (1963), and more.

Hubert Harrison

Profile. By Jeffrey B. Perry.
Overview of the life and work scholar and activist Hubert Harrison.

A Hubert Harrison Reader

Book – Non-fiction. Edited by Jeffrey B. Perry. 2001. 505 pages.
Essays by the “father of Harlem radicalism.”


Hubert Harrison - History

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Hubert Harrison: A Harlem Radical's Struggle for Equality Tuesday, Dec. 8, 6pm Register Here For

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Hubert Harrison: A Harlem Radical’s Struggle for Equality

  • Jeffrey B. Perry, Author of Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927
  • Brent Hayes Edwards, Peng Family Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • Moderated by Thai Jones, Herbert H. Lehman Curator for American History, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University

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Don’t Forget The Contributions Of Black History Giant Hubert Harrison

AFRICANGLOBE – Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the truly important figures of 20th-century history. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” This extraordinary praise came amid chapters on Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter and Marcus Garvey.

Rogers adds that, “No one worked more seriously and indefatigably to enlighten” others and “none of the Afro-American leaders of his time had a saner and more effective program.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Harrison’s friend and pallbearer, Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.”

Born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883, to a Bajan mother and a Crucian father, Harrison arrived in New York as a 17-year-old orphan in 1900. He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans and by working for the enlightened development of those he affectionately referred to as “the common people.”

He consistently 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 challenge White supremacy and develop an internationalist spirit and modern, scientific, critical and independent thought as a means toward liberation.

A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas and Europe and he wrote voluminously and lectured indoors and out (as a pioneering soapbox orator) on these topics. More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-White supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism.

Harrison opposed capitalism and imperialism and maintained that White supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. 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.”

Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played 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. 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 offer penetrating insights on the limitations and potential of America in the 21st century.

Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday. He founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (the Voice) of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement edited The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort (“intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races—especially of the Negro race”) in 1919 wrote When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World in 1920 and he served as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920.


Hubert Harrison - History

By Jeffrey B. Perry

Hubert H. Harrison, who was born in 1883 and died in 1927, is one of the truly important figures of twentieth-century history. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” This extraordinary praise came amid chapters on Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter, and Marcus Garvey.

April 27 is the anniversary of the birth of Hubert Harrison. And so people are encouraged to spread the word about Harrison and to keep alive the struggles and memory of this Giant of Black History.

Rogers adds that “No one worked more seriously and indefatigably to enlighten” others and “none of the Afro-American leaders of his time had a saner and more effective program.” Labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph described Harrison as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.” Harrison’s friend and pallbearer, Arthur Schomburg, fully aware of his popularity, eulogized to the thousands attending Harrison’s Harlem funeral that he was also “ahead of his time.”

Born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883, to a Bajan mother and a Crucian father, Harrison arrived in New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900. He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of those he affectionately referred to as “the common people.” He consistently 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 challenge white supremacy and develop an internationalist spirit and modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation.

A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas, and Europe and he wrote voluminously and lectured indoors and out (as a pioneering soapbox orator) on these topics. 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 capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States. 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.”

Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played 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. 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 America in the twenty-first century.

Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday he founded the first organization (the Liberty League) and the first newspaper (The Voice) of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement edited The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort (“intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races — especially of the Negro race”) in 1919 wrote When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World’” in 1920 and he served as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920. His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, 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 trend associated with Malcolm X. (Randolph and Garvey were, respectively, the direct links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm (whose father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother wrote for the Negro World), speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.

Harrison was not only a political radical, however. Rogers described him as an “Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative, and influential. He was an immensely skilled and popular orator and educator who spoke and/or read six languages a highly praised journalist, critic, and book reviewer (who reportedly started “the first regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom”) a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements and a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who was an officer on the committee that helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what has become known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Jeffrey B. Perry is an independent, working-class scholar who was formally educated at Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia University. Dr. Perry preserved and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison Papers (now at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library) and is the editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001) and author of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2008).


Hubert Harrison: Growing appreciation for this giant of Black history

Hubert Harrison (1883-1927), the “father of Harlem radicalism” and founder of the militant “New Negro Movement,” is a giant of our history. He was extremely important in his day and his significant contributions and influence are attracting increased study and discussion today. In this 90th year since his death in 1927, let us all make a commitment to learn more about the important struggles that he and others waged. Let us also commit to share this knowledge with others.

Harrison was born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies, on April 27, 1883, to a laboring-class Bajan mother and a born-enslaved, plantation-laboring Crucian father. He arrived in New York as a 17-year-old orphan in 1900.

He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of those he affectionately referred to as “the common people.” He consistently 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 challenge white supremacy and develop an internationalist spirit and modern, scientific, critical and independent thought as a means toward liberation.

A self-described “radical internationalist,” Harrison was extremely well-versed in history and events in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mideast, the Americas and Europe and he wrote voluminously and lectured indoors and out on these topics.

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 capitalism and imperialism and maintained that white supremacy was central to capitalist rule in the United States.

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.”

Working from this theoretical framework, he was active with a wide variety of movements and organizations and played 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. His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s, and his thoughts on “democracy in America” offer penetrating insights on the limitations and potential of America in the 21st century.

More than any other political leader of his era, he combined class-consciousness and anti-white supremacist race consciousness in a coherent political radicalism.

Harrison served as the foremost Black organizer, agitator and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York during its 1912 heyday he founded the first organization, the Liberty League, and the first newspaper, The Voice, of the militant, World War I-era “New Negro” movement edited The New Negro: A Monthly Magazine of a Different Sort, “intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races – especially of the Negro race,” in 1919 wrote “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World” in 1920 and served as the editor of the Negro World and principal radical influence on the Garvey movement during its radical high point in 1920.

His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical Randolph and the race radical Garvey. Considered more race conscious than Randolph and more class conscious than Garvey, 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 trend associated with Malcolm X.

Randolph and Garvey were, respectively, the direct links to King marching on Washington, with Randolph at his side, and to Malcolm, whose father was a Garveyite preacher and whose mother wrote for the Negro World, speaking militantly and proudly on street corners in Harlem.

His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical Randolph and the race radical Garvey.

Harrison was not only a political radical, however. Rogers described him as an “intellectual giant and freelance educator,” whose contributions were wide-ranging, innovative and influential. He was an immensely skilled self-educated lecturer for the New York City Board of Education, who spoke and/or read six languages a highly praised journalist, critic and book reviewer who reportedly started “the first regular book-review section known to Negro newspaperdom” a pioneer Black activist in the freethought and birth control movements and a bibliophile and library builder and popularizer who was an officer of the committee that helped develop the 135th Street Public Library into what has become known as the internationally famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Hubert Harrison was truly extraordinary and people are encouraged to learn about and discuss his life and work and to keep alive the struggles and memory of this giant of Black History.

Additional information

For comments from scholars and activists on “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press), go here and here.

For information on “A Hubert Harrison Reader” (Wesleyan University Press), go here.

For information on the new, expanded Diasporic Africa Press edition of Hubert H. Harrison’s “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World,” go here.

For articles, audios and videos by and about Hubert Harrison, go here.

For a video of a slide presentation and talk on Hubert Harrison at the Dudley Public Library, Roxbury, Mass., filmed by Boston Neighborhood News TV, go here.

For a new video of a slide presentation and talk on Hubert Harrison, the “Father of Harlem Radicalism” for the St. Croix Landmarks Society, go here. Note: The slides are very clear.

About the author

Jeffrey B. Perry is an independent, working class scholar who was formally educated at Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia University. He was a long-time rank-and-file activist, elected union officer with Local 300, and editor for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a division of LIUNA, AFL-CIO. Dr. Perry preserved and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison Papers, now at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and is the editor of “A Hubert Harrison Reader” (Wesleyan University Press, 2001) and Harrison’s “When Africa Awakes: The ‘Inside Story’ of the Stirrings and Striving of the New Negro in the Western World” (Diasporic Africa Press, 2014) and he is the author of “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” (Columbia University Press, 2008). He is currently working on Volume Two of the Hubert Harrison biography and editing Harrison’s writings for placement on Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library webpage.


Bibliography

Harrison, Hubert Henry. When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story" of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World. Baltimore: Black Classics Press, 1997.

James, Portia. "Hubert H. Harrison and the New Negro Movement," The Western Journal of Black Studies 13 (1989): 82 – 91.

James, Winston. Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America. New York: Verso, 1998.

Perry, Jeffrey B., ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

Rogers, J. A. "Hubert Harrison: Intellectual Giant and Free-Lance Educator (1883 – 1927)." In J. A. Rogers. World's Great Men of Color, vol. 2, edited by John Henrik Clarke, pp. 432 – 443. New York: Collier, 1972.


Jeffrey B. Perry

1883 Born April 27 in Concordia, Saint Croix, Danish West Indies.

1896-1900 Completes elementary education and works as under-teacher.

1900 Arrives New York City during nadir for African Americans.

1901-07 Completes high school education, breaks from organized Christianity, and is attracted to freethought.

1905-09 Active with St. Benedict’s and St. Mark’s Lyceums, White Rose Home for Working Girls, YMCA, and postal worker press club.

1907 Publishes in the New York Times, hired as a postal clerk, starts diary, moves to Harlem.

1908-11 Attracted to freethought, the single tax movement, and socialism starts scrapbooks.

1909 Marries Irene Louise Horton.

1910 Criticizes Booker T. Washington in the Sun first daughter, Frances Marion, born.

1911 Fired from post office through efforts of Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine.”

1911 Leading Black in Socialist Party of New York writes series on “The Negro and Socialism” in The Call assistant editor of The Masses founds Colored Socialist Club second daughter, Alice Genevieve, born.

1912 Organizes for the Colored Socialist Club writes on “The Black Man’s Burden” and “Socialism and the Negro” in the International Socialist Review third daughter, Aida Mae, born speaks throughout New York and New Jersey.

1913 Featured speaker at Paterson, N.J., silk strike prominent Socialist speaker in New York and Connecticut.

1914 Teaches at Socialist Party school criticizes Socialists in letter to the New Review suspended from Socialist Party.

1914 Teaches at the Ferrer Modern School publishes “The Negro A Conservative” in Truth Seeker starts Radical Forum fourth daughter, Ilva Henrietta, born.

1915 Lectures throughout New York City begins writing “Negro Society and the Negro Stage” writes for the New York News and the Colored American Review.

1916 Develops plans for “a Negro newspaper” based on the principle of “Africa First!” “race first” lectures at Lafayette Hall mark the beginning of the “New Negro Manhood Movement.”

1917 Founds the Liberty League and The Voice introduces Marcus Garvey to New York crowds publishes The Negro and the Nation.

1918 Serves as American Federation of Labor organizer among hotel and restaurant workers co-chairs (with William Monroe Trotter) National Liberty Congress resurrects The Voice and publishes “The Descent of Du Bois” re-joins and then resigns from Socialist Party.

1919 Lectures in Washington, D.C. and Virginia ill health causes him to cease publication of The Voice edits The New Negro magazine and writes “Two Negro Radicalisms.”

1920 Becomes managing editor of the Negro World and reshapes the newspaper speaks on “Lincoln vs. Liberty” is selected by Garvey to head UNIA delegation to Liberia writes “Race First versus Class First” and “Crab-Barrel” series writes critical appraisal of “Garvey’s Character” and “The Garvey Movement” in his diary shapes resolutions for Convention of the Negro People of the World publishes When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World" breaks from Garvey organizes all-Black Liberty Party fifth child, son William Alexander, born ceases work as managing editor of the Negro World and writes columns as associate editor travels to Virginia and Philadelphia on speaking tours.

1921 Contributing editor and book reviewer for the Negro World writes “Wanted -- A Colored International” and review of “Emperor Jones.”

1922 Serves as contributing editor and then ceases work for the Negro World.

1922 Begins five-year employment as staff lecturer for New York Board of Education talks on “The Brother in Black” at the Great Hall of Cooper Institute writes for the New York World, the Negro Times, the New York Age, the New York Tribune, and the New York Times.

1923 Challenges Ku Klux Klan in Paterson, N.J. delivers radio talks on “The Brother in Black” and “The Negro and the Nation,” writes for The Nation, the New York Tribune, the Amsterdam News, the New York World, the New Republic, and the National Star.

1924 Writes columns in the New York Inter-State Tattler and the Boston Chronicle and reviews for the Indianapolis Freeman founds the International Colored Unity League travels to Massachusetts and the Midwest on speaking tours.

1925-26 Helps found New York Public Library Negro Collection joins American Negro Labor Council writes for Modern Quarterly, the Negro Champion, Opportunity, and the Amsterdam News teaches “World Problems of Race” course suffers ill health.

1927 Writes for the West Indian Statesman, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the Chicago Defender edits and publishes Embryo of the Voice of the Negro and The Voice of the Negro resurrects the International Colored Unity League dies suddenly (December 17) at Bellevue Hospital and thousands attend his Harlem funeral.


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