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




Hubert Henry Harrison photo

Hubert Henry 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 photo 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 tochallenge 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&rdquo in 1919; wrote When Africa Awakes: The “Inside Story” of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World photo 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.


By: Jeffrey B. Perry


Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 Jeffrey B. Perry










"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









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I wondered how he died and found the following information:


*snip* In his last lecture, Harrison told his listeners that he had appendicitis and would be getting surgery. Afterwards, he said he would be giving another lecture. Unfortunately, he died on the operating table, at the age of 44.


more interesting facts about HH. . .


*snip* Despite these manifestations of love and respect from his contemporaries, Harrison was quickly "unremembered" 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 are little known.

Some reasons for this "unremembrance" are readily apparent.


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.


He opposed capitalism, white supremacy, 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 receive increased attention with the increase in Black studies and popular history, which were by-products of the civil rights and Black power struggles of the 1960s.


Even then, however, Harrison did not draw similar attention. In part this was undoubtedly due to his "radicalism" on issues other than race—particularly on matters of class and religion.

Age (and what one does over time) is another factor. Harrison died young, much younger than Washington, Du Bois, or Garvey. He was not martyred like King and Malcolm, who also died young. His prolific pen and exhilarating ora­tory did not continue into the 1930s or any later decades.

There are also other additional factors that have served to keep Harrison’s achievements and ideas from the prominence they deserve. He lived in poverty, had major family financial responsibilities, and handled money poorly; these factors limited the success and promotion of some activities.


He was more of a freelance activist than many of his better known contemporaries. He was not "somebody’s man, whether that somebody was a Vesey Street Liberal, or Northern millionaire or a powerful politician" who would promote him and his ideas. He would not, as he said, "bow the knee to Baal, because Baal is in power."


As a leader, he generally disdained flattery and would not wheedle or cajole followers or supporters. He found it difficult, in his words, "to suffer fools gladly."


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 organization or institution, and so lacked the recognition and support that would have come with such a tie.


As he explained in a 1922 letter, "I haven’t any group. I always go alone, and find this much more productive of internal peace than the contrary process. And, of course, I have no chieftains—well meaning or other."

Importantly, Harrison was also an inveterate critic whose style was candid and, at times, bitingly sarcastic. He criticized the ruling classes, white suprema­cists, organized religion, organized labor, politicians, journalists, historians, scientists, 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. Like a true sportsman, 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."

In particular, Harrison’s willingness to directly challenge prominent leaders and organizations in left and African American circles stung many of the individuals (Booker T. Washington, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, Ernest Untermann, Kate Richards O’Hare, Charles W. Anderson, Fred R. Moore, Joel E. Spingarn, W. E. B. Du Bois, Chandler Owen, Kelly Miller, George E. Haynes, Emmett Scott, Robert Russa Moton, Marcus Garvey, James Weldon Johnson, Carl Van Vechten, and William Z. Foster) and groups (the American Federation of Labor, Socialist Party, Communist Party, Urban League, NAACP, New York AgeAmsterdam NewsNew Review, and Nation) most likely to keep his memory alive.

Also of great importance is the fact that his freethought and agnostic views and scientific approach posed serious challenges for many religious leaders and distanced him from the Black church, the most powerful institution in the Black community.


Harrison was fully aware that "those who live by the people must needs be careful of the people’s gods," but it was advice he did not often heed. He was often more candidly critical than calculatingly cautious, and "leaders" and organizations that might have publicly preserved his memory made little effort to do so. Some actually led in the great neglect that followed.

Last edited by Fabulous

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