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Books by Jeffrey B. Trivia About Hubert Harrison: Debs who insisted that his audiences be integrated , in Southern states, white-supremacist positions on Asian immigration at the national convention, and the failure to politically and economically support the CSC -- led Harrison to conclude that Socialist Party leaders, like organized labor, put the white "race first and class after. He also publicly defended Haywood against attack by the right wing of the Socialist Party on the issue of "sabotage.
After leaving the Socialist Party, Harrison founded the "Radical Forum," taught at the Modern School, and lectured indoors and out on a variety of subjects including birth control and the racial aspects of the First World War.
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He was also involved in, and arrested in, free-speech struggles. His outdoor lectures pioneered the tradition of militant street-corner oratory in Harlem. As a soap-box orator he was brilliant and unrivaled. Factual and interactive, logical and playful, he exhibited wonderful mastery of language, humor, and irony, and, when appropriate, he employed a biting sarcasm. Rogers described how "crowds flocked to hear him" and "would stand hours at a time" as he presented "the most abstract matter in a clear and lively fashion.
Jeffrey B. Perry
Philip Randolph stressed that he was "far more advanced" than any other speaker, that he "made an enduring and valuable contribution to the life of the negro. With his enlightening, crowd-engaging, popular, memorable, witty, and, at times, militant oratory, Harrison paved the way for those who followed--including Randolph and Garvey--and, much later, Malcolm X.
By late , his experiences with white supremacy within the socialist and labor movements convinced him of the need for a "race-first" political perspective for Black Americans. The final 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 race and offered a glimpse of "the Negro's soul as modified by his social environment.
Harrison's mass-based political movement, however, was qualitatively different from the more middle-class, arts-based, apolitical movement associated with Locke. In , as the "Great War" raged abroad, along with race riots, lynching, segregation, discrimination, and white-supremacist ideology at home, Harrison founded the Liberty League and The Voice.
They were, respectively, the first organization and the first newspaper of the "New Negro Movement," and they were soon followed by A. The Liberty League was called into being, Harrison explained, by "the need for a more radical policy" than that of existing civil rights organizations such as the W.
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He felt that the NAACP too often limited itself to paper protests and repeatedly stumbled over the problem of what to do "if these ['white'] minds at which you are aiming remain unaffected" and refuse "to grant guarantees of life and liberty. In response to white supremacy, The Voice called for a "race first" approach, full equality, federal antilynching legislation, enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, labor organizing, support of socialist and anti-imperialist causes, political independence, and armed self-defense in the face of white-supremacist attacks.
From the Liberty League and The Voice whose weekly circulation reportedly reached 11, and estimated readership 55, came the core progressive ideas and leaders later used by Marcus Garvey in the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Negro World. 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 by The Voice and The Liberty League.
The Liberty Congress issued demands against discrimination and segregation and petitioned the U. Congress for federal antilynching legislation. The Liberty Congress's wartime demands for equality and thoroughgoing democracy were forerunners of the March on Washington Movement led by A. As an elderly Randolph knowingly pointed out in , with Harrison undoubtedly in mind, "The black militants of today are standing upon the shoulders of the New Negro radicals of my day. Spingarn and involved W. Following the Liberty Congress, Harrison criticized 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, the branch of government that monitored radicals and the African American community.
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. This first volume of Harrison's biography concludes after he has been recognized as a major national protest figure and as the founder and prominent leader of the growing New Negro Movement.
Though only thirty-five years old he had earned the title "the Father of Harlem Radicalism. Du Bois, served as the leading Black activist in the Socialist Party, founded The Voice and the Liberty League, and been a radicalizing influence on the next generation of class and race radicals. Harlem was establishing itself as the international center of radical Black thought and Hubert Harrison was the leading voice of Harlem radicalism. The second volume of this biography, Hubert Harrison: Race Consciousness and the Struggle for Democracy, begins in after the Liberty Congress.
Harrison attempted to take his race-conscious message into the Deep South, but illness caused him to return to New York. Then, after a series of bloody "race riots" in , he edited the militant New Negro magazine, which was "intended as an organ of the international consciousness of the darker races--especially of the Negro race. In one of the important chapters in the history of Black journalism, he reshaped and developed that paper--changed its style, format, content, and editorial page--and was primarily responsible for turning it into the preeminent radical, race-conscious, political, and literary publication of that time.
Many of his most important editorials and reviews from this period [as well as from the earlier Liberty League period] were reprinted in his book When Africa Awakes . Over the first eight months of , he was the Negro World's chief radical propagandist, and in August he was the one who gave radical tone to the UNIA's "Declaration of the Negro Peoples of the World. Though Harrison continued to write columns and book reviews for the Negro World into , 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: In the s, after breaking with Garvey, Harrison continued his full schedule of race-conscious activities. He lectured for the New York City Board of Education's elite "Trends of the Times" series, which included prominent professors from the city's foremost universities, as well as for its "Literary Lights of Yesterday and Today" series. Through his lectures, book donations, reviews, recommendations, and active involvement he helped to develop the th St. Public Library's "Negro literature and history" collection into what became the world-famous Schomburg Center for Research in Black History, which stands as a living connection between Black people and their history.
One of his most important activities in this period was the founding of the International Colored Unity League and its organ, The Voice of the Negro. The ICUL was Harrison's most broadly unitary effort and attempted "to do for the Negro the things which the Negro needs to have done without depending upon or waiting for the co-operative action of white people. The ICUL platform had political, economic, and social planks urging protests, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and collective action and 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.
In addition, the ICUL, with Schomburg on its executive committee, took major steps in promoting the study of Black history by hosting Harrison's series of lectures on "World Problems of Race.
He focused on the man and woman in the street, those whom he referred to with love and respect as "the common people," and emphasized the importance of each individual's development of an independent, critical attitude. His work was encouraged, sustained, and developed by his intimate involvement with the Black community. The period during and after the First World War 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 working-class and Black-community-based race-conscious mass appeal used newspapers, popular lectures, and street-corner talks and marked a major shift in style and substance from the leadership approaches of Booker T. Du Bois, the paramount Black leaders of Harrison's youth.
He rejected Washington's reliance on powerful white patrons and an internal Black patronage and pressure machine which deemphasized outward political struggle and Du Bois's reliance on left or liberal white support and the "Talented Tenth of the Negro Race. Moore explained, "More than any other man of his time, he [Harrison] inspired and educated the masses of Afro-Americans then flocking into Harlem.
When he died on December 17, , 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 th Street Public Library, which he, along with bibliophile Arthur Schomburg and others, had helped to develop. 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 s.
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. 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.
Hubert Harrison : the voice of Harlem radicalism,
He found it difficult, in his words, "to suffer fools gladly. As he explained in a 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. Though his comments were usually perceptive, well researched, and without malice, they often challenged the established order and existing leaders and engendered reaction.
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. 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. The Messenger --"a journal of scientific radicalism" [edited by the socialist A. Philip Randolph] has not a word to say concerning the death of the first and ablest Negro exponent of scientific radicalism.
Du Bois] laments the passing of [the 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. This concerted silence is ominous. It does appear that there is something wrong somewhere.
A major figure, compared to Socrates by his peers, was being ignored. The tragedy in this lies in the fact that Harrison's life story has so very much to offer. His journey from the depths of plantation poverty to political and intellectual achievements of great influence is a powerful testament to human potential.
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 , Harrison, "despite the handicap of poverty,. These more intimate aspects of his biography further open the way for newer and deeper understanding of the social and intellectual milieu of the early twentieth century. In recounting this story, certain personal characteristics and limitations are important to recognize. Harrison focused more on intellectual, educational, and agitational matters than organizational ones, and this fact, coupled with his often critical approach, his disdain for flattery, and his unwillingness to "suffer fools gladly," somewhat limited his organizational leadership.
He was an intellectual whose message was more rational than emotional, and this limited the breadth of his appeal, particularly in comparison to Garvey. He was an autodidact who ventured where his interests led, and he often did not tend to practical matters well.
He repeatedly underestimated the value of money and handled it poorly, and, since he lived in poverty, money problems constantly beset his efforts and caused severe hardship for his wife and five children. He sought to apply science and rationality to social problems during a period when the sciences like the rest of society contained many racist views, and he encountered contradictions such as those pertaining to the concept and "shifting reality" of race that affected the work he did.
He advocated rationalist freethought and severely distanced himself particularly in the early years from the Black church -- the most important institution in the African American community. His political independence and willingness to openly challenge existing leaders and leadership often resulted in financial difficulties, circumscribed some political options, and at times put pressure on him to move in less desired political directions.
His views on women and gender oppression were, at times, as Bill Fletcher Jr. These more personal matters hurt his home life and, despite his great love for his children, caused his relationship with his wife, Lin, to suffer some particularly difficult times. Harrison, however, had strengths that were remarkable. He faced the world with a critical mind, intellectual honesty, and "eyes wide-open. 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.
His approach was eminently sane, and he worked tirelessly and indefatigably for the "common people. Then, as now, the basic demands for economic justice premised on true racial equality struck at the very heart of the existing social order and were inherently radical. This last point suggests a principal reason why Harrison's life story is important. 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. This seeming incongruity was made possible by the political-economic system of the United States, a system in which, according to the historian Theodore W.
Allen, racial oppression was central to capitalist rule. An exploration of how Harrison was radical on both issues sheds considerable light on the nature of U. It also sheds considerable light, as Harrison explained, on the radical implications of true democracy and equality for African Americans. The observations of journalist Oscar J. Benson recognized both the importance of Harrison's life story and the key to capturing its essence when he explained: To this class of preceptors Hubert Harrison belongs.
Literary men of this class are seldom honored by posterity. Like the plain "old uncle" Socrates they go about teaching here and there, their audiences are vast, and they are always in popular demand.