A Full Review of “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” by Jeffrey B. Perry

Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 by Jeffrey B. Perry.New York: Columbia, 2009.

Jeffrey B. Perry has established himself as perhaps the single most scholarly authority on the life of autodidact Hubert Henry Harrison, having written his 1986 Ph.D. Columbia University dissertation on him and edited A Hubert Harrison Reader, published in 2001 by Wesleyan University Press. He has confirmed such a role with the publication of the first comprehensive biography of Hubert Harrison, subtitled The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. It is the first of a two volume biography and covers Harrison’s life up to the beginning of his leadership of the growing New Negro movement, not to be confused with the popular New Negro artistic movement that Alain Locke is given credit for. According to Perry, his biography “offers a missing vision that fills major gaps in the historical record” and “enables us to significantly reshape our understanding and interpretation of the first three decades of the twentieth century.” To underscore the lack of previous scholarly attention to Harrison, Perry includes a 1990 photo of Harrison’s unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, evidencing how “Harrison’s activism, brilliance, and intellectually potential has not been given sufficient recognition.” Perry in this biography significantly reshapes our understanding of this early twentieth century figure by showing a man who in words most articulately challenged American capitalist white supremacy. He shows Harrison’s battles as a proverbial David versus Goliath duel, where throughout Harrison’s life, this Goliath morphs and grows more formidable, manifesting itself first in the press (in battles against the New York Times), second in a political party (the Socialist Party), and later within Harlem in the “Negro” press (New York Age and the Amsterdam News). Harrison was born on April 27, 1883 in Concordia Estate on the Caribbean island of Saint Croix which was later sold from Denmark to the United States in 1917. Before we read his birth, Perry in his first chapter entitled “Crucian Roots,” provides a comprehensive history of Saint Croix, with particular attention to those who united with others to fight their economically exploited status, such as “Queen Mary” Thomas. In 1878 she helped organize a massive sabotage of fifty three sugar plantations fifteen stock estates to oppose the oppressive labor contracts, low wages, wage inequalities, unequal employment opportunities, vagrancy laws, lack of upward mobility, and reduced medical services. He includes a sketch of her and fellow Saint Croatian “Buddhoe” who thirty years earlier staged a nonviolent demonstration demanding their freedom.[1] Perry’s attention on these figures places Harrison in his proper historical context of organized resistance against oppressive colonial and neocolonial policy. It anticipates Harrison’s demand to challenge not only Dutch colonial policy but United States neocolonial policy in the Caribbean: “it behooves all those who vote to use it to bring effective pressure to bear against the horrifying brutalities which black people are now compelled to endure from the cracker in the Caribbean.”[2] It also anticipates his writings that laud his fellow Saint Croatians in their twentieth century battles against colonial policy:

“by organizing the workers the union was soon able to pull up wages to fifty cents, seventy-five and finally a dollar a day…These black Danish workers began to give evidence of a social vision far in advance of that which was being exhibited by white workers in the United States. They organized a bank of their own, secured a printing- press, published a newspaper and bought up seven of the estates on which they had formerly been employed. It became evident that they meant to try conclusions with the capitalists of the islands on their own grounds. Against such organized economic co- operation the planters could not hope to compete successfully. They realized that transfer to the United States, in which racial subordination was most effectively organized and intrenched in the politico-economic structure of the actual government, would redress the balance and restore their effective control over wages and working conditions.”[3]

The United States eventually restored the “control” that Harrison refers to, despite the institutions that Saint Croatians built to challenge exploitative capitalism. The “printing press” referred to here included the Herald edited in 1915 by David Hamilton Jackson, leader of the Saint Croix Labor Union and one of Harrison’s lifelong friends. These battles like the ones that Queen Mary, Buddhoe and David Hamilton Jackson fought are not intractable from the current battles against Caribbean and Latin American leaders like Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras who, in trying to raise the minimum wage of their country’s masses, are forced to fight military coups either supported or allowed by neocolonial powers. Perry in providing this “rich history” shows how Harrison is predated by a strong legacy of colonial resistance that he continues in his writing. This first chapter includes a careful analysis of Harrison’s genealogy guided by a close reading of primary sources including Saint Croatian church registers and records from the Saint Croix African Roots Project (SCARP). While the arrival of Queen Mary set the stage for his birth on Saint Croix, the departure of his mother set the stage for his migration from there to the United States. Perry writes that on January 30, 1899, at age fifteen, Hubert lost his mother, and immediately his sister who then lived in Manhattan sent for him. In the summer of 1904, he moved further uptown and according to Perry who was given exclusive access to his diary by Harrison’s family, Harrison: “was a true autodidact—self-motivated and purposefully self-directed in his study, inspired by other autodidacts, and free to roam.”[4] According to his diary entries and Amsterdam News articles, Perry writes that Harrison’s participation in lyceums, as a listener, lecturer, and debater “provided a true scholarly training for his developing intellect.”[5] It is this participation that seems to train him to fight his first battle against Goliath; by the end of 1910, Perry writes that Harrison had twelve letters to the editors published in the New York Times, an extraordinary feat for an immigrant, especially an immigrant of color. One of these letters was a 1904 response to comments from Mississippi’s newly installed white supremacist governor James K. Vardaman who wrote in the Times that Negroes are “more criminal as freeman than as slaves” and those that “can read and write are more criminal than illiterate.”[6] Harrison challenged the assumption in Vardaman’s argument that crimes by Negroes were necessarily manifestations of Negroes vying “for social equality.”

Based on letters like these and diary entries of Harrison, Perry writes: “Harrison was consumed by his community based intellectual work and not the lack of money.” At the post office, he convened a study circle known as the Press Committee that intended “to reply to aspersions and misrepresentations of our people in the newspapers of New York City.”[7] This is what Harrison largely did in his several letters to the New York Times. Perry writes that this circle discussed race matters, books, and readings including those related to a history project on the “Negro in America.” Another of his projects included a textbook on Reconstruction and the more ambitious work on “Reconstruction and the Negro,” which was apparently not completed. His study included exhaustive study of books, two of which were written and sent by W.E.B. Du Bois. Up to 1910, he developed a race history class and a literary club at the White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls, the only exclusively colored settlement in New York. During this time he writes:

“my haunting of the YWCA, YMCA, the White Rose Home, disreputable clubs, streets of evil and sordid associations; my social work with the rest among the children of 62nd Street, my attendance at revival meetings and prayer meetings which but for the psychological interest would disgust me—all this by putting me in full-touch with the life of my people will aid me in understanding them better than many another and fit me to write their history.”[8]

By the end of 1909, Perry writes that he married Irene Louise Horton and began living up to severe limitations: “the conflict between family responsibilities and intellectual pursuits would affect his remaining years.”[9] His most influential letter was not in the New York Times, but the New York Age, a paper that would later contribute to his own paper’s demise. On December 8, 1910, he publicly critiqued Booker T. Washington by stating that Washington had lied in stating that whites were fair and honest in dealing with Negroes and that essentially “the right of Negroes to buy what they can pay for must be restricted in the interests of white people.”[10] This critique of Washington is related to Harrison’s larger and more relevant critique of the Republican Party being “the most corrupt influence among Negro Americans…Republicans subsidized these Black leaders [like Washington] who often posed as independent radicals and [who] were, in Harrison’s words were ‘intellectual pimps’ selling out the influence of any movement, church, or newspaper, with which they were connected.”[11] Perry writes that New York City’s leading Black Republican politician, Charles W. Anderson, a close personal and political friend of Booker T. Washington’s met with him and based on his letter, removed him from his position at the Post Office. Perry writes “on July 1 [1910] he was ‘failed of promotion,’ and on September 1 he was charged with leaving the floor of the work room before his tour of duty ended. Perry calls the action of Washington’s Tuskegee Machine dastardly: “on a personal level, its impact on Harrison and his family was extremely difficult.”[12]
Perry exposes the hierarchical tiers of white supremacy that function to silence people who challenge or sanction it, as Washington did. Charles W. Anderson is on one tier; above him is Booker T. Washington who seeks to ignore atrocities of lynching and race discrimination; above Washington are his white philanthropists who fund Washington to essentially restrict Negroes within their own capitalist interests. Harrison’s journey here is very much like that of the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man who is confronted with this multi-tiered white supremacy: first in the college president, Dr. Bledsoe, who expels the narrator from his livelihood as a working student in order to vindicate a white supremacist on a higher tier, Norton, the college philanthropist. Charles W. Anderson functions very much like Dr. Bledsoe in appeasing Booker T. Washington when Harrison critiques him. Both Bledsoe and Anderson ultimately appease white philanthropists and the functions their money are intended to maintain: keeping Negroes “restricted” to either conceding the pure benevolence of all whites like Harrison or to vocational trades and not to a greater liberal arts education like Ellison’s narrator. This is a kind of social order that allies of Washington believed was part of God’s natural “order.” In fact, Perry quotes Anderson saying of Harrison: “God is not good to those who do not behave themselves.”[13]
Very much like Ellison’s narrator, Harrison’s next foray is into politics, within the Socialist Party, where he battles white supremacy in a similar manner that Ellison’s narrator battles inside the “Brotherhood.” While it plunged him into poverty, Perry writes that “it was Harrison’s removal from the Post Office in September 1911 that freed his time for socialist activity.”[14] He used his experience in the Post Office to demonstrate in his writings the effectiveness of nationalization. In a world without television and internet, Harrison relied on “the tremendous power of special addresses” to convince listeners of the utility of socialist principles. Perry writes that Harrison’s work was so effective that the Socialist Party vote increased by six thousand, and they designated him “permanent organizer to be appointed for work among Negroes.”[15]
Ellison’s narrator was told by Brother Jack: “Get as many to join as possible. You’ll be given guidance by some of the older members, but for the time being you are to see what you can do. You will have freedom of action—and you will be under strict discipline to the committee.” As part of the Socialist Party, Harrison was also under “strict discipline” to the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party. Along with following their commands, he made in own independent voice known in a five part theoretical series called “The Negro and Socialism.” In it he responded to Socialist Party members who claimed that African Americans were a hindrance to social change. Like his 1910 analysis of Washington’s claim and like Du Bois’ recent sociological data suggests, he pointed in the other direction for the real problem. His second and perhaps most searing article as a Socialist Party organizer was entitled “Race Prejudice” where he argued that racism had economic causes; that capitalists consciously fostered race prejudice; and that capitalists benefited and workers lost from racial discrimination.[16]
As a Socialist Party speaker he pinpoints two essential issues. First was the central weakness of American unions which is relevant up to today, particularly the “protected group” among unionists that demanded for itself a larger share of its product than other unionists.[17] The large gap between rich and poor encourages this demand. Even without appealing to racist beliefs, Harrison exposes the problem of union organization. The second essential issue that Harrison focused on was how the work of Socialism should be carried among Negroes. His third part of the series called “The Duty of the Socialist Party,” made clear that “the Socialist Party was not a white man’s party or a black man’s party, but the party of the working class” and its historic mission was to unite the workers of the world. Harrison suggested that the Socialist Party reach across race lines by simply treating fellow Blacks as human beings. George Frazier Miller and W.E.B. Du Bois suggested they do this by avoiding altogether racially segregated locals of the Socialist Party. In response to these comments, Harrison defended the Socialist Party and insisted that no segregation was intended within it, although it recruited members through what they called a Colored Socialist Club. On some level, Miller and Du Bois could argue that Harrison was defending an organization whose direction was dictated by whites, under their discipline, as Ellison’s narrator was, just like Ellison’s Bledsoe was. The primary difference with Harrison however is the kind of work they were aiding: Harrison believed that through this work the fundamentally oppressively racist mores of society could be challenged if not broken, whereas Ellison’s Bledsoe, modeled on some level after Washington, were trying to accommodate such mores.
In the sixth chapter entitled, “Socialist Writer and Speaker,” Perry details Harrison’s battles with a Goliath in the form of a Socialist Party that, after funding a “Colored Socialist Party” would retreat closer to the political right that separated itself from the pro-sabotage wing of the International Workers of the World (IWW). They catered to the “protected group” that Harrison previously identified as the culprit of weakening American unionism. In addition, the Socialist Party refused to route their own candidate, Eugene Debs, to the South during the 1912 presidential campaigns because, according to Harrison, they were willing to betray “by silence the principle of inter-racial solidarity which they espoused on paper.”[18] This is yet another blow by Goliath to Harrison whose efforts were stopped by the intractable racial segregation of the American South. Harrison in a 1911 Call article asks: “I am wondering what the Socialist philosophy would be if Marx had been a Mississippian;”194 this is a veiled critique of the potential racism within Marx that white American Socialists do not interrogate, then and today.[19] According to Perry, Harrison reasons that if race and racism are sociohistorically derived, then racial oppression and racism can also be subjected to eliminative social action and strategies for change that challenges white supremacy. This is how Harrison lived his life; unlike Ellison’s narrator (and Ellison himself according to Rampersad’s biography of him), Harrison sought to develop the eliminative social action, as a Biblical David-like figure to challenge the Goliath-like white supremacy.
By the end of 1912, he began his separation from the Socialist Party with his support of Frederick Sumner Boyd, who was arrested for advocating sabotage, violating New Jersey state law. On principle, Harrison supported Boyd declaring that every blow struck by labor against capital is a blow for labor. Perry points out the hypocrisy of the Socialist Party in its hiring people to violently beat up scabs in strikes yet punishing Boyd and his supporters. Perry presents Harrison’s support of Boyd as part of a long line of vehement Crucian protest against private industry by any means necessary. This kind of protest is like Queen Mary Thomas’ protest where she supported the sabotage of sugar plantations when owners refused decent wages. Perry writes that Harrison’s personal leanings were more toward the IWW (International Workers of the World) because of their more advanced stand on the race question. The Executive Committee soon brought charges against Harrison for disobeying orders not to debate antisocialist Frank Urbansky. Around this time Harrison wrote a letter intended for the New York Call where he provided his rationale for leaving the Socialist party. Harrison was brought to trial and suspended for three months.
The Socialists, like the “Tuskegee Machine” and the Post Office would tolerate only so much outspoken independence. For the second time in three years Harrison lost his principal means of livelihood for expressing his views. Harrison’s experience with the Socialist Party is similar to Ellison’s narrator’s experience with the Brotherhood in that their experiences were based on ideas but on their speech. Brother Jack, leader of the Brotherhood tells the narrator: “You were not hired to think.”[20] This is essentially what the Executive Committee (EC) of the Socialist Party tells Harrison in his support of Boyd: that they, the EC, thought for the Party and not Harrison. Like the narrator, Harrison is confronted with the reality that the Socialist Party, like Ellison’s Brotherhood was more interested in cosmetic changes, in name, that included a “Colored Socialist Club,” rather than substantive changes that would require ending exploitative capitalism and truly challenging racism within the party and the greater society. In trying to reach the black worker, Harrison is determined to be “in full-touch with the life” of his people. While his withdrawal from the Socialist Party meant another victory for Goliath, it also freed him up to gain experience as a lecturer in New York City. Perry quotes Theodore Vincent stating: “the man most responsible for building the tradition of [Black street oratory] was Hubert H. Harrison.”[21]
Harrison started his own Radical Forum which would include lectures on Sunday afternoon on popular science, sociology, economics, history, religion, literature and drama. He delivered lectures for the Radical Forum six days a week at the New Harlem Casino to a largely white audience. A overarching point in his talks among a largely white audience was the fact that twelve hundred of the seventeen hundred million people of the world were “colored—black, brown and yellow” and were at peace only until the white minority determined otherwise:

“No capitalist employs a worker for two dollars a day unless that worker creates more than two dollars’ worth of wealth for him…therefore, every nation whose industrial system is organized on a capitalist basis must produce a mass surplus of products over and above, not the need, but the purchasing power of the nation’s producers. Before these products can return to their owners as profits they must be sold somewhere. Hence the need for foreign markets, for fields of exploitations and ‘spheres of influences’ in ‘undeveloped’ countries whose virgin resources are exploited in their turn after the capitalist fashion. But, since every industrial nation is seeking this same outlet for its products [such as oil in Iraq and Africa], clashes are inevitable and in these clashes beaks and claws—armies and navies—must come into play. Hence the exploitation of white men in Europe [such as the Cold War and its attendant battles] and America becomes the reason for the exploitation of black and brown and yellow men in Africa and Asia. And, therefore, it is hypocritical and absurd to pretend that the capitalist nations ever intend to abolish wars.”[22]

Along with his speaking stints, Harrison worked at the Ferrer Modern School as an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion. Up to 1915, his work at the Modern School seemed a welcome refuge from the white supremacist Tuskegee Machine and the Socialist Party. After his Harlem Casino lecture series ended, Gertrude Cohen, a librarian at the 135th Street Public Library suggested that he concentrate his efforts in the Harlem community. By the end of 1915, he seemed to synthesize his experiences with the Machine and the Socialist Party to develop in his lectures the need for race consciousness, which was basically a call for African Americans to recognize the racial oppression they faced and to use that awareness to unite, organize, and respond as a group. As long as the United States remained a white supremacist society, a needed and necessary corrective interest, was for African Americans to develop race consciousness. Harrison’s “race consciousness,” which well preceded Garveyism, encouraged a philosophy of self reliance that was marked contrast form that of New York’s two leading civil rights organizations, the NAACP, and the National League on Urban Conditions, whose work was premised on the idea of interracial cooperation. Harrison suggested that “white” support, allegedly necessary in financial and organizational efforts was in fact more a fetter than an aid. It was a fetter to Harrison’s resentment of rich and powerful white philanthropists who with their money expected a certain designation of Negro inferiority. However it was not a fetter to editors of Negro presses who were intent on remaining editors by any means necessary.
Harrison’s race consciousness message included developing a healthy skepticism of these kind of editors, some of whom would brag about controlling the Negro vote. By March of 1916, Harrison began his literary criticism by looking at drama in a searing piece he sold to the New York Times entitled “Leaves Torn From the Diary of a Critic.” In it he criticized the Lincoln Theater plays written by Billie Burke as “beneath contempt in structure, plot and dialogue.” Due to his criticism, the proprietors of the Lincoln Theatre, instead of seeing it as an opportunity for productive growth to expand their audience, the Lincoln Theater advertisers withdrew all their advertising from the Amsterdam News.[23] The Amsterdam News did not publish another review or article by Harrison for seven years according to Perry. This slight still plunged him into providing examples of peoples who utilized the race consciousness he described: “the Negro people of America would never amount to anything much politically until they should see fit to imitate the Irish of Britain and to organize themselves into a political party of their own whose leaders, on the basis of this large collective vote, could hold up Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, or another political group of American whites.”[24]
This “political group of American whites” included the proprietors of the Lincoln Theater who withdrew their funds by taking offense at ideas that challenged normal, white supremacist depictions of the Negro on stage. In response to editors that were powerless to these white supremacist actions, Harrison founded his own press. On June 18, 1917, he presented the first issue of The Voice, a newspaper that “agitated for intellectual and political independence…race first priorities, internationalism…mass appeal, and good editing.” This organ was founded after a well attended rally of over two thousand people at Harlem’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on 52-60 West 132nd Street, six days earlier on June 12, 1917. The attendance indicated Harrison’s apparent appeal in the Harlem community at this time. It is at this rally that Marcus Garvey gets his first public introduction, according to both Perry and Tony Martin, author of Race First. At this meeting, Harrison founds the Liberty League, whose mission included demanding that the federal government enforce the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.[25] The Liberty League also called for federal antilynching legislation. Harrison during 1917 clarified not only a race consciousness but the “new Negro,” who will not tolerate the injustices of the past:

“the new Negro is demanding elective representation in Baltimore, Chicago, and other places…He is demanding as a right that which he is in a position to enforce…the old idea of Negro leadership by virtue of the white man’s selection has collapsed. The new Negro leader must be chosen by his fellows—by whose strivings he is supposed to represent.”[26]

Harrison in this year identifies the same problem he faulted Washington for: allowing white men to select Negro leadership. His founding of the Liberty League and defining of the New Negro, could not have been more timely. In the month following his launching of the Liberty League, East Saint Louis, Missouri, endured violent race riots, precipitated by the return of black soldiers from World War I, who were thought to give white workers “unfair” job competition. Perry writes that officials of organized labor served as prominent apologists for ‘white’ labor’s role in the rioting. Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, placed principal blame for the riots on ‘the excessive and abnormal number of negroes’ in East St. Louis, while W.S. Carter, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, maintained that ‘the purpose of the railroads in importing Negro labor is to destroy the influence of white men’s labor organizations.’”[27]
White men in this case are too often what Harrison identified as the “protected group” that apparently depended on their protection so much they resorted to violence. In response, Harrison called for armed self-defense and related to the definitions of being a New Negro, and did it within a press that is not beholden to people without the race consciousness he has described. According to Robert A. Hill, The Voice was the radical forerunner of the periodicals that would express the developing political and intellectual ferment in the era of World War I. It was followed in November 1917 by The Messenger edited by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen and in August 1918 by the Negro World edited by Marcus Garvey and The Crusader by Cyril Briggs. These four publications, led by The Voice, Perry shows us, manifested “the principal articulation of the Negro mood.” The Voice sold out 3,000 copies after its first issue and sold 5,000 copies on its second issue. Perry writes that Fred R. Moore, editor of The Age, a staunch Republican and a former associate of Booker T. Washington declared that “the representative Negro does not approve of radical socialistic outbursts, such as calling upon the Negroes to defend themselves against the whites.” Harrison responded in The Voice by stating that the real difference between The Age and The Voice was whether Black people have a right to defend themselves against whites. The Voice’s answer was yes and The Age’s answer was no. Perry writes that because of the paper’s firm position of political independence, it lacked consistent support from the established political parties and political machines. The Voice explained that its policy was to take virtually any political advertisements, while simultaneously maintaining the right to openly criticize any advertiser. The main source of income came from the low-paid Black masses, whose resources were limited. However, Harrison moved in a way thought impractical by prominent supporters of The Voice when he tried to have the paper come out more frequently in the face of competing pressure from The Age and Amsterdam News. He faced even more frustration with the Socialist Party when they pitted A. Philip Randolph and Owen against two “electable” Black candidates. He withdrew permanently from the Party as a result of this. Perry writes that by June 26, 1918, major steps were taken to undermine his organization: “According to the Bureau of Investigation agent Joseph G.C. Corcoran, [his] surveillance is one of the earliest instances of the Bureau of Investigation’s monitoring of a Black radical.”[28] By next month, W.E.B. Du Bois had published probably the most controversial editorial of his life, known as the “Close Ranks” piece where he calls on African Americans to forget their special grievances and close ranks while fighting alongside white American soldiers. After being prompted by Walter Howard Loving in the Department of War, Harrison took Du Bois to task over this idea, and exposed Du Bois’ reasons for calling on African Americans to close ranks: “to secure a position as a semi-civilian captain under Major [Joel] Spingarn to carry on in that spirit.”[29] Harrison’s organs of Liberty League and The Voice served a huge proverbial blow against Goliath, mainly because these organs inspired extraordinarily influential radical thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, one of whose followers was Earl Little, father of Malcolm X, a symbolic figure of the Black Power movement. Harrison also inspired A. Philip Randolph who charted his own publishing path in The Messenger, winning a war of attrition against Jim Crow employment. Randolph’s work with E.D. Nixon lay groundwork for both the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington movement, both of which popularized Martin Luther King, Jr, symbolic leader of the Civil Rights movement. This influence presented by Perry underscores his point in the introduction that “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. via A. Philip Randolph who was influenced by Hubert Harrison and the race and nationalist trend associated with Malcolm X via Marcus Garvey who was influenced by Hubert Harrison. Perry ultimately accomplishes his unprecedented task of filling in major gaps that reshape our understanding of the first three decades of the twentieth century. These gaps need to be accounted for in the authoritative texts of African American Studies, such as Introduction to Black Studies by Maulana Karenga. The biography concludes with a Perry noting the legacy that his Liberty League intended to carry: a legacy against white supremacy. This legacy sought to teach people how to use their education, formal or not, to improve their living conditions. This is what the Crucians born before Harrison’s birth and after did: Queen Mary Thomas practiced this legacy on the sugar plantation, Arturo Schomburg practiced this legacy by his founding of the Schomburg Center in Harlem. And Canada Lee continued on the dramatic stage helping to humanize the Negro character while breaking the back of Jim Crow.
Perry in Hubert Harrison shows us the bare machinations of white power, more than any other thinker in his time. He had an ability to command the attention of not only pedestrians on Harlem street corners, but also those who were the most willing administrators of white power: Booker T. Washington in the Tuskegee Machine, W.E.B. Du Bois in the United States War Department, or the Lincoln Theater proprietors. Each of these administrators is jarred if not shattered by Harrison’s forceful critique, ultimately railing against capitalist white supremacy, more than white supremacist capitalism. Harrison showed in his writings that it was the idea of racism that preceded the economic system, not the other way around. If the egg did come before the chicken, then the egg must be white supremacy, according to Harrison. His writings challenging white publishers refusal to sell black books prove this as well as his biting sarcasm of A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, critiquing their complicity in the Socialist Party’s plan to use them to run against two “electable” Black Republicans. This was a move that would weaken Harrison’s own race consciousness and ultimately advance white supremacy. His writings teach us to challenge the racist subconscious assumptions of not only print media as was in his time, but now the more pervasive television and internet media; they teach us that it is only by organization that oppressive forces in society can change. Instead of Ellison’s protagonist’s retreat into the underground, Harrison’s life encourages the kind of work that protagonists in Caribbean novels have done like Angel in Merle Collins’ Angel or Manuel in Jacques Roumain’ Masters of the Dew: organizing among the masses, seeking people with similar concerns and commitment against injustice and then acting as a group to correct the exploitative nature of capitalism.
Rhone Fraser

[1] Perry, Jeffrey B. Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. New York: Columbia, 2009, p. 25-27. Henceforth referred to as “Perry.”
[2] Perry, Jeffrey B, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan, 2001, 157.
[3] Perry, Jeffrey B, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan, 2001, 245.
[4] Perry, page 57.
[5] Perry, page 72.
[6] Perry, page 67
[7] Perry, page 48
[8] Perry, page 99.
[9] Perry, page 110.
[10] Perry, page 128.
[11] Perry, page 102.
[12] Perry, page 133.
[13] Perry page 133.
[14] Perry, page 151.
[15] Perry, page 155.
[16] The legal foundations that encouraged upper classes within the private industry to divide lower classes by race is brilliantly laid out in A. Leon Higginbotham’s legal history called In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period (New York, Oxford, 1978).
[17] At the writing of this review, New York Post reported on September 1, 2009 that members of SEIU Local 1199 say their union leadership has already spent too much money on a dispute that includes a trustee of United Health Care West, a private insurance company. This trustee is part of the protected group that Harrison mentions being a roadblock to union solidarity. In Solidarity Divided, written by Fernando Gapasin and Bill Fletcher (Berkeley: University of California, 2008). The point is made that: “most of today’s unions have been shaped by the Gompers’ legacy and anticommunism. The early movement under Gompers generally combined decentralized authoritarianism with racism and sexism. The purge of Left-Led unions strengthened by a corporate culture within the official union movement that discouraged creativity, democracy, and any broad sense of class struggle” The trustee of a private insurance company like United Health Care is part of a corporate culture that benefits from using union dues on this publicized dispute that members are concerned about.
[18] Perry, page 194.
[19] Perry, Jeffrey B, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan, 2001, 194. American Socialists today still apply principles of Marxism without fundamentally critiquing his fundamentally racist notions of “progress” towards an ultimately Western nation-state that cooperates with the European exploitation of natural resource footnote to predates many critiques of Marxism, articulated by Cedric Robinson in The Anthropology of Marxism and Ama Mazama in The Afrocentric Paradigm.
[20] Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1953, 1995, p.469.
[21] Perry, page 230.
[22] Perry, page 232.
[23] Donna Walker-Kuhne in Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community (New York, TCI, 2005) has written effective strategies for theater production groups to increase and diversify their audiences; however many productions choose not to follow them and continue with inadequate, incomplete plot lines mainly because their white supremacist ideas that would limit a more developed play take precedence over their economic interests. Harrison has written a similar critique of white publishers, choosing to prioritize white supremacist ideas over profit, such as the idea that books by black authors or about black people simply will not sell.
[24] Perry, page 266.
[25] Perry, page 288. Perry called The Liberty League’s demand that the Fourteenth Amendment be enforced “instructive” because the amendment was previously used as a principal weapon in the service of big business and white supremacy. Misuses of this amendment is described in Charles Ogletree’s brilliant legal and personal history called All Deliberate Speed (New York, W.W. Norton, 2004). In it, he describes an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. According to the originalist constitution applications, the Fourteenth Amendment is still not being applied according to its original intention in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Ricci v. DeStefano, where Justice Kennedy who writes the main opinion claims that the city violated the Fourteenth Amendment rights of a white citizen being denied, not employment, but promotion, on a job. Fourteenth Amendment cases generally applied to African Americans seeking protection for more basic living rights which included employment and not promotion the way the Ricci used the amendment for. The Liberty League’s work is instructive here and suggests a whole new demand for judicial branches applying their originalist interpretation to Fourteenth Amendment cases.
[26] Perry, Jeffrey B, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan, 2001, 139.
[27] Perry, page 297.
[28] Perry, page 384.
[29] Perry, Jeffrey B, ed. A Hubert Harrison Reader. Middletown (CT): Wesleyan, 2001,172.

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Author: Dr. Rhone Fraser

Dr. Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and journalist born of Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, on October 12, 1979. He moved to Florida in 1989 and graduated from Zephyrhills (FL) High School in 1997. He graduated from Yale University in 2001, after which time he taught in the public school systems in New Haven (CT) and the Bronx for three years. He then began writing independently and finished a documentary play on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer entitled, "Living Sacrifice," for which he still seeks publication. He earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Temple as of August 31, 2012. His dissertation was a literary and historical analysis of Pauline Hopkins, A. Philip Randolph and Paul Robeson. He also is a freelance editor and radio producer, and is currently producer of WPEB's Freedom Readers on 88.1 FM in Philadelphia.

3 thoughts on “A Full Review of “Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918” by Jeffrey B. Perry”

  1. I don't see how he weakened his own race consciousness by criticizing Randolph and Owen. He often criticized white and black leaders in positions of influence that held black people back. I think that was actually needed a lot. To this day the proletarians classes are being held back by the elite-appointed leaders brainwashing corrupting the minds of the multitude. When Marcus Garvey recently arrived in America, he wasn't even considered radical (he admired Booker T. Washington). Not until he accustomed himself to Hubert Harrison. Hubert Harrison is a genius. He deserves so much more respect and recognition. He planted the radical seed that branched off and blossomed into black nationalism, and the Civil Rights movement bearing improved rights and opportunities for black people as the fruit for his labor. I believe his lifetime work is an immense achievement.

  2. What I meant to say that because he was so forceful in his critique of Randolph and Owen (like he was with Washington), he lost the support of these two men that he could have won over. This I know is debatable. Perry writes that Harrison called them "The Gold Dust Twins" for their essentially being paid for by the Socialist Party. Your point, Anonymous, is well taken. -RF.

  3. That makes sense. They (Chandler and Owen) admired him in the beginning of their relationships, but after Harrison's forceful critique they eventually distanced themselves. Harrison felt it was needed since their political affiliation switched from the Democrat to the Republican to the Socialist Party (or whoever was willing to pay them in his eyes). His criticism was a double-edged sword at times. These were all great men who sacrificed their lives for the toiling masses. Indeed, if those three completely supported each other, they would have been a VERY powerful and impactful trio. Thanks for the reply! -CM.

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