Hubert Henry Harrison (April 27, 1883 - December 17, 1927), a St. Croix, Virgin Islands-born and Harlem-based writer, orator, educator, critic, and radical political activist was described by the activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism” and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.”
Harrison uniquely played significant roles in the largest class radical and the largest race radical movements of his era. From 1912-1914 he was the leading Black organizer, agitator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of America and in 1917 he founded the Liberty League and the The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper of the militant, race conscious “New Negro” movement. From his Liberty League and Voice came the core leadership individuals and race conscious program of the Garvey (Marcus Garvey) movement.
Harrison was a seminal and influential thinker who encouraged the development of class consciousness among working people, anti white-supremacist race consciousness among Black people, secular humanism, modern thinking, and a critical intellectual independence. He was also an internationalist who advocated that African Americans develop ties with Caribbean, African, Latin, Asian, and Arab peoples and who contributed significantly to the Caribbean radical tradition. He profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Marcus Garvey, Richard Benjamin Moore, W. A. Domingo, Williana Burroughs, and Cyril Briggs. His biographer Jeffrey B. Perry writes that, among the African American leaders of his era, Harrison was “the most class conscious of the race radicals and the most race conscious of the class radicals” and he emphasizes that Harrison is a key unifying link between two major trends of African American struggle--the labor/civil rights trend (identified with Randolph and Owen and later, with Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the race/nationalist trend (identified with Garvey, and later with Malcolm X).
As an intellectual, Harrison was an unrivaled soapbox orator, a featured lecturer for the New York City Board of Education’s prestigious “Trend of the Times” series, a prolific and influential writer, and, reportedly, the first Black person to write regularly published book reviews in history. His efforts in these areas were lauded by writers, intellectuals, and activists such as Eugene O’Neill, James Weldon Johnson, Henry Miller, Hermie Huiswoud, William Pickens, Bertha Howe, Hodge Kirnon, and Oscar Benson. Harrison was also an aid to Black writers and artists including Charles Gilpin, Andy Razaf, J. A. Rogers, Eubie Blake, Walter Everette Hawkins, Claude McKay, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, Lucian B. Watkins, and Augusta Savage; a pioneer Black participant in the freethought and birth control movements; a bibliophile and library popularizer, and a developer of “Poetry for the People” columns in various publications including the New Negro magazine (1919), Garvey’s Negro World (1920), and The International Colored Unity League’s The Voice of the Negro (1927).
A good sampling of his writings, talks, reviews, and poetry appear in the edited collection A Hubert Harrison Reader (2001). An extraordinary collection of his writings are found in The Hubert Harrison Papers (which also contain a detailed Finding Aid) at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. Other writings appear in his two books The Negro and the Nation (1917) and When Africa Awakes. A two volume biography by Jeffrey B. Perry is forthcoming from Columbia University Press.