Hubert H. Harrison papers, 1893-1927
|Harrison, Hubert H.
|23 linear feet (23 linear feet 19 document boxes; 7 record storage cartons; 1 flat box)
|Rare Book & Manuscript Library
|View CLIO Record and Request Material >>
Born April 27, 1883, in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, Hubert H. Harrison was a brilliant and influential writer,
orator, educator, critic, and political activist in Harlem during the early decades of the 20th century. He played unique,
signal roles, in what were the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the New Negro/Garvey
movement) of his era. Labor and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph described him as "the father of Harlem radicalism"
and historian Joel A. Rogers considered him "the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time" and "one of America's greatest
minds." Following his December 17, 1927, death due to complications of an appendectomy, Harrison's important contributions
to intellectual and radical thought were much neglected. In 1900 Harrison moved to New York City where he worked low-paying
jobs, attended high school, and became interested in freethought and socialism. His first of many published letters to the
editor appeared in the "New York Times" in 1903. During his first decade in New York the autodidactic Harrison read and wrote
constantly and was active in Black intellectual circles at St. Benedict's and St. Mark's Lyceums, the White Rose Home, and
the Young Men's Christian Association. He also attended functions of the interracial Sunrise Club as well as Single Tax, Socialist,
and Freethought-influenced activities. Beginning in 1907, he made his living as a postal clerk. In 1909 Harrison married Irene
Louise ("Lin") Horton, and the following year their first of five children was born. Their relationship went through difficulties
and they periodically lived in separate residences. In 1910 Harrison wrote two letters critical of Booker T. Washington that
were published in the "New York Sun". Subsequent retaliatory efforts by Washington's "Tuskegee Machine" cost Harrison his
postal employment and for the rest of his life he and his family were burdened with financial problems. Between 1911 and 1914
Harrison was the leading Black activist, orator, and theoretician in the Socialist Party of New York and a prominent supporter
of the Industrial Workers of the World. He made important theoretical contributions by emphasizing that true democracy and
equality for African Americans implied a revolution startling to even think of and by advocating that socialists champion
the cause of African Americans, that they develop a special appeal to and for African Americans, and that they affirm the
duty of all socialists to oppose race prejudice. Socialist Party theory and practice led Harrison to conclude that Party leaders,
like organized labor leaders, put the white “Race first and class after.”. During his socialist years and after Harrison pioneered
the tradition of Harlem soap-box oratory, which was subsequently carried on by Randolph, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and others.
In 1914-15, after leaving the Socialist Party he was active with freethought and other radical secular movements, with free
speech and birth control struggles, and with his own "Radical Forum." In 1915-1916, after writing probing theater reviews
and delivering talks on the racial significance of World War I, Harrison concentrated work in Harlem's African American community
and led in the development of the New Negro Movement. In 1917 Harrison founded the first organization (The Liberty League)
and the first newspaper ("The Voice") of the New Negro Movement--the race conscious, internationalist, mass based movement
for "political equality, social justice, civic opportunity, and economic power" that laid the basis for the Garvey movement
and contributed significantly to the social and literary climate leading to Alain Locke's well known publication "The New
Negro". The Liberty League's "race first" program called for enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, federal
anti-lynching legislation, militant resistance to racist attacks, and a political voice. In 1917, Harrison's first book"The
Negro and the Nation" was published. Harrison became a nationally recognized Black protest leader in 1918 when he co-chaired
(with William Monroe Trotter) the Liberty Congress, the major Black protest effort of WWI. The Congress put forth demands
for democracy at home, an end to segregation and disfranchisement, and federal anti-lynching legislation. His wartime protest
efforts not only challenged the position taken by W.E.B. DuBois, Joel E. Spingarn, and the NAACP, they also served as precursors
to the March on Washington Movement during World War II, which was led by Randolph, and the March on Washington for Jobs and
Freedom during the Vietnam War, which was led by Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1919 Harrison served as editor of
the New Negro magazine and then, in 1920, he became the principal editor of Marcus Garvey's "Negro World", which he re-shaped
into the major radical race-conscious, political and literary, publication of the era. While writing for the Negro World Harrison
discussed history, politics, literature, theater, poetry, international affairs, religion, and science. He also initiated
and developed a "Poetry for the People" section and what he described as the first regular book review section by a Black
author in history. In 1920 Harrison's second book"When Africa Awakes", was published. By August of 1920 Harrison was highly
critical of Garvey's methods, claims, and actions and he ceased serving as managing editor of the "Negro World", though he
continued to write articles and editorials for the paper into 1922. From 1922 until his sudden death in 1927, Harrison, despite
periods of ill health, continued to write and lecture prolifically. He published in the "Amsterdam News"; "Interstate Tattler";
"Modern Quarterly"; "New Republic"; "Nation"; "New York Times"; "New York Tribune"; "New York World"; and "Pittsburgh Courier".
He lectured for the New York City Board of Education as staff lecturer from 1922-1926. He also spoke at universities, libraries,
before community groups, and on street corners. In 1924, he founded the International Colored Unity League and in 1927 he
edited "The Voice of the Negro". Harrison's unexpected death following an appendectomy on December 17, 1927, left behind his
widow, four daughters, and a young son. After a massive Harlem funeral he was honored through the creation of the Hubert H.
Harrison Memorial Church, which no longer exists. His radicalism on so many issues -- race, class, religion, war, democracy,
sexuality, literature and the arts -- and the fact that he was a forthright critic of individuals, organizations, and ideas
of influence, were major reasons for his subsequent neglect.
Scope and Contents
The collection is composed of the personal papers--correspondence, manuscripts, documents, newspaper clippings, diaries, scrapbooks,
memorabilia, photographs and books--of Hubert H. Harrison, an early 20th century African American activist, orator, writer,
intellectual, and editor. The papers range from his early years in the United States to his death in 1927. The bulk of the
collection is printed material, mostly clippings and books. There is a substantial correspondence series which includes letters
by many prominent writers and individuals such as John E. Bruce, Clarence Darrow, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude Mc Kay, H. L. Mencken,
Eugene O'Neill, William Pickens, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., A. Philip Randolph, Andy Razafkeriefo (Razaf), Joel A. Rogers,
T. Lothrop Stoddard, William Monroe Trotter, Walter White, Carter G. Woodson, and Monroe N. Work. Of particular note is the
extensive collection of writings, both original manuscripts as well as clippings from newspapers and magazines by Hubert H.
Harrison. In addition, there are numerous scrapbooks compiled by Harrison on a wealth of topics, as well as his diaries. Many
unique and important photographs of Harrison and his family, friends, and associates are contained in the collection along
with a notable collection of books, evincing the breath and depth of Harrison's reading, as well as his interest in book collecting.
Harrison's active career as a lecturer and speaker is demonstrated by the numerous broadsides and pamphlets.