Jeffrey B. PerryJan 18, 2021
The Struggle for Equality, 1918–1927
Columbia University Press 2020
Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927 (Columbia University 2020) by Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar and archivist, is an extensive intellectual history of the life and work of Black radical and autodidact Hubert Harrison. Perry is also editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan, 2001) and author of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia, 2008). He is the chief biographer of Hubert Harrison and Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality is a follow up to his aforementioned text on Harrison. (These two volumes can be ordered from Columbia University Press at 20% discount by using Code CUP20). Perry’s volume on Harrison’s life from 1883 to 1918 is considered to be the first volume of an Afro-Caribbean “and only the fourth of an African American after those of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes” (1). This current text is a continuation of the argument advanced in Perry’s initial text on Harrison. Harrison is often left out of major surveys of the Harlem Renaissance and New Negro Era, as Perry notes, and this is likely because the Renaissance is often viewed as a movement of Black intellectual elites with formal higher education. That said, Harrison was a working-class self-taught man who wrote reviews, essays, orations and was recognized by intellectual elites of his day and a member of the Socialist Party of America.
Harrison was born in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in 1883 but relocated to the Harlem section of New York City in 1900, at age seventeen, where he eventually became a recognized writer, cultural critic, orator, editor and political activist including working with Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Perry defines Harrison as “the voice” of Harlem radicalism and also a “radical internationalist.” This is a challenge to standard views of the New Negro Era that tend to place intellectuals such as Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois at the helm of Black thought and culture during the Harlem Renaissance moment in African American history. That said, Harrison was also involved with Garvey’s UNIA as editor of the Negro World and in labor activism. Harrison formed the Liberty League in 1917 and The Voice that helped to lay the foundation of the Garvey Movement and the Rise of the UNIA. He was involved in the major debates of his day including discussions about class consciousness, Black nationalism, internationalism, freethought and trade unionism. This second volume by Perry is very necessary given Harrison’s extensive engagement with the ideas and the production of knowledge as a self-taught organic intellectual with deep concerns about human liberation across class and race.
Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Black Equality is organized into four major sections divided by twenty chapters including an “Epilogue.” It is a far-reaching text of more than 700 pages. Part I focuses on Harrison’s work with The Voice and his political activities in places such as Washington, D.C. and Virginia, In Part II, Harrison’s role as editor of the Negro World is assessed with a discussion of his debates and writings. Part III concerns Harrison’s work as a “freelance educator” and his work as a writer and speaker, while the final part of the text Part IV covers his role as a Black radical internationalist. This is a critically important text. Scholars of the Harlem Renaissance will find it difficult to dismiss Hubert Harrison as a major voice of the New Negro Era with the publication of this text. Perry’s painstaking coverage of Harrison gives him his rightful place in history as “the voice of Harlem radicalism.”
Hettie V. Williams Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of African American history in the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University where she teaches courses in African American history and U.S. history.