The “Black Socrates” of the Harlem Renaissance – March 2, 2010
“Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea,” said activist Hubert Harrison, the subject of an upcoming campus lecture by biographer Jeffrey B. Perry. The event will take place on Tuesday, March 2nd, at 3:00 p.m. in the Special Collections and Archives department, on the 8th floor of Library South. Perry also plans to sign copies of his new biography of Harrison and his anthology of Harrison’s writings. Harrison, a Caribbean-born luminary of Harlem in the first three decades of the twentieth century, was a black Socialist, a Garveyite, a journalist, and an early builder of the New York Public Library’s famous Schomburg Center. This lecture is at the end of Black History Month and should be of particular interest to students and researchers of history, labor and African American studies.
Because of its cross-disciplinary importance, the event is co-sponsored by the Special Collections and Archives of the Georgia State University Library, the Association of Georgia State University Historians, the African American Studies Department, and the Department of History. Perry’s biography and presentation will offer profound insights on race, class, religion, immigration, war, democracy, and social change in America.
Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) is one of the truly important figures of early twentieth-century America. A brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist, he was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” He made his mark in the United States by struggling against class and racial oppression, by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among African Americans, and by working for the enlightened development of the lives of “the common people.” He consistently emphasized the need for working class people to develop class consciousness; for “Negroes” to develop race consciousness, self-reliance, and self-respect; and for all those he reached to challenge white supremacy and develop modern, scientific, critical, and independent thought as a means toward liberation. Harrison emphasized that, “as long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race” were “downright lying”; that “the cant of ‘Democracy’” was “intended as dust in the eyes of white voters.” His views on race and class profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants including the class radical A. Philip Randolph and the race radical Marcus Garvey.
Harrison’s biographer is Jeffrey B. Perry an independent, working class scholar who was formally educated at Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia University. He was a long-time (33 years) activist, elected union officer with Local 300, and editor for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (div. of LIUNA, AFL-CIO, CTW). Dr. Perry preserved and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison papers (now at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library) and is the editor of “A Hubert Harrison Reader” (Wesleyan University Press, 2001). He is also literary executor for Theodore W. Allen (author of “The Invention of the White Race”) and edited and introduced Allen’s “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race.”
Perry’s March 2nd lecture will be an important campus event where intellectuals from across various disciplines can learn more about the life of Hubert Harrison, a fascinating figure with a unique role in the history of activism and civil rights in America.