The same folks who’d have us believe politics is just Republicans and Democrats, and that the current black political class is the culmination of black history have tried to erase the history of black giants like socialist Hubert Henry Harrison, whom historian Joel A. Rogers called “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” and who was a mentor to Marcus Garvey.
Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927) is a true giant of Black, Caribbean, Diasporic African, and U.S. radical history. He was a brilliant writer, orator, educator, critic, and political activist who was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers, in World’s Great Men of Color, as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time” and by A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem Radicalism.”
Harrison was born to an immigrant mother from Barbados and a formerly enslaved Crucian father on Estate Concordia in St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), on April 27, 1883. On St. Croix he lived amongst immigrant and native-born working people, learned customs rooted in African communal systems, and grew with an affinity for the poor and with the belief that he was equal to any other. He also learned of the Crucian people’s rich history of direct-action mass struggle including the 1848 enslaved-led emancipation victory; the 1878 island-wide “Great Fireburn” rebellion in which women played prominent roles; and the October 1879 general strike.
After arriving in New York as a seventeen-year-old orphan in 1900 Harrison made his mark over the next twenty-seven years by struggling against class and racial oppression and by helping to create a remarkably rich and vibrant intellectual life among those he affectionately referred to as “the common people.” He played unique, signal roles in the development of what were, up to that time, the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the “New Negro Movement”/Garvey movement) in U.S. history. His ideas on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy anticipated the profound transformative power of the Civil Rights/Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s. His talks before large crowds at Wall and Broad Streets (on Socialism) and in Harlem after the 1917 pogrom against the East St. Louis African-American community (East St. Louis is less than 12 miles from Ferguson) were precursors to recent “Occupy” and “Black Lives Matter” movements.