As we continue in the spirit of International Workers Day, Big Drum Nation highlights Caribbean and Latin American labor heroes and heroines.
Hubert Henry Harrison (April 27, 1883 – December 17, 1927)
An immigrant from St. Croix, Danish West Indies at the age of 17, Hubert Henry Harrison (April 27, 1883 – December 17, 1927) was regarded by the famous historian J.A. Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time” and by John G. Jackson of American Atheists as “The Black Socrates. This great labor giant, although unheard of in American history books, was also a member of Marcus Garvey’s inner circle and close adviser.
On the 132nd Anniversary of Pioneering Black Radical Hubert Henry Harrison’s Birth
by Jeffrey B. Perry
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.