I have taken the liberty to include in this category freethinkers, skeptics, humanists, scientific naturalists and anyone else who debunks the supernatural or promotes rational thinking.
To be any of the above categories in many black communities around the world can invite ridicule, censorship, ostracisation or even worse. I invite you to search the net for 'black atheist' and you may discover how few black atheists are 'out'.
To have someone brave enough to challenge irrational thinking at a time when people were victims (and still are to a great extent) of traditional myths, who stands up and promotes the idea of thinking for oneself, is truly admirable.
Hubert Henry Harrison.
He was a man born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, in the the Caribbean in 1883. He moved to New York in 1900 after the death of his mother (father unknown, or at least not a feature in his life) and as a 17 year old was shocked by what he saw as the overt racism within the USA. He took low paying jobs after studying, yet attended night school to further his education but was in the main self-taught. He was well respected by his peers due to high articulacy, orator skills and intellect. He wrote articles and letters which were published in the main stream media and lectured at various institutions.
Considering the hurdles he encountered just from being black and male within such a hostile environment he still evaluated and analysed the situations of humans, particularly in relation to religion and concluded he was agnostic.
After dabbling with socialism and concluding that the prominent movements were covertly and overtly racist, moved towards evaluating the plight of black people. He conducted outdoor lectures (similar to Speakers' Corner in London) and his influence and hard work paved the way for movements such as Marcus Garvey's 'Back to Africa'. He decided to place race first as a result of the incessant, unceasing racism experienced at the time.
In 1920 he became the editor of the Negro World, Marcus Garvey's UNIA newspaper and eventually became dissatisfied with Marcus Garvey and was vocally and in print, critical of his messages and movement. He viewed the call to return to Africa as ill conceived, naive and far more based on money making than he felt was necessary. He broke away from the movement after 1922.
He continued to write articles on various subjects, founded another movement for 'race consciousness' - including advocating the creation of a Negro state in America, founding what is now the Schomeberg Center for Research in Black Culture amongst many other notable achievements.
He died in 1927 of appendicitis in a New York hospital.
His legacy can be found amongst the works of novelists, poets, actors and many other black creative artists, especially Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and many others - right up to the present day.
He observed and highlighted inadequacies and poverty of the mind which existed amongst human beings in relation to religion, race and social mores.
This summary of his life cannot do his legacy complete justice but it may spark your interest in finding out more about his life, works and philosophy.
Hubert Henry Harrison: The first in my series of Black Atheists/Freethinkers, and rightly so.