11 May 2008

Black Atheist Series: Hubert Henry Harrison

As promised, I now present the first of many in my: Black Atheist Series.

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.


Mojoey said...

This is a great idea. I've thought about doing something like it, but focused the 19th and 20th centuries.

I'll give this on my blog soon.

Zee Harrison said...


Thank you for featuring this post on your blog.

I have had this idea kicking around for a while and have been working away at compiling a list of people who I can feature, maybe once a week.
Unfortunately, so many people haven't heard about Henry Hubert Harrison - even in the black communities - so no apology necessary. It just illustrates that people need to be made aware, esp. as there are so many freethinking black atheists who are fearful of revealing their non-belief. It is incredible, I know, but so true.

I really think your 'Atheist Blogroll' is such a great idea and have changed mine to the marquee - great!

Thanks again,

Ralph Dumain said...

Glad to see you've discovered Hubert Harrison. Now I'm reminded that I have not updated my web site for some years now: see:

The Hubert Harrison Center

Also, the definitive biography of Harrison, by Jeffrey Perry, is scheduled for publication.

VickiLynne said...

I must be an odd ball but I know that I'm not. I'm an African American who knows more black atheists than I do not. Even if they won't box themselves into yet another category.

Just as I know many African American Black people who are not Atheists but do not consider themselves 'Christian' religious nor do they believe in any type of Organized religion.

I'm finding here in the cyberworld that it is almost a must a pressure to announce or identify oneself as a Black Atheist from other Black Atheists.

That's no different to me than when you walk into a Church and the members & Pastor demand that you get save & acknowledge that you are a Christian.

If one doesn't believe they just don't believe - Why the mandate to officially call yourself an Atheist?

I was an atheist at 7yrs old when I was told I'd go to hell if I ever said God was colored, again. Yes, I lived in that era.

When I was told that - I knew oh this God thing is some BS. My circle of friends peers an associates went to church and sang in the choir - Holy Holy God - but they all knew & accepted I was an atheist.

I'm beginning to find that Black Atheism can be restrictive and demanding from those who nonbelieve as this thing called christianity w/its rules and you must.

I didn't mean to write a novel nor get off topic.

I will keep reading your blog it has great information.

Have a Flawless Day,

Jeffrey B. Perry said...

You may be interested in the following book announcement. Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 by Jeffrey B. Perry has been published by Columbia University Press (November 2008)

See also--"Who Was Hubert Harrison? http://www.cupblog.org/?p=444

For a Brief Description of the Book see -- http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13910-6/hubert-harrison

For a Longer Description of the Book see – BlackPast.org http://www.blackpast.org/?q=perspectives/hubert-harrison-voice-early-20th-century-harlem-radicalism

For an Excerpt from the Book’s “Introduction” see -- http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13910-6/hubert-harrison/excerpt

For Reviewer Comments -- by Cornel West, Amiri Baraka, Arnold Rampersad, David Levering Lewis, Manning Marable, Winston James, Joyce Moore Turner, David Roediger, Komozi Woodard, Bill Fletcher Jr., Christopher Phelps, Peniel Joseph, Gary Okihiro, Portia James, and Gene Bruskin see -- http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13910-6/hubert-harrison/reviews

Please Encourage Your Library To Get the Book -- So that others may have an opportunity to read about Hubert Harrison.

Please Continue to Help to Spread the Word --

Jeffrey B. Perry
Author of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

You think gay sex is ok, never mind what Deut 22 sez, don'cha? If that's a fact, and I assume it is, I have doubts I'll see you again after death. Why? You support gays. You think gay sex is ok. Gay sex ISN'T ok if you wanna see them in Heaven. REPENTANCE and FAITH is key - even turning back to anal sex if they're weak is ok AS LONG AS they repent with a sincere heart. While the Trinity suffers for a time, girl, He won't suffer fo'eva. Gays must croak. All of U.S. do in time. Then, Jesus will say to them, 'Have you read your Bible? Do you not know anal sex is a mortal sin worthy of Hell? Do you not care if you mortal sin? Thar ain't no mortal sin in Heaven, dudes, and what have you done with your Finite Existence besides search'n for more anal buddies to copulate with, taking them along to the Abyss o'Misery?? Begone! I never knew you!!' Is that what you want Jesus to say to you for supporting gays? God bless you.