Jeffrey B. Perry
Independent historian. Retired postal mail handler, union officer, and union editor.
Area of Research:
American history, labor history, race, and class. My work focuses on two of the most important class conscious, anti-white supremacist, working class intellectuals of the twentieth century—the autodidacts Hubert H. Harrison and Theodore W. Allen.
Princeton (AB), Harvard (withdrew to travel through the Americas), Rutgers (MA, Labor Studies), Columbia (MA, Ph.D., American History)
Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) introduction available at http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13910-6/hubert-harrison/excerpt
“Introduction” in Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race, by Theodore W. Allen, Edited with an Introduction by Jeffrey B. Perry (Stony Brook: Center for Study of Working Class Life, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2006) online at Cultural Logic, Vol. 9 (2006) at http://clogic.eserver.org/2006/allen.html
A Hubert Harrison Reader, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Jeffrey B. Perry (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001).
“Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Early 20th Century Harlem Radicalism,” BlackPast.org (2008) available online at
“Hubert H. Harrison Papers, 1883-1928, Finding Aid,” [consulting editor] Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, 2007, available online at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/inside/projects/findingaids/scans/pdfs/Harrison_Hubert_H.pdf
“In Memoriam: Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005),” Cultural Logic (2005), at http://www.clogic.eserver.org/2005/Perry.html
“An Introduction to Hubert Harrison,” Souls, Vol. 2, no. 1 (Winter 2000), 39-54 available online at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol2no1.html
During the 1960s, like millions of other people, I was deeply affected by the civil rights struggle and movements for social change that it inspired. As a student in that period I was afforded opportunities to study, to research, and to interact with scholars. My ancestral roots, as far back as identifiable, are entirely among working people. These factors, and many related experiences, have led me toward a life in which I have tried to mix worker and community-based organizing with historical research and writing.
For over thirty-five years I have been active in the working class movement as a rank-and-file worker and as a union shop steward, officer, editor, and retiree. I have also been involved in domestic and international social justice issues including affirmative action, union democracy, and anti-apartheid, anti-war, and anti-imperialist work.
My primary historical writing has been on Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927). St. Croix, Virgin Islands-born and Harlem-based, Harrison was a brilliant writer, orator, editor, educator, critic, and political activist who was described by the historian Joel A. Rogers as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time” and by the social activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism.” Harrison was the major radical influence on both the class-conscious Randolph and the race-conscious Marcus Garvey as well as on a generation of “New Negro” activists and “common people” and he is the only person in United States history to play signal, leading roles in the largest class radical movement (socialism) and the largest race radical movement (the New Negro/Garvey movement) of his era. He founded the World War I-era “New Negro Movement,” was reportedly “the first regular book reviewer in Negro newspaperdom,” and is a key ideological link in the two major trends of the civil rights/black liberation movement—the labor/civil rights trend associated with Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. and the race/nationalist trend associated with Garvey and Malcolm X.
I am currently writing the second volume of my two-volume Harrison biography for Columbia University Press and preparing “The Writings of Hubert Harrison” for placement on Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library website. Previously, I preserved, indexed, and inventoried the Hubert H. Harrison Papers, which are now at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library with a 102-page Finding Aid available online.
Before I began work on Harrison, I was influenced toward serious study of matters of race and class in America through personal experiences and readings and through the work of an independent historian, Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005). Allen originated the “white skin privilege” concept in 1965 and among his many writings are Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race (1975), The Invention of the White Race (2 vols. 1994 and 1997), and critical reviews of Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom (1978) and David Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness (2001). Allen argues that the "white race" was invented as a ruling class social control formation in response to labor unrest as manifested in the later, civil war, stages of Bacon's Rebellion (1676-77); that a system of racial privileges was deliberately instituted as a conscious ruling-class policy in order to define and establish the "white race"; and that the consequence was not only ruinous to the interests of the African American workers, but was also "disastrous" for “white” workers.
I am currently preserving, indexing, and inventorying the Theodore W. Allen Papers, writing an “Introduction” for a new Verso Books edition of The Invention of the White Race, and preparing other Allen writings for publication.
Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen were independent scholars who made important intellectual contributions during periods of domestic and international challenges to existing class and white-supremacist rule. They lived in daily contact with the “common people,” pursued the intellectual issues that concerned them with passion and great integrity, maintained networks for feedback and exchange of ideas, and felt that they were contributing towards a better society. Their intellectual independence contributed significantly to their ability to confront problems and issues directly. They were prime examples of the point made by the historian George W. Stocking Jr. in Victorian Anthropology that "Standing outside the normal process by which intellectual traditions are transmitted, the autodidact may embody the spirit of . . . [the] age in an unusually direct way.”
Harrison and Allen lived in poverty and faced many roadblocks. My familiarity with their lives and papers has made me aware of how powerful forces worked to minimize their work and promote the far less important work of others, how they were often personally slighted, how their important contributions have been largely overlooked, and how some people, in order to build personal careers or organizations, have drawn from their work and not properly credited or cited them.
On a personal level, familiarity with Harrison and Allen alerted me to the difficulties and joys involved in independent scholarship as well as the possibilities for making significant contributions.
Overall, I think that as the current economic and political conjuncture develops there will be significant growth in independent scholarship. Independent historians will face difficulties, but I think they will find ways to overcome most of the obstacles, to access important and increasingly available materials, to develop networks, and to reach ever-widening audiences. Independent historians are in a position to contribute significantly to our collective understanding and to social progress in the twenty-first century and their contributions are much needed.
Those interested in my work as well as those interested in the work of Hubert Harrison and/or Theodore W. Allen are encouraged to visit my webpage at www.jeffreybperry.net or to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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