Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From Hubert Harrison, for Black History Month

Last month I noted a new book I wanted to read, the biography Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 by Jeffrey B. Perry. I've got it in my hands now and I hope to read it soon. I was leafing through it, fondling it in that excited way I do with new books, and found in the front matter some quotations from the works of this great but sadly now little remembered leftist leader. Here are a couple of them, in honor of Black History Month.

On U.S. "democracy":
As long as the Color Line exists, all the perfumed protestations of Democracy on the part of the white race must be simply downright lying. The cant of "Democracy" is intended as dust in the eyes of white voters. ... It furnishes bait for the clever statesman.
On imperialist war:
During the war the idea of democracy was widely advertised, especially in the English-speaking world, mainly as a convenient camouflage behind which competing imperialists masked their sordid aims. ... those who so loudly proclaimed and formulated the new democratic demands never had the slightest intention of extending the limits or the applications of "democracy."
I was stunned by one other page in the front of the Harrison biography. It has a photograph of Harrison's gravesite, which has no marker and just appears to be a mass of untrimmed dry grass. The caption notes that this great leader "lies buried in an unmarked shared plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx." Woodlawn Cemetery! This is the site of a current struggle by a group of workers, all Black and Latino men, fighting against unmitigated, brutal, vicious racist treatment by the bosses--just the sort of struggle Hubert Harrison would have been in the thick of. This struggle has been going on for some time but now it's hit a new, urgent stage. The members of Teamsters Local 805 are fighting for their very jobs and right to union representation. There's been a lot of community support for the Band of Brothers, as the Woodlawn workers call themselves, with a series of solidarity marches and rallies. Last weekend, the Latina group Mujeres por la Paz visited the Woodlawn gravesite of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and, styling themselves the Band of Sisters, demanded a union contract and no layoffs for their brothers the Woodlawn workers.

The next action for the Band of Brothers is this Monday, Feb. 21, when supporters will rally at Woodlawn to show the cemetery bosses that these workers are not alone. I'm going to pass along the information about Hubert Harrison and his unmarked grave to the Woodlawn workers.

Victory to the Band of Brothers! Hubert Harrison presente!