From 1912-1914 he was the leading Black organizer of the Socialist Party of America. Harrison began his career as a Socialist who was Black but ended his career as a Black who was a socialist. He was moved to this position because of his experience in the Socialist Party of America. When Harris traveled he was confronted with America's racism; both without and within the Party itself. He found that the Party was accommodating, and even accepting of both expressions of racism. Despite his efforts, the Party's practice and positions included segregated locals in the South and racist positions on Asian immigration. Harrison concluded that Party leadership, like organized labor, put the white “Race first and class after.” Harrison concluded that the Black race should also put their race first, and he began to popularize this concept, which Garvey would later become known for. In 1915-16, after a New York Age editorial by James Weldon Johnson praised his street lectures, Harrison began to concentrate his work in Harlem.
By 1917 he founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper to propagandize his Race First, race-conscious movement, which he identified as the “New Negro” movement. This concept though political became later associated with a literacy expression, made famous by Alain Locke. However, the Liberty League and Voice would provide the core leadership of the Garvey movement. Harrison would profoundly influenced a generation of “New Negro” militants, including A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Richard Benjamin Moore, W. A. Domingo, Williana Burroughs, Cyril Briggs, and Marcus Garvey. It would be Harrison who would introduced Garvey to the Harlem crowd for the first time. Harrison is also the person that would concretize the famous soap-box oration that became commonplace in Harlem at the time. He was able to speak for hours holding his audience in awe with a blend of facts, humor, and wit. He was a walking encyclopedia.
In 1924 he founded the International Colored Unity League (ICUL) to urged Black people to develop “race consciousness” as a defensive measure—to be aware of their racial oppression and to use that awareness to unite, organize, and respond as a group. The ICUL program sought political rights, economic power, and social justice; urged self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and cooperative efforts; and called for the founding of “a Negro state” in the U.S. (not in Africa, as Garvey advocated). At a lecture, Harrison told his listeners that he had appendicitis and would be getting surgery; however, this was his last lecture--he died on the operating table, at the age of 44. Until his death in 1927, Harrison had continued public speaking, writing, and organizing. As an intellectual, Harrison was an unrivaled soapbox orator, a featured lecturer for the New York City Board of Education’s prestigious “Trend of the Times” series, a prolific and influential writer, and, reportedly, the first Black person to write regularly published book reviews in history. He was a pioneer Black participant in the freethought, and birth control movements; a bibliophile and library advocate.
Harrison can the man who was considered both the "father of the Harlem radicalism" and the "father of West Indian radicals," become a forgotten man? I asked myself why is this giant, this legendary man relatively unknown today? And I think the answer is simple. He was too forwarding thinking and especially as a member of the freethought movement and particularly his position on religion. The Afrikan community is very unforgiving when you talk about their Jesus. Harrison was an agnostic atheist who openly criticized and opposed organized religion. He rejected theistic dogma and consequently rejected Christianity. His new worldview placed humanity, not a god, at its center. Harrison once remarked that any Black man who believed Biblical material needed to have his head checked, and that he wouldn't worship a "lily white god" and "Jim Crow Jesus." He said the Christian Bible was a slave master's book, citing passages in it that justify slavery. He also said that the only Blacks in Christianity were the devil and his demons; Jesus, God, and his angels were white. Harrison because of this, said he preferred remaining black and going to hell. He criticized the phrase "Take the world but give me Jesus" as a tool for Black oppression, and claimed that religion was used to wage war on the poor. He regularly use the soap-box, and his lectures to give rebuttals to the Bible and of God's existence. Harrison was also a proponent of the use of birth control. On this issue and religion, Harrison and the Black community were miles apart. I believe more than anything else, that it was his position on Christianity that made the Black world forget this legendary man.