Jeffrey B. Perry, A Spartan Who Took a Different Path

Dr. Jeffrey B. Perry (Jeff Perry) is an independent, working-class scholar formally educated at Paramus High School (class of 1964), Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers, and Columbia. The recently published, second volume of his Hubert Harrison biography entitled "Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927" (Columbia University Press, December 2020) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Dr. Perry's work focuses on the role of white supremacy as a retardant to progressive social change and on the centrality of struggle against white supremacy to progressive social change efforts.

While in Paramus, Perry, who was reared on the basketball courts and fields of the old Spring Valley School, was a key player on the High School County Championship teams in Basketball (1963) and Baseball (1964). He made 2nd team All-County in three sports, was named to the Bergen County Basketball Jamboree Team of the Decade for the 1960s, and is in the PHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

For fifty-plus years Perry has been active in the working class movement as a rank-and-file worker and as a union shop steward, officer, editor, and retiree. He has also been involved in domestic and international social justice issues including affirmative action, workers' and tenants' rights, workers' grievances, union democracy, and anti-apartheid, anti-war, and anti-imperialist work. In this period, while on a tight budget, he also has managed to travel in 49 states and over 50 countries. A vast collection of his materials have been placed at the Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and additional materials are currently being prepared for repository placement.

Perry was influenced toward serious study of matters of class and the importance of opposition to white supremacy through personal experiences and readings and through the work of an independent, autodidactic, working class scholar and close personal friend, the late Theodore William Allen (1919-2005). Allen pioneered his class struggle-based "white skin privilege" analysis in 1965 and was the author of The Invention of the White Race, (2 vols., Verso Books, 1994, 1997, new edition 2012), and the new composite edition (2-volumes in one), 2022) and "Summary of the Argument of The Invention of the White Race" (in two parts, 1998).

Allen's research and writings on the role of white supremacy in United States history and on the centrality of the struggle against white supremacy to social change efforts disposed Perry to be receptive to the life and work of St. Croix-born, Harlem-based, Hubert H. Harrison (1883-1927), another independent, autodidactic, anti-white-supremacist, working class intellectual. Perry considers Harrison and Allen to be two of the twentieth century's most important thinkers and writers on "race" and class in America.

Dr. Perry, an archivist, bibliophile, and historian, preserved and inventoried the "Hubert H. Harrison Papers" and helped to place them at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University and to develop the "Hubert H. Harrison Papers, 1893-1927: Finding Aid." These efforts, contributed to making writings of Hubert Harrison freely-accessible worldwide via the Hubert Harrison Papers Digital Collection on the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library website.

Perry is also the editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); author of the Deutscher Memorial Prize - nominated, and Herbert Feis Award - nominated, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2008); and he wrote new introductions and supplemental notes for the expanded edition of Hubert Harrison's When Africa Awakes: The "Inside Story" of the Stirrings and Strivings of the New Negro in the Western World (Diasporic Africa Press, 2015).

Volume 2 of his Hubert Harrison biography -- Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927 (Columbia University Press, December 2020) in addition to being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, was nominated for the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, the Plutarch Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Perry’s two-volume biography of Harrison is believed to be the first full-life, multi-volume biography of an Afro-Caribbean and only the fourth of an African American after those of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.

Perry is also the literary executor for, and chronicler of the life of, Theodore William Allen, whose Papers he preserved and inventoried prior to placing them at the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where many are being put online. He edited and introduced Allen's Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race (1975; Center for the Study of Working Class Life, State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2006) and he has authored numerous other pieces on Allen including a lengthy treatment of his life and work in "The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy" in (Cultural Logic, July 2010 ). 

He also contributed new introductions, back matter, internal study guides, and expanded indexes for the (Verso Books, November 2012), expanded edition of Allen's two-volume The Invention of the White Race (Vol 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control and Vol. 2: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America) and a new introduction for the new (composite) edition of Allen's The Invention of the White Race (Verso Books, 2022).

Writings by Dr. Perry have appeared in numerous publications, he has spoken on radio and TV, and he has delivered presentations at hundreds of domestic and international venues including colleges, universities, unions, libraries, bookstores, museums, conferences, community and educational forums, high schools, and a prison. He is now, amid Covid restrictions, doing zoom presentations and radio interviews.

Here are video samples of Dr. Perry's Slide Presentation talks on Theodore W. Allen's "The Invention of the White Race" and on Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918.

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Enjoyed reading this article.
It would be enlightening to hear about what discussions/arguments or other interactions Perry may have had with history teachers during his years at PHS. In my day (PHS ‘65) the history classrooms were an arena for progressive/opposite-of-progressive ideas, with the teachers facilitating discussions and expressing their own opinions.
I’m with Judy: I’d like to learn more. How did Paramus in the ‘60’s and the teachers at PHS influence Jeff’s trajectory? A local/regional paper should give us that perspective (but I’m so glad that you ran a story about this amazing g accomplishment). I read volume 1 and as an academic I’m amazed at the ability of an independent scholar to produce such quality work.
A voice that America needs at a critical time in its history. Dr. Perry and his life's work is the blood we need for our survival as a Democratic Society. Thank you!!!

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