James Henry Hubert (1886-1970) – Social Worker, Activist and Director of the New York Urban League
James Henry Hubert grew up on a farm. Hubert graduated from Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA in 1910. His first teaching experience was at Simmons University, Louisville, Kentucky, in 1911; there he taught economics and sociology.
While at Louisville, James met and married Mae Bentley of Lexington, Kentucky, the daughter of a prominent family of the city.
After having served as an instructor at Simmons University for several years, James left there in 1913 and relocated to New York City where he attended graduate school at the New York School of Philanthropy and Columbia University. In 1914, James received the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University under a fellowship awarded by the National Urban League.
While at Columbia University, James was asked by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Indians and Others of North America, the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society, and the Massachusetts Board of Education to consider working with the Indians at Gay Head, Massachusetts. The job entailed teaching Indians the basic skills and serving as lay pastor of the Indian Baptist Church. James was told that he was chosen for the job because of his strong Baptist affiliation and he was of Indian extraction.
Hubert went to Gay Head, Massachusetts in 1914. Shortly after he arrived on the island, he organized the Indians into a community organization, The Gay Head Improvement Association, and impressed upon them the value of education and religion to their lives. Within one year after he began work at Gay Head, practically every Indian home had a child in school. Every home had a garden and the entire community began to thrive and grow. In addition, Hubert preached two sermons a week at Gay Head Baptist Church and brought many Indians into the church.
After he worked at Gay Head, Massachusetts for three years, James Hubert went to New York City and worked with the National Urban League. His initial task was to find the funds with which to establish a community center and housing project in Harlem. The task was so big that it almost discouraged him from remaining with the League in what was to become a productive and enjoyable career.
To get this huge task launched, Hubert contacted a woman he met while at Columbia University, Mrs. Lillian Wald of the Henry Street Settlement House. Mrs. Wald, a prominent New York social figure, was his contact person to gain referrals to prominent persons who were able to lend financial assistance to his program. As an example, to get the housing project started Mrs. Wald suggested that he see John D. Rockefeller Sr. for land. Hubert followed her advice and went to the office of Mr. Rockefeller’s architect to arrange for an appointment to discuss what land Mr. Rockefeller might have available for the purpose in Harlem. When he arrived, he was detained in an outer office where a man came and asked him what he wanted. James informed the man that he was sent there by Mrs. Wald to see Mr. Rockefeller’s architect about the availability of Rockefeller land for a housing project for Harlem blacks.
The man identified himself as Mr. Rockefeller’s architect and informed James that he was not interested in Blacks or Jews. Hubert maintained his composure and retorted, “I’m not either. I’m interested in people. I’m working for the advancement of Negroes in New York City because they suffer most. I didn’t come to see you about Negroes, but about land.“ The man was astounded. Suddenly he became very interested in Hubert’s conversation and invited him to have a seat while he went into another office and remained for several minutes. When he returned, he invited James to accompany him to Mr. Rockefeller’s office. When they arrived, the architect introduced James to Mr. Rockefeller and told him to explain his purpose for being there. After James explained that he desire to obtain land upon which to build a Harlem housing project, the architect prevailed upon Mr. Rockefeller to give it to him.
Within a short period, the New York Urban League’s housing project was started and James’ career with the league was off to a big start. It was a career that took him from the position of Special Projects Director to Executive Director of the New York office, the position he held until he retired in 1942.
One of Hubert’s outstanding contributions to the African-American community in Harlem developed when he asked Margaret Sanger to open a branch office of her New York City birth control clinic in the center of Harlem, at 2352 7th Avenue near 138th Street.
The clinic opened February 1, 1930. For the next five years, until 1935, the Harlem Branch of the Clinical Research Bureau offered African American and white women clients gynecological examinations by a physician and contraceptive instruction by a nurse. The Harlem Branch clinic also conducted educational programs for the community and carried out fundraising activities to support the clinic’s expenses. From its inception, the clinic involved the collaborative efforts of both African American and white birth control advocates. After the clinic opened, Sanger assembled an Advisory Council of African American community leaders. Some of Harlem’s most prominent African American health professionals, clergy, and social activists participated in the clinic’s work.
Intertwined, and sometimes conflicting, elements of women’s rights, economic security, and racial progress laid the ground for cooperation and conflict between the Advisory Council and Sanger and the white clinic staff. Both groups shared a concern about the high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and both supported birth control as a basis for promoting women’s health and the health and well-being of their families. At the same time, disparaging attitudes about the poor ran through the perspectives of both groups, although the Advisory Council disputed any suggestion that biologically based racial traits accounted for the problems the poor of Harlem faced. Where they differed from Sanger, the Advisory Council members were able to influence her management of the clinic. The council’s influence was apparent as well in the clinic’s publications and educational programs. The Advisory Council’s efforts reflected their commitment to racial justice based in equal opportunity through full integration.
In recognition of the significant contributions James Henry Hubert made in the area of social services and arts and letters, Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia, conferred upon him in 1937, the Honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
After he retired from the Urban League, James became field secretary to the Association for the Advancement of Negro Country Life, in 1943. the organization had been founded by his brother, Benjamin F., to improve and perpetuate country living.
James Henry Hubert died in New York City in 1970 at the age of eighty-five. His wife, Mae died in New York City in 1976.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J. (2012). James Henry Hubert (1886-1970) – Social Worker, Activist and Director of the New York Urban League. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/hubert-james-h/