Harold Cruse

Author of 'The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual'

Irascible, angry but gifted, the social analyst Harold Cruse was a leading black public intellectual of the 20th century, writing on the unresolved race-class issues that plague black and white America.

Harold Wright Cruse, social critic: born Petersburg, Virginia 8 March 1916; staff, Department of History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 1968-77, Professor of History and Afro-American and African Studies 1977-84 (Emeritus); died Ann Arbor, Michigan 25 March 2005.

Irascible, angry but gifted, the social analyst Harold Cruse was a leading black public intellectual of the 20th century, writing on the unresolved race-class issues that plague black and white America.

Cruse was the arch-enemy of integrationist black intellectuals as Harlem in the 1940s emerged from the depths of the Great Depression. He believed there was a profound leadership problem. Although briefly associated with the Communist Party, Cruse believed that black intellectuals and their white, socialist, particularly Jewish, allies, were misdirecting negroes from truly radical and creative actions. This hiatus arose, he claimed in his best-selling book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967), because of their alienation from the masses and hence their inability "to specifically and independently define negro goals".

Cruse was ideally placed to make these observations. Born in 1916 in Richmond, Virginia, seat of the slave-owning confederacy, he was a migrant to Harlem, the Mecca of the New Negro, along with thousands of other poor black southerners, and from an early age lived with his working-class father and stepmother.

He served in the segregated US Army in the Second World War and then, largely self- educated, got most of his schooling in militant labour and Communist Party cadres.

Cruse was a formidable and audacious critic of black social, political and artistic life. But The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual established his place in American and African American Studies. It is probably the definitive critique of the negro intelligentsia and most lucid analysis of the impasse in race relations in America.

His analysis begins with the crucial clash in the 1920s between the black nationalist and pan-Africanist principles of the mass movement leader Marcus Garvey and the integrationist approach championed by W.E.B. Du Bois, then an officer in the white-influenced National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Cruse criticises severely the editors of Freedomways, the pre-eminent progressive black journal of the period, led by Du Bois and Paul Robeson. By contrast, he praises self-determined grassroots southern and northern black leaders: the armed self-defence committees of Robert Williams in Monroe, North Carolina, and the rebels of the Watts uprising in Los Angeles.

Cruse concludes with a "Postscript on Black Power" and a controversial question that still gnaws at the vitals of today's black intellectuals in white societies: "How do we measure up to the complex problem of being spokesmen on behalf of the black masses?"

New assessments of Cruse's work are under way at the Atlanta think-tank the Institute of the Black World, and the Black Policy Conference at Harvard University this month will keep his adversarial points of view alive.

The significance of his work - his suggestion that intellectuals must learn from the black masses and play a central role in movements for radical change - is still hotly debated. The Harlem intellectual Howard Dodson, Chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, concludes, however,

Cruse was probably right, the mid-century mass actions in the North, of Harlem negroes led by the Rev Adam Clayton Powell Jnr, and the brave vanguard of the civil rights movement in the South, were probably more productive in the equality struggles than the posturing of black and white socialist intellectuals.

Following the publication of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Cruse took up a position at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in African American Studies and retired in 1984 as Professor Emeritus.

His later books include Rebellion or Revolution? (1968) and Plural but Equal: a critical study of blacks and minorities and America's plural society (1987). His work is also celebrated in The Essential Harold Cruse: a reader (2002), edited by William Jelani Cobb.

Thomas L. Blair

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable