Harold Cruse

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Harold Cruse
BornMarch 8, 1916
DiedMarch 25, 2005
Alma materCity College of New York (did not graduate)
EmployerUniversity of Michigan

Harold Wright Cruse (March 8, 1916 – March 25, 2005) was an American academic who was an outspoken social critic and teacher of African American studies at the University of Michigan until the mid-1980s. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967) is his best-known book.


Early life[edit]

Harold Cruse was born March 8, 1916, in Petersburg, Virginia.[1] His father was a railway porter. After his parents divorced, Cruse moved to New York City, New York. Cruse became interested in the arts as a young man, thanks in large measure to his close relationship with an aunt who often took him to shows on the weekend. During World War II, Cruse joined the U.S. Army and served in Europe and north Africa.[2] Upon returning home, he attended the City College of New York without graduating.

In 1947 Cruse joined the Communist Party for several years. Citing a November 26, 1956, document contained in an FBI's declassified Internal case file (No. 100-370842 of assorted documents date August 7, 1950, to January 9, 1969) on Harold Cruse obtained under provisions of Freedom of Information Act, Washington University in St. Louis Associate Professor of English and African-American Studies William J. Maxwell noted on page 106 of his 2015 book F.B. Eye that "Harold Cruse" was "recruited as an undercover Communist Party informant (he proved willing to name names of onetime co-members, but nothing more)."

Theater career[edit]

Cruse viewed the arts scene as a white-dominated misrepresentation of black culture, epitomized by George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess and Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun.

Many believed Cruse was an opponent of "integration" which he referred to as "assimilation" because its policies were only geared towards integrating blacks into white society and not whites into black; betraying an inherent unacceptability of blackness in mainstream America. But in reality Cruse simply believed in a pluralistic society, any group must amass and control its own political, economic and cultural capital before true integration was possible. Without group self-determination, any group, but particularly American blacks would rely on the benevolence of other groups with political, economic and cultural capital, to voluntarily integrate with blacks which would lead to the dismantlement of black institutions and cultural traditions; rather than facilitate an equal and negotiated sharing throughout society.

While Cruse was very critical of American society, he reserved the bulk of his criticism for black intellectuals and leaders who he believed did not have the academic appetite to master the various disciplines necessary to advocate for real and effective societal change.

Academic life[edit]

After publishing The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual in 1967, he was invited to lecture at the University of Michigan (1968) and taught in the African-American Studies program at the Center for Afro-American and African Studies there until the mid-1980s.[3] Cruse was one of the first African-American studies professors, becoming one of the first to earn tenure without holding a college degree.

A theme of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual is that intellectuals must play a central role in movements for radical change. This idea re-appeared in Cruse's other works including Rebellion or Revolution, a compilation of essays, and Plural But Equal.

Death and legacy[edit]

On March 25, 2005, Cruse died from congestive heart failure while living in an assisted-living facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was survived by his partner of 36 years, Mara Julius.


  • Rebellion or Revolution?. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2009. ISBN 9780816668038. JSTOR 10.5749/j.ctttsnv0.
  • The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure of Black Leadership. New York: NYRB Classics. 2005.
  • Plural but Equal: A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America's Plural Society. New York: William Morrow. 1987. ISBN 0688044867.
  • (Ed. William Jelani Cobb). The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader. New York: Palgrave. 2002. ISBN 9780312293963. With a foreword by Stanley Crouch.


  1. ^ Bernstein, Adam (March 29, 2005). "Social Critic, Essayist Harold Cruse Dies". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. pp. B08. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
  2. ^ Warikoo, Niraj (March 28, 2005). "Harold Cruse: Author, Activist and U-M Professor". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. p. B4. Archived from the original on March 30, 2005. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
  3. ^ Lehmann-haupt, Christopher (March 30, 2005). "Harold Cruse, Social Critic and Fervent Black Nationalist, Dies at 89". The New York Times. New York, NY. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 21, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

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