harold cruse


Annual Harold Cruse Symposium, Northeastern Illinois University Center for Inner City Studies, 1972

“The special function of the Negro intellectual is a cultural one. He should take to the rostrum and assail the stultifying blight of the commercially depraved white middle-class who has poisoned the structural roots of the American ethos and transformed the American people into a nation of intellectual dolts. He should explain the economic and institutional causes of this American cultural depravity. He should tell Black America how and why Negroes are trapped in this cultural degeneracy, and how it has dehumanized their essential identity, squeezed the lifeblood of their inherited cultural ingredients out of them, and then relegated them to the cultural slums. They should tell this brain-washed white America, this "nation of sheep,” this overfed, over-developed, overprivileged (but culturally pauperized) federation of unassimilated European remnants that their days of grace are numbered.“
—  Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual

The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure of Black Leadership (New York Review Books Classics)

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 by Harold Cruse

Published in 1967, as the early triumphs of the Civil Rights movement yielded to increasing frustration and violence, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual electrified a generation of activists and intellectuals. The product of a lifetime of struggle and reflection, Cruse’s book is a singular amalgam of cultural history, passionate disputation, and deeply considered analysis of the relationship between American blacks and American society. Reviewing black intellectual life from the Harlem Renaissance through the 1960s, Cruse discusses the legacy (and offers memorably acid-edged portraits) of figures such as Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin, arguing that their work was marked by a failure to understand the specifically American character of racism in the United States. This supplies the background to Cruse’s controversial critique of both integrationism and black nationalism and to his claim that black Americans will only assume a just place within American life when they develop their own distinctive centers of cultural and economic influence. For Cruse’s most important accomplishment may well be his rejection of the clich?s of the melting pot in favor of a vision of Americanness as an arena of necessary and vital contention, an open and ongoing struggle.  [book link

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The peculiarities of the American social structure, and the position of the intellectual class within it, make the functional role of the negro intellectual a special one. The negro intellectual must deal intimately with the White power structure and cultural apparatus, and the inner realities of the Black world at one and the same time. But in order to function successfully in this role, he has to be acutely aware of the nature of the American social dynamic and how it monitors the ingredients of class stratifications in American society…Therefore the functional role of the negro intellectual demands that he cannot be absolutely separated from either the Black or White world.

-Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967)

Racial democracy is, at the same time, cultural democracy; and the question of cultural democracy in America is posed in a way never before seen or considered in other societies. This uniqueness results historically from the manner in which American cultural developments have been influenced by the Negro presence. Since a cultural philosophy has been cultivated to deny this truth, it remains for the Negro intellectual to create his own philosophy and to bring the facts of cultural history in focus with the cultural practices of the present.
—  Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual