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Harold Wright Cruse (1916 - 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. His most recognized work is The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, published in 1967.




Early life

Harold Cruse was born March 8, 1916, in Petersburg, Virginia. His father was a railway caretaker and at a young age Cruse moved to New York City, New York after his parents divorced. He went to high school in New York City.

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. Upon returning home, he attended the City College of New York, however he never graduated.

In 1947 Cruse joined the Communist Party, remaining in the party only briefly.

Theater career

In the mid-1960s Cruse, along with LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka), founded the Black Arts Theater in Harlem. 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

After giving a lecture at the University of Michigan in 1968, Cruse began teaching an African-American Studies program there.

Cruse is known for becoming one of the first African-American studies professors, albeit without holding a college degree. Cruse also helped establish Michigan's Center for Afro-American and African Studies.

Cruse's best-known work is the 1967 book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. One of the resounding themes of this work is that intellectuals must play a central role in movements for radical change. This theme re-appeared in his other works which include Rebellion or Revolution (a compilation of essays) and Plural But Equal.

He retired from teaching in the 1980s.

Death and legacy

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 wife of 36 years, Mara Julius.


  • Rebellion or Revolution?
  • The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
  • Plural but Equal: A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America's Plural Society
  • The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader edited by William Jelani Cobb with a foreword by Stanley Crouch.


Additional reading


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