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Harold Wright Cruse (8 March 1916 - 25 March 2005) was an American academic who was an outspoken social critic and teacher of African-American studies at the University of Michiganmarker until the mid-1980s. His most recognized work is The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which was published in the mid-1960s. One of the resounding themes in Crisis was, as Christopher Lasch put it, "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 (where Crisis of the Negro Intellectual dealt with the cultural axis of the politics-economics-culture triangle, Plural But Equal dealt more with politics and economics).

Early life

Harold Cruse was born in Virginia in the city of Petersburg. 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, and after graduating joined the army in Europe to serve during World War II.


After returning home Cruse attended the City College of New Yorkmarker, however he never graduated. In 1947 he joined the Communist Party briefly. 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.

Theatre life

He was very interested in the theatre and arts and wrote plays. He became interested in the arts because as a young man, he had an aunt who often took him to shows on the weekend. Cruse became a co-founder of the Black Arts Theatre and School in Harlem.


After giving a lecture at the University of Michigan in 1968, Cruse began teaching an African-American Studies program there. He is known for becoming one of the first African-American professors without holding a college degree. Cruse also helped establish the University's Center for Afro-American and African Studies. He retired from teaching in the 1980s.


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.

List of works

  • 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.


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