[Marxism] Social Critic, Essayist Harold Cruse Dies
cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Tue Mar 29 06:24:23 MST 2005
When I was a freshman at Michigan in 1968, Harold Cruse just arrived there
as a community scholar. He lived on the same dorm floor as I did. I had a
class with him later. I wrote a paper on Charlie Parker.
Cruse was a wellknown anti-Communist Party guy.
Social Critic, Essayist Harold Cruse Dies
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B08
Harold Cruse, 89, a captivating, sometimes audacious voice in black social,
political and artistic life for five decades whose best-known work was the
essay collection "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual," died March 25 at an
assisted living facility in Ann Arbor, Mich. He had congestive heart
Mr. Cruse had been a student of the theater -- stagehand, failed playwright
-- an Army veteran, a Communist, an ex-Communist, a teacher, an essayist and
a polemicist. But overall, he saw himself as a dissident who offered
political critiques along artistic lines.
Harold Cruse's reputation was launched by his book "The Crisis of the Negro
He used writing to explore issues of social justice and equality;
relationships between blacks and Jews (he resented the idea that a great
bond existed between the groups); and black literature that appealed to
mass, white audiences. He considered it farcical that Lorraine Hansberry's
play "A Raisin in the Sun" would be considered a realistic portrait of
working-class Chicago life.
He criticized notable figures of all races, from the Gershwins for
"stealing" Harlem jazz to black scholar Cornel West, whose fondness for
quoting European philosophers annoyed him.
A New Yorker reviewer was not far off when he wrote that "The Crisis of the
Negro Intellectual," published in 1967, "will infuriate almost everyone."
Viewed by some as a brilliant rant and others as engaging but flawed, the
book established the author as a leading personality among black thinkers of
William Jelani Cobb, an assistant history professor at Spelman College who
edited "The Essential Harold Cruse," wrote that next to "The Autobiography
of Malcolm X" and Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth," Mr. Cruse's
book was "required reading among Black Powerites."
Mr. Cruse held a dubious view of capitalism and its economic influence over
the working class and the media. But he also believed that pragmatism was
more influential in contemporary life than the social and racial utopias
promoted by American Marxists and Communists.
Fascinated by the intersection of the arts and social change, he slammed
white pop and jazz musicians and composers who "achieved status and
recognition in the 1920s for music that they literally stole outright from
Harlem nightclubs." He called for black performers and technicians to
boycott any future production of the Gershwin folk opera "Porgy and Bess,"
which he considered "a symbol of that deeply-ingrained American cultural
paternalism practiced on Negroes ever since the first Southern white man
blacked his face."
Neither did he feel the Harlem Renaissance, the artistic movement of the
1920s, was a success. It was integrationist in nature, he said, and did not
meet his standards for addressing black identity.
Because of the book's notoriety, Mr. Cruse was invited to lecture at the
University of Michigan in 1968. Within a decade, he had risen to full
professor of history -- reportedly one of the first blacks without a college
degree to receive tenure at a major university. In 1970, he helped found the
university's Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. He retired in the
mid-1980s as professor emeritus of history and African American studies.
Harold Wright Cruse was born in Petersburg, Va., on March 8, 1916, and was
taken to New York by his father, who had divorced his mother.
He was determined to be a writer, but he also developed a lifelong
appreciation for the arts through an aunt who took him to black vaudeville
shows on the weekends. Early on, he did technical work at the YMCA theater
After Army service during World War II, he attended the George Washington
Carver School, a Harlem institution run by the poet Gwendolyn Bennett, where
he heard civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois lecture. He regarded the school
as "the Communist Party's cultural base in Harlem."
He had a short stint writing for the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker
and failed in his attempts as a playwright in the mold of Abram Hill, a
founder of the American Negro Theater whose plays "Hell's Half Acre" and "On
Strivers Row" he admired.
He visited Cuba in 1960 as part of a delegation of black intellectuals;
wrote for newspapers and magazines; and taught black history for the Black
Arts Repertory Theatre/School, founded in Harlem by the writer Amiri Baraka.
After retiring from Michigan, he wrote "Plural but Equal" (1987), a book
that was damning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which
the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools.
"As it was implemented in the South," he wrote, "the Brown decision
eliminated black teachers, black principals, black administrators, a whole
generation of experienced administrative public school personnel made
superfluous by integration."
He concluded that "the progress of racial integration as public policy can
be seen as a process that has left the majority of the black population
stranded and stalled at the edges of power while the inner sanctums were
protected from change."
Survivors include his companion of 36 years, Mara Julius of Ann Arbor, and
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