The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Critical Essays

Harold Cruse


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the opening section of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, “Individualism and the ’Open Society,’” Cruse makes short work of the American myth of individual achievement. He argues that, while the bulk of the Constitution recognizes the sanctity of the individual, certain sections—specifically, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments—derive from the political and social experiences of groups—for example, the former slaves. This double trajectory of the Constitution is replicated in a number of areas in American life, but for Cruse’s purposes its pertinent incarnation is cultural nationalism and civil rights agitation, loosely corresponding to group segregationism and individual integrationism in African American history. Just as W. E. B. Du Bois’s central argument against Booker T. Washington was that economic development required the a priori deployment of political power, so Cruse’s argument against integrationists is that individual rights in any one sphere of activity (social, economic, and so on) can be protected only by group power in other, if not all other, spheres. Thus, for Cruse, “power” always means the simultaneous wielding of cultural, political, and economic clout.

This premise governs every subsequent argument Cruse constructs. Thus, in section 2, “Harlem Background: The Rise of Economic Nationalism and Origins of Cultural Revolution,” Cruse delineates the failure of both ordinary Harlemites and the intelligentsia to support the few businesses and cultural institutions actually owned by African Americans. He traces this separation of cultural and economic power in discussions of the rise and fall of the Afro-American Realty Company, the communist-inspired picketing of a film showing at the Apollo, the failed strike of the Lafayette Theatre, the paucity of...

(The entire section is 749 words.)