Form and Content
The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual is divided into six parts, comprising twenty-eight sections, none of which is strictly chronological or thematically coherent. Nonetheless, some general distinctions can be drawn. Part 1 functions as an overview of the African American cultural landscape, and in this part Cruse summarizes the themes he plans to flesh out in the body of the book. In particular, he argues for the prime importance of the cultural sector (as opposed to the economic or political ones) for the advancement of African American interests in general. Part 2 looks at the influences, good and bad, of West Indian and Jewish traditions in the Communist Party and nascent African political organizations from the early 1900’s to the 1930’s. It concludes with a chapter on Richard Wright, who serves, for Cruse, as the example par excellence of a brilliant talent boxed in by acquiescence to the West Indian-and Jewish-backed ideologies of the period.
Parts 3 and 4 focus on the formation and dissolution of African American newspapers in Harlem and the merits and flaws of African American playwrights and actors, addressed in chapters on Lorraine Hansberry and Paul Robeson. Part 5 considers the advancements and retreats of both the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the countervailing forces of the cultural nationalist movements. Part 6 is another broad overview of all the aforementioned themes as they have manifested themselves in the early 1960’s. Thus, the circular structure of the book reinforces one of Cruse’s central themes: The promises and failures of African American leadership and cultural nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries repeat themselves in the 1950’s and 1960’s.