The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Analysis

Harold Cruse

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.


Cruse, Harold. “Locating the Black Intellectual: An Interview with Harold Cruse.” Interview by Van Gosse. Radical History Review 71 (1994): 96-120. In this interview conducted shortly after the publication of Cruse’s Plural but Equal, Cruse tells the story of his difficult upbringing in Virginia and New York and his adventures in the Army during World War II. He provides his own assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of his analyses in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, concluding with an overview of the “new black intellectual” class.

Davis, Henry Vance. “Harold Wright Cruse: The Early Years and the Jewish Factor.” The Black Scholar 35, no. 4 (2006): 17-31. Provides an overview of Cruse’s biography and intellectual development, highlighting the sources of the anti-Semitism that detracted from The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, though Davis (like Cruse himself) links the anti-Semitism to the notorious relationship between Harlem and the Communist Party in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Margolies, Edward. “Review.” American Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1968): 249-253. Reviewing four works by African American writers William Demby, Eldridge Cleaver, Lewis Killian, and Harold Cruse, Margolies offers one of the few positive and succinct overviews of Cruse’s book after its publication in 1967. Margolies links it to the advent of a Black Power movement that, for Margolies, must break with a philosophically flawed Civil Rights agenda.

Spillers, Hortense J. “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Post-Date.” Boundary 2 21, no. 3 (1987): 65-116. Spillers’s long and complex article addresses the problematic relationship between “black intellectuals” and their “communities” in the light of the problems articulated by Cruse and Du Bois in their respective texts. For Spillers, the very nature of “responsibility” must be interrogated in the light of the various temptations of the “theatrical” and “celebrity” that veil the only work that the intellectual can do: thinking and writing.

Young, Cynthia. “Havana Up in Harlem: LeRoi Jones, Harold Cruse, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution.” Science and Society 65, no. 1 (2001): 12-38. Discusses the impact of the Cuban Revolution on the formation of cultural nationalism that led to the transformation of LeRoi Jones into Amiri Baraka, as well as the revolution’s reinforcement of Cruse’s ideas about the importance of cultural nationalism for African Americans.