Harold Cruse (1916-2005), a Virginia-born U.S. Army veteran, began his writing life as a playwright and Communist theater critic, regularly publishing in the Daily Worker in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By the mid-1960s, however, Cruse had renounced the Communist Party and embraced an idiosyncratic black nationalism, attacking what he saw as the racial distortions of Porgy and Bess and A Raisin in the Sun and collaborating with Amiri Baraka to build the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem. In 1967, Cruse published his lengthy and cantankerous tour de force, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, a polemical history that had an enormous impact on the first wave of Black Studies scholarship. Condemning what it saw as the assimilationist illusions of several generations of left-leaning black writers, The Crisis also indicted the growing call for “Black Power.” “In effect,” Cruse wrote, the Black Power idea “covers up a defeat without having to explain either the basic reasons for it or the flaws in the original strategy.” Reviewing an anniversary republication of The Crisis in 2007, critic Scott McLemee deemed Cruse’s study “one of the classic works of American cultural criticism. If the author seems cranky at times…well, so does Thorstein Veblen.” On the strength of The Crisis, the degreeless Cruse was hired to teach in the Afro-American Studies program at the University of Michigan, where he remained a professor until the mid-1980s. The FBI kept a file on Cruse from 1950 to 1969, first hoping to recruit him as an undercover Communist Party informant. In 1968, after the success of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual led to its inclusion in the FBI library, a Bureau agent masquerading as a travel agent phoned Cruse’s New York apartment on a pretext call, hoping to discover his plans for international trips.
FBI documents studying Harold Cruse.
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