we use the term intellectual, we are talking about people who struggle
around ideas - writers, poets, scholars, researchers, teachers,
students, and activists. Intellectuals are people who grapple with
ideas and who function in the cultural, political, educational, and
economic domains of the society.
of our great esteemed ancestors, Harold Cruse wrote a book, The
Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure
of Black Leadership which was published in 1967, at the height
of the Black Power Movement. This insightful book stirred up a spirited
conversation in the African Liberation Movement. That conversation revolves
around the weaknesses of our movement, the direction of our movement,
and inability of some of the leaders and thinkers of our movement to understand
what Brother Cruse calls “The Great American Ideal.” This problem continues
to linger with us today.
spent most of his activist and organizing days in Harlem,
New York from the 1940s until he accepted a professorship
at the University of Michigan and helped develop their Black Studies Program in 1967. In
Harlem, Brother Cruse was an active participant in most of the major organizing
activities that swept through New York for over twenty years. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual
is a summation of those experiences as it related to the literature
and history of the African Liberation Movement.
This year, 2010
marks the forty-third year of the publication of The Crisis of the
Negro Intellectual. Its importance to our movement has still not received
the attention it deserves, primarily because Brother Cruse was so honest
in his criticisms of our movement and many of its well-known leaders.
Therefore, the book was blocked in many circles from receiving the kind
of legitimacy its substance deserved.
However, a small
group of scholar/activists have discussed and debated Brother Cruse’s
ideas during this forty-three year period and have organized study groups
form time to time that have aided in understanding the ideas that Cruse
presents in his book.
When we use the
term intellectual, we are talking about people who struggle around ideas
- writers, poets, scholars, researchers, teachers, students, and activists.
Intellectuals are people who grapple with ideas and who function in the
cultural, political, educational, and economic domains of the society.
As Dr. Anderson Thompson always says, “Ideas are weapons of war.”
With this definition,
let us review briefly some of the ideas and concepts that Brother Cruse
presented in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. One of the major
points Cruse makes is the African American intellectuals are pathological
in their approach to the choices available to them. It is Cruse’s observation
that they appear to adopt the values of the dominant group, which he describes
as the white Anglo Saxon Protestant.
It was in the
first chapter of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual that Cruse
raised this question of the problem of identity of the African in America people. The question of our identity still
remains a fundamental problem with the African in America Community today.
There is a tendency in the African in America Community to identify with,
emulate, and support other races and ethnic groups at the expense of our
American Ideal espouses one set of principles through the Constitution,
but the basis of reality of this society is founded on ethnic and
religious pluralism not individualism.
this in his book when he described the following: “In 1940, as one of
my first acts in the pursuit of becoming a more social being, I joined
a YMCA amateur drama group in Harlem. I wanted to learn about theater so I became a stage technician
- meaning a handyman for all backstage chores. But the first thing about
this drama group that struck me as highly curious was the fact that all
the members were overwhelmingly in favor of doing white plays with Negro
on this point. “I wondered why and very naively expressed my sentiments
about it. The replies that I got clearly indicated these amateur actors
were not very favorable to the play about Negro life, although they would
not plainly say so. Despite the fact that this question of identity was
first presented to me within the context of the program of a small, insignificant
amateur drama group, its implications ranged far beyond.”
Cruse addresses is that the African in America
intellectual’s conceptualization of our condition is not based on the
ethnic reality of America.
The American Ideal espouses one set of principles through the Constitution,
but the basis of reality of this society is founded on ethnic and religious
pluralism not individualism, according to Brother Cruse.
From the point
of view of Brother Cruse, the African in America
intellectual is not accepted by whites and does not identify with his
or her own racial group. Cruse concludes that the crisis of the African
in America intellectual is an
identity crisis and misunderstanding of the false postulation of the American
For Brother Cruse,
the crisis was whether the African in America
intellectual will accept the challenge of being the spokesman or spokeswoman
of the African in America
masses in terms of setting guidelines for our movement and of understanding
the issues of our race, making proper analyses, and proceeding to help
build our movement. This is still the crisis we face today.
Columnist, Conrad W. Worrill, PhD, is the
National Chairman Emeritus of the National Black United Front (NBUF).
Click here to contact Dr. Worrill.