Cruse, Harold (Wright) 1916–2005

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CRUSE, Harold (Wright) 1916–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 8, 1916, in Petersburg, VA; died of congestive heart failure March 25, 2005, in Ann Arbor, MI. Social critic, educator, and author. Well known as the author of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967), Cruse was an African-American essayist and critic of U.S. society and the media who often disparaged the value of music and theater that was derived from or emulated black culture. As a boy, he became interested in theater after an aunt introduced him to black vaudeville acts; this led to his early work in Harlem for the YMCA's theater, where he was a technical assistant. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he attended the George Washington Carver School. Here, Cruse had the opportunity to hear W. E. B. Du Bois speak, and he developed a sympathy for leftist politics, joining the Communist Party and writing for its newspaper, the Daily Worker. Later, however, he became disenchanted with communism and left the party. During his early career, Cruse held various jobs: he worked as a film and theater critic for the New York Labor Press, as a teacher for the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, and as an office clerk for the Veterans' Administration. Meanwhile, he cofounded the Jones' Black Arts Theatre and School in New York City in 1965, where he worked as a director and stage manager; he also wrote plays but found little success as a playwright. Frustrated with the state of the arts in America, he published The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which stirred the ire of many people due to its author's criticism of jazz and the black theater. He particularly lambasted white jazz musicians, accusing them of stealing a black art form, and became infamous for criticizing George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess. Cruse did not limit himself to disparaging art produced by white Americans; he also criticized the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, whom he felt did not adequately address the issue of black identity. In 1968, Cruse joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he taught history and was named program director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies in 1969. In 1971 he became the center's acting director, and from 1972 until 1973 was its director. Within a few years, he became a tenured professor of history, the first African American without a college degree to become a full professor at a large university. Retiring from teaching in the mid-1980s, he continued to write, publishing Plural but Equal: A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America's Plural Society (1987) and The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader (2002).



Chicago Tribune, March 30, 2005, section 3, p. 10.

Detroit Free Press, March 28, 2005.

Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2005, p. B9.

New York Times, March 30, 2005, p. A19.

Washington Post, March 29, 2005, p. B8.


University of Michigan Web site, (April 28, 2005).