Harold Wright Cruse was born in Petersburg, Va., on March 8, 1916, and moved with his father, a railway porter, to New York City as a young child. After graduating from high school, he worked at several jobs but was ambitious to become a writer. He served in the Army in Europe during World War II.
After the war, he attended the City College of New York briefly but never graduated. In 1947, he joined the Communist Party and wrote drama and literary criticism for The Daily Worker, although he was never doctrinaire. In the 1950's, he wrote several plays, and in the mid-1960's he was co-founder, with LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka), of the Black Arts Theater and School in Harlem.The more he learned about the arts, the more he deplored what he saw as a white appropriation of black culture, particularly as exemplified by George Gershwin's folk opera "Porgy and Bess." He called for blacks to embrace their cultural uniqueness.
His later books include "Rebellion or Revolution?", "Plural but Equal: A Critical Study of Blacks and Minorities and America's Plural Society" and "The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader" edited by William Jelani Cobb with a foreword by Stanley Crouch.
Harold Cruse impressed me when he attended a symposium on the future of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities we organized in 1996 at New York University. He made a passionate and personal presentation, and permitted us to publish his text in our book, The National Endowments: A Critical Symposium. In our panel discussions, Cruse was intelligent, irreverent, and afraid of nobody. His very participation--at a time when we were being shunned by the intellectual and cultural establishment who would permit no criticisms of the cultural agencies--was a very much appreciated gesture.
His book Plural But Equal was not only thought-provoking and original, it probably will be read for many years to come. Interestingly, the writer who introduced his collected writings, Stanley Crouch, was also a member of our NYU symposium.
One didn't have to agree with everything he had to say, to agree that Harold Cruse said many things worth saying. It was a privilege to have met him.