Like last week and Andrew Hartman’s wonderful post, today I am posting the paper I gave at the African American Intellectual History Society. Some of this will seem familiar to readers of this site, but it is my first crack at what I hope to be the beginning of the second, post-dissertation project I shall begin working on over the summer. Meanwhile, AAIHS has begun publishing a re-cap of the conference–my reflections on it will be posted on their website later this week. Enjoy!
The plight of the black South as an intellectual center was on the mind of Vincent Harding when he wrote a nuanced and otherwise appreciative review of Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual in 1968. Cruse’s book, released the previous year, set off an avalanche of both praise and criticism amongst leftists of all racial hues and ideological dispositions. Harding, a confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a Southerner, noticed an unfortunate omission from Cruse’s magnum opus. “His single-minded focus on Harlem,” wrote Harding, “eliminates treatment of that crucial group of black intellectuals who have operated in the South for the last decade, and who have much to do with the latest resurrection of blackness.” For Harding, forgetting about the African American South was a mistake which threatened to erase not only an entire region of the nation—not to mention the experiences of millions of African Americans—but also damage the growing intellectual ferment of a resurgent African American radical tradition.