The works of Black American intellectuals since 1965 have been shaped by a growing awareness that the place of Black Americans within larger American society is always in flux. After the major victories for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, questions arose as to what Black Americans could do next to further cement their place as equal citizens and consumers in America. As I examined last week with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Where Do We Go From Here, Black intellectuals began to think about a world after the Civil Rights Movement. For King, obviously, the battle for equal rights and economic justice was far from over. But he was also aware that the tenuous goodwill he and other civil rights leaders gained through 1965 from the mainstream press was beginning to wane by the summer of 1966. The rise of white backlash, feared by civil rights leaders and white liberals alike, finally came in 1966, voiced itself in the midterms that year, and would become a key part of American politics for the rest of the 1960s.
Today I’ll take a look at Harold Cruse, a man whose name is synonymous with Black intellectuals in 1967 thanks to his book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. For Cruse, a former Communist who was finding a new niche within the Left as a burgeoning Black nationalist, the book was a vehicle with which to criticize other Black intellectuals on the Left who, in his eyes, were too naïve to offer an effective vision for Black America’s future. The book is best known for its searing critiques of Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, and the growing Black Power movement (which I’ll definitely come back to). Something that cannot be forgotten about the book is his constant critique of the West Indian influence on the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States. I want to argue that the debate about what Cruse had to say in regards to the Black Left is still very important in Obama’s America, and that the debate about what he held as a radical vision for America and its Black population is also very important.
Cruse’s book was written with the idea that the Civil Rights Movement, and the larger Black Freedom Struggle, were uniquely American issues. So, for him, the influence of West Indian immigrants was a hindrance, and missed the uniqueness of the American struggle for equality. He also interpreted the Black Power movement as a misdiagnosis of America’s racial and cultural problems. Wrote Cruse, “But a closer examination of every analysis by each Black Power exponent from SNCC and CORE reveals that while the slogan cast a revolutionary sounding theme and a threat of more intense revolt across the land, the substance was, in fact, a methodological retreat to black social reforms.” (emphasis his) In other words, while Black Power as a slogan sounded new and fresh, it was in fact a return to older forms of Black self-help, and a move away from revolution. I’ve interpreted this critique of Black Power by Cruse as both an attempt to move away from what may have been perceived as a Black Power movement that showed elements of influence by events in the Third World, as well as a return by Cruse to a more radical alternative that, while not multi-racial, was certainly “America” in its prescription for the future.
Cedric Johnson, in his recent book Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics, offers a different take on Cruse’s stance in his landmark work. He argues that critics of Cruse “miss (his) faith in materialist critique” and that Cruse’s “turn to black nationalism/ethnic pluralism was an unfortunate development and might be understood in retrospect as a strategic concession emerging from his fatalistic view of postwar American politics.” Cruse, no less than King, was being influenced by the changing tide in American politics. Where King was swimming more and more against it, however, in some ways Cruse was already beginning to adjust to a more conservative future.
The pivot of 1967 once again shows itself to be important. What I’ve written so far is really just a brief sketch of the Black Left in America as of 1967, as it began to fracture under the weight of planning out a new future for Black Americans. To be clear, these fractures were already forming well before 1967—keep in mind the differences over tactics within the Civil Rights Movement, for example. Nonetheless, 1967 was a key year because of the rise of Black Power, the transformation of King into a publically radical figure, and Cruse’s attempt to adjust his left-wing ideology to a new era. Next week I’ll delve deeper into Cruse, and offer more thoughts on his relationship to 1967’s moment of crisis.
 Although, I think it’s important to question the idea of “white backlash” as suddenly coming after the “long, hot summers” of the mid-1960s. Recent scholarship has reminded historians and other readers that concerns about Black movements for civil rights and equal opportunity in jobs informed politics since at least World War II and had echoes in the Reconstruction era. See Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996) and Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (2008) as well as Timothy Thurber, Republicans and Race: The GOP’s Frayed Relationship With African Americans, 1945-1974.
 Cruse, Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, pg. 545.
 Johnson, Cedric. Revolutionaries to Race Leaders: Black Power and the Making of African American Politics. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), pg. 5-6.