African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

9
Doing What Comes Unnaturally: Increasing African American Faculty Presence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities

William B. Harvey

Life for me ain't been no crystal staircase.--Langston Hughes

Some 30 years ago, the noted African American scholar Harold Cruse offered the following observation in his groundbreaking book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Cruse ( 1967) wrote that "in the detached social world of the intellectuals, a considerable degree of racial integration and ethnic intermingling does take place on a social level. While the Negro intellectual is not fully integrated into the intellectual class stratum, he is, in the main, socially detached from his own Negro ethnic world" (p. 9). The positive transitions in identification that have occurred for people of African descent are obvious as we have evolved from being Negroes to Blacks to African Americans. But it is not clear over this 30-year period how much progress, or lack of same, the men and women who are considered intellectuals have made in reattaching themselves to, as Cruse put it, their own ethnic world.

Are African American intellectuals, who presumably are mostly academicians, connected to the world in which their brothers and sisters work, live, and play? Or are they detached, physically and psychologically, from the African American multitude, wandering about their ivory towers and engaging only those people who are in their intellectual class stratum? If they are detached, how can they become reconnected to the African American community? These are provocative questions, for they touch on considerations of leadership and solidarity among African Americans, and attempts to answer them necessitate understanding the changes that have occurred in the larger culture as well as on the higher education landscape since Cruse presented his assessment of the situation.

When Cruse made his comment back in 1967, almost all African American faculty members were employed in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). By ignoring the availability of African Americans who were qualified

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