Click here to go to the Home Page Manning Marable Memorial Conference: Continuing the Discussion About Movement Building - View from the Battlefield - By Jamala Rogers - Editorial Board

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“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it."

-Malcolm X

When Manning Marable died last year on April Fool’s Day, it did seem to like a cruel joke had been played on us. Having received a lung transplant the year before as a result of his courageous and lengthy battle with sarcoidosis, friends thought he was on now the mend. Most ironic was that his sudden death occurred just days before what some would call his “magnum opus” hit the streets. The author of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention left us far too soon but he didn’t leave us empty-handed.

Bill Fletcher, a long-time friend of Manning’s, chose to take on the book’s detractors following the book’s release, a necessary task in order to put the criticisms in their proper perspective. But as important, in his article published in following Manning’s death, Bill shared a discussion with him about how to use the book to advance “a discussion about the state of Black America…the future of Black radical politics.” This weekend offers a unique opportunity to honor Manning and his extensive body of work, to debate the merits of the book and to explore the serious questions facing the Black Liberation Movement and the U.S. Left.

The memorial conference will be held at Columbia University where Manning taught for almost twenty years. It is titled, A New Vision of Black Freedom: Reinvigorating Social Theory, Redefining Political Struggle. I believe it sets the parameters for exactly what our movement needs to be addressing at this point in history. That discussion should not overshadow continuing engagement around the book which already occupies a coveted place in both literary and movement circles. The book is a New York Times #1 best seller and recently won the Pulitzer Prize in the history category.

If you haven’t yet read the book, I encourage you to do so. Don’t let the 500 pages intimidate you; there’s never a dull moment and it’s a moving experience on multiple levels. I don’t think that Manning’s in-depth look at Malcolm X - the good, bad and the ugly, will jade your opinion about the magnanimity of the man. One of Manning’s goals in writing the book was to go beyond the legend, the hero - to disentangle both the personal and political mythologies that have surrounded Malcolm X since his untimely death. As author and culture critic Toure assured us, the book “pulls away the curtain to show us the entirety of [Malcolm’s] life, and the emperor remained clothed.”

Some of the revelations in the book were seen by some critics as unnecessarily putting our shining black prince in a negative light. The two most cited examples of this are Malcolm’s same-sex encounters with a wealthy white man and the issues within his marriage. Neither came to me as bombshells considering the full and lively life of someone like Malcolm X.

The same-sex encounter for economic reasons is no unheard-of phenomenon in our society. I’ve come across plenty of brothers who engage in the practice, especially those in prison, but who don’t self-identify as homosexual or bisexual. As a prisoner once told me, “you do whatcha’ gotta’ do to survive but that ain’t who I am.” If even if Malcolm was gay, does that diminish his voluminous contributions in any way? I think not.

The complicated relationship of Malcolm and his wife, Betty, is also not strange or unique to us in the freedom movement. The movement is rife with brothers who chose/choose to throw themselves into their political work rather than deal with the sometimes tedious issues of building and nurturing a mutually loving and respectful relationship with their woman.

These fallibilities presented some of the missing layers of Malcolm that I had often wondered about over the years: What was Malcolm like as a husband, father, and an organizer?

Sister Imani Perry at Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies underscores that the human being Manning presents to us “is no idealized image. As Malcolm struggles through this process, we see him flailing and failing, at the same time that he is growing and blossoming.”

Reading the book deepened my profound appreciation for both Malcolm and Manning. Manning’s meticulous and exhaustive study of FBI files, court transcripts, films, interviews and articles revealed Malcolm’s development in the context of one this country’s most tumultuous periods.

I believe if you took a snapshot of any period of political enlightenment for a radical, you would see a similar bundle of tensions and contradictions before one landed solidly on his or her feet. In a relatively short period of time, I went from being a black student activist, to the Nation of Islam, to the Black Panther Party, to a black nationalist in the Congress of African People (CAP). Even CAP came to experience its own re-invention as we moved from cultural nationalism to revolutionary nationalism to the left. I vividly recall very specific words to describe Amiri Baraka, CAP’s chair, during that period. The nicer descriptors were “schizophrenic” and “opportunist.” Mistakes were made but the dynamic changes that occurred in CAP were as a result of deepening our collective understanding about our global struggle and attempting to make the necessary changes. Sometimes those with static views and sectarian practices have a difficult time when others are changing around them.

For me, Malcolm is no longer a one-dimensional brother who gave some stinging and inspirational speeches; he is a multi-dimensional human being who was able to make incredible contributions to the Black Freedom Movement because, as Perry writes, “he never ceased seeking” the truth and trying to understand the world in order to change it.

Because the book didn’t deal with Malcolm in a vacuum, readers also get a chance to see the challenges in organizational and societal transformation. While the Black Liberation Movement has become more sophisticated in not allowing the FBI to manipulate contradictions between individuals and organizations, there are some challenges Malcolm faced with which we are still grappling some forty years later.

Some of these include building democratic leadership and organizations that challenge patriarchy and dogma; practicing criticism and self criticism that embraces atonement and redemption; acknowledging the importance of attending to one’s mental, spiritual and physical health; and implementing appropriate strategies and programs that lead to genuine transformation of people, organizations and the society. These themes, and others, are sure to find their way into the plenaries and workshops at the upcoming Manning Marable Memorial Conference.

One of the many attributes I particularly admired about Manning was that he never tried to be an organizer; he left that to folks like me. Instead, he tried to make the Academy relevant to our communities. He worked tirelessly through groups like the Black Radical Congress to bring together the “union of scholarly analysis and grassroots activism as a central project of progressive transformation.”

Let’s celebrate the legacy of Manning Marable. Let’s continue to explore Malcolm’s life and death - Manning couldn’t answer all the questions in his book. If we are able to participate in the conference, let’s do so with purpose and direction, reflecting the principled spirit of Manning. Let’s raise our level of political understanding and unity as we grapple with the critical issues facing our movements.

(For more information on the conference, click here.) Editorial Board member, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.

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Apr 26, 2012 - Issue 469
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