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
X: A Life of Reinvention
left us far too soon but he didn’t leave us empty-handed.
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 BlackCommentator.com 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
more information on the conference, click here.)
BlackCommentator.com 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.