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Marable's analysis is slightly off. The black demand for self-determination was never

 limited to black nationalism  in the 20th century. Early black socialist activists

such as Hubert Harrison and Cyril Briggs—black communists of the Depression

and World War II era—as well as many of the black radicals of the black

power era, some traditional Marxists and others who combined socialism

with black nationalism, all supported the demand for self-determination.



   Books by Manning Marable

 Black Liberation in Conservative America  / Living Black History  / How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America

Race, Reform, and Rebellion  /  W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat  /  Race, Reform, and Rebellion

The Great Wells of Democracy  /  Afro-Cuban Voices: On Race and Identity in Contemporary Cuba

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Manning Marable Reinvents Malcolm X

Excerpts of Reviews of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Compiled by Rudolph Lewis


The Man Behind the Myth of Malcolm X

Excerpts by William P. Jones


April 29, 2011

In reconstructing his alternative to the Autobiography, Marable discovered details about Malcolm's life that some admirers will find disturbing. Building on the research of Bruce Perry, Marable describes a sexual relationship between Malcolm and a wealthy white man named William Paul Lennon. He also shows that Malcolm developed a condescending and often abusive attitude toward women, culminating in a marriage that was motivated less by romance and mutual respect than the desire to conform to the Nation of Islam's standards of respectability. Revelations about Malcolm's private life elicited a scathing review from Karl Evanzz, who has written extensively on Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X's daughters, Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, have denounced Marable's account as incompatible with their own memories of their parents' relationship.

Malcolm's daughters admit that they did not read Marable's book and [Karl] Evanzz bases his critique on contrary evidence in the "far superior" Autobiography, so it would be unfortunate if readers allowed their criticism to detract from the broader interpretive arc of the new biography. Historians have enriched our understanding of the non-violent civil rights movement by examining its origins in the social democratic radicalism of the 1930s and 1940s, but recent studies continue to locate the "roots of Black Power" squarely in the decades following the Second World War. This is a valuable corrective to an older tendency to treat Black Power as a misguided departure from the non-violent tradition, but it overlooks the even deeper links between postwar activists and the Black Nationalism of the early twentieth century. More than any other scholar, Marable reveals the continuity of that "long Black Power movement."

At five hundred pages, Marable's scholarly work is not likely to displace the Autobiography on best-seller lists or even many college syllabi. Some readers may be disappointed that Marable ends the book without exploring the impact that Malcolm X had on radical politics in the late 1960s. He shows that both black and white activists were attracted to the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which Malcolm X founded after leaving the Nation of Islam, but tells us little about how they implemented his ideas following his assassination. Marable seems more interested in following the lives of his murderers and their accomplices, which is interesting but not clearly linked to Malcolm's legacy or its meaning for readers today. He addresses those questions in a brief epilogue, but draws hasty and rather unconvincing parallels to contemporary events ranging from Barack Obama's electoral victory to the United States' relations with the Islamic world. The contrast between this ending and the rich detail and nuanced analysis of the early chapters suggest that Marable's declining health may have prevented him from giving full attention to the final stages of the project.

Those complaints aside, Marable has produced a definitive study of one of the best known and yet least understood figures in late twentieth century American politics. Some readers will reject his attempt to move beyond the mythical image projected by the Autobiography, but most will appreciate his effort to humanize and historicize the man behind the myth.

William P. Jones is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is writing a history of the 1963 March on Washington.

Source: Portside

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Rethinking Malcolm What was Marable thinking?

Excerpts by Abdul Alkalimat


July 8, 2011

My argument is that Malcolm’s life was not an intended self-invention process through his agency, but a global process that summed up the journey so many were to make from being members of the oppressed to embracing Black self-determination and becoming revolutionaries. This is the dialectical materialism of social change in the late 20th century and on that basis people held, and continue to hold, Malcolm in the highest regard and they lived, and continue to live, the life he epitomized.


Now we come to politics and the strategy and tactics advocated by Malcolm X. Strategy is the long term view of how to seize power and transform society, making clear what forces in society can be counted on and what forces one will have to fight. Strategy also focuses on the goals of a struggle. Tactics are the methods used in the day-to-day struggle in which a lot of flexibility and innovation is needed in the tit-for-tat encounters with the enemy and in mobilizing the masses of people. Tactics are subordinate to strategy and can’t be equated or else one will confuse the zigzag of the struggle with the goal and basic plan for mobilization, organization and victory.

On a global level, Marable gives us a clue of how he invents his own Malcolm X. He states: “The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, was in many ways a fulfillment of Malcolm’s international vision,” page 485. This is ridiculous. Malcolm X would have condemned the Durban meeting just as he did the 1963 March on Washington. Apparently the writer of the epilogue of Marable’s book forgot what the writer of Chapter 4 had written: “Black American leaders, Malcolm now urged, must ‘hold a Bandung Conference in Harlem,’” page 120.

Malcolm’s life was not an intended self-invention process through his agency, but a global process that summed up the journey so many were to make from being members of the oppressed to embracing Black self-determination and becoming revolutionaries.

Durban was a conference in which the imperialists were trying to assert their hegemony over anti-racism and decolonization. Bandung was a third-world gathering to plan unity and resistance in opposition to the imperialists. Compare Wikipedia’s descriptions of each meeting: World Conference Against Racism 2001 / Bandung Conference.

Malcolm X never believed an honest discussion could be held with imperialists. He would have predicted what actually happened in Durban: The U.S. imperialists blocked any open debate in order to defend their client state, Israel.

On Malcolm X’s political thinking, Marable writes: “Despite his radical rhetoric, as ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ makes clear, the mature Malcolm believed that African Americans could use the electoral system and voting rights to achieve meaningful change,” page 484. Here Marable refuses to embrace the dialectical thinking of Malcolm X. First, Malcolm’s thinking was grounded in the radical Black tradition. See what Frederick Douglass wrote 100 years earlier in an article titled “The Ballot and the Bullet,” 1859:

“If speech alone could have abolished slavery, the work would have been done long ago. What we want is an anti-slavery government in harmony with our anti-slavery speech, one which will give effect to our words and translate them into acts. For this, the ballot is needed, and if this will not be heard and heeded, then the bullet. We have had cant enough and are sick of it. When anti-slavery laws are wanted, anti-slavery men should vote for them; and when a slave is to be snatched from the hand of a kidnapper, physical force is needed, and he who gives it proves himself a more useful anti-slavery man than he who refuses to give it, and contents himself by talking of a ‘sword of the spirit,’” reprinted in Douglass 1950, page 457-458.

The ballot or bullet theme in Black radicalism is in fact a fundamental tenet of American politics. It was part of the ideological rationale for the American anti-colonial war of liberation from England. It was stated in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, 235 years ago. Read the full text if you want to understand the tradition on which Malcolm X stands – a radical American tradition.

Malcolm’s “Ballot or the Bullet” speech was part of his spring 1964 offensive. It is important to be clear on the historical context in which he was giving political leadership. Forces that preceded and surrounded him undoubtedly impacted his thinking:

1. The increasingly militant struggles in the South, especially those led by Medgar Evers after the brutal murder of Emmett Till in 1955.

2. Robert Williams and his Monroe, North Carolina, armed self-defense strategy as summed up in his book “Negroes with Guns,” 1962.

3. The armed group Deacons for Defense and Justice formed in Louisiana in 1964.

4. The Revolutionary Action Movement, a group led by Max Stanford, who went on to influence the development of the Black Panther Party. This was the only other organization that Malcolm X joined.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Vice President and then President L.B. Johnson consolidated his own leadership by staying the course and supporting major civil rights legislation, so the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law on July 2, 1964.

During the summer of 1964, SNCC led the civil rights organizations that had formed into a coalition called the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in 1962 for a major offensive in Mississippi. This was the Mississippi Summer Project. Hundreds of activists poured into the state and confronted the heart of racist state power. The House passed the bill in February 1965, but a Senate filibuster held it up. The Senate filibuster ended on June 19.

Three movement activists—Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner—were martyred by assassination in Philadelphia, Miss., on June 21. Out of the Mississippi Summer Project came a political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, MFDP. It was the MFDP that brought Fannie Lou Hamer to Harlem in 1964, where she appeared on a platform with Malcolm X.

From the local precinct level to a delegation going to the national convention, the MFDP fought the racist party organization that excluded Black people. The main civil rights leaders tried to get the MFDP to accept being seated at the convention without voice or vote. The MFDP, with the SNCC, rejected this as a sellout. In the meantime, the bullets kept flying . . . .

In 1965-66, the struggle was developing. The defeat of the Watts rebellion led to the ideological advance of the “Black Power” slogan and the new revolutionary organization called the Black Panther Party, followed two years later by workers throwing up a new revolutionary force on the factory floor called the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. The U.S. armed forces put down major urban rebellions and assassination of Black radical leaders continued.

The 1964 presidential campaign brought forward the ultra-right in the form of Barry Goldwater. By 1966, “Black Power” emerged as a key ideological slogan. Electoral victories led to the first major Black mayors of Cleveland, Ohio, and Gary, Ind.

By 1968, things got even more extreme when Alabama Gov. George Wallace, the nation’s leading segregationist politician, ran for president and won the Indiana primary. Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968 and 1972, but was run out of office in disgrace in 1974. A struggle for power was taking place.

Malcolm X laid the basis for understanding these events: the Senate filibuster and racist state power, the murders and the unity between the Klan and the government and the emergence of Black Power in both electoral and more militant forms as well. This was indeed the ballot and the bullet, 20th century edition.

The analysis that Malcolm laid out in his spring 1964 speeches amounts to a theory of the U.S. racist, capitalist state that is based on finding a strategy to fight against it. First, the power of the U.S. ruling class, as based on Southern fascism versus a Black united front; then, armed self-defense for Black liberation as self-determination versus that racist state power.

Marable advances an argument that separates Malcolm from his legacy, a legacy that was in fact us—the Black liberation movement. But no activist in that movement who was in motion at the time will believe his argument. It flies in the face of our experience. . . .

Rather than give us the Malcolm X of the Detroit speeches, the Malcolm X we love and respect, Marable tries to cut him down to size with unsubstantiated arguments under the guise of humanizing Malcolm X. In summary, Marable gives us a perspective that is outside of the Black studies tradition in his attempt to sell books to a wide American book-buying public.

Marable gives us a philosophy that is mechanical and not dialectical, idealist and not materialist. And he attempts to turn Malcolm X into a social reformer rather than the revolutionary that he actually was. In short, Marable fabricates a Malcolm X who would not take militant and revolutionary action against the global war, poverty or degradations of today. That’s why we have to speak up: to respect our legacy and affirm our future.

Rather than give us the Malcolm X of the Detroit speeches, the Malcolm X we love and respect, Marable tries to cut him down to size with unsubstantiated arguments under the guise of humanizing Malcolm X.

Source: SFBayview

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Manning Marable and the Malcolm X biography controversy

Excerpts by Bill Fletcher, Jr.


While the fury over the challenge to Malcolm-as-demigod has been at the core of much of the uproar, some of the initial outrage resulted from the discussion of the possibility that Malcolm engaged in a same-sex encounter for pay prior to his going to prison.  There are some interesting features to this outrage.  This is not the first time that this matter has been raised.  In fact, several authors have posed this issue.  As such, it would have been highly questionable for Marable to have ignored the matter as if it were some imaginary issue.  It is important to note that in Marable’s treatment of this aspect of Malcolm’s life, he used both primary sources (prison letters Malcolm wrote) as well as three secondary sources (including memoirs from Malcolm's nephew Rodnell Collins and his partner in crime Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis) to corroborate his conclusion.

Methodology, however, is not the main issue here.  What infuriates some critics is that the possibility of Malcolm engaging in a same-sex encounter raises questions as to his manhood.  This assumption is based on the erroneous notion that one’s sexuality is a fixed and determined category and that the positive aspects of Malcolm-the-revolutionary leader are somehow invalidated by what at one moment may have been sexual ambivalence. 

The outrage expressed by some people at this ‘revelation’ is certainly tinged with homophobia, although I am not assuming that all of those who have reacted negatively to this segment of the book are automatically homophobic.  Nevertheless, both the outrage and any homophobia associated with it does not withstand scrutiny when challenged, as it has been by Michael Eric Dyson, who has pointed out that the Malcolm who may have engaged in a same-sex encounter for pay was the Malcolm Little of the thug period.  In that period he engaged in pimping, gambling and armed robbery.  For many critics it appears to be completely acceptable that he engaged in these assorted activities but somehow same-sex encounters for pay are over the top.

What is shocking about this debate is how few pages it covers in the actual book (no more than two) and that Marable was very careful in his conclusions.  As with any historian, he draws certain conclusions from the evidence he had but then goes on to make an interesting point:  there were no subsequent examples or claims of either same-sex encounters for pay or homosexual activity period.  While this should have calmed down the critics, the mere suggestion of such activity was enough to unsettle them.

Another feature of the criticism of MX is the allegation that it represents an attempt to portray Malcolm as having the same politics as Marable; liberalize Malcolm so that he is more acceptable to a mainstream audience; or turn Malcolm into some sort of social democrat.  There is no foundation for these arguments.  The closest thing to a legitimate issue was Marable’s poor choice of words to describe Malcolm’s evolution toward Pan Africanism (see below).

The final chapter of the book refutes the critics—hands down—on this matter of an attempt to liberalize Malcolm, etc.   One need only review that chapter and consider the points that Marable raised.  Not in order of importance, but:

1.      Malcolm was not converging with King. [We discussed this point earlier.]

2.      Malcolm saw the need for a complete restructuring of the USA in order for Black liberation to ever be achieved.

3.      Malcolm would most likely have not been enthralled with affirmative action because he would have been looking for more structural solutions to our situation.

4.      Malcolm would have engaged in a certain form of electoral politics.

5.      Malcolm was trying to define his politics at the global level and situate the African American struggle within the global struggle against imperialism and racism.

There is nothing in this that sounds like liberalism or social democracy.  Instead it more closely conforms to variants of anti-imperialist politics, in particular a form of anti-imperialist politics that was prevalent in the global South at that time.

Some critics, however, have raised Marable’s use of the term “race neutral” in talking about the form of Pan Africanism and Third World solidarity Malcolm was advancing in order to allege that Marable was trying to water down Malcolm.  Having known Marable for more than 25 years I would attribute this to either a poor choice of words or a mistaken editing decision.  Let’s explore, however, what Marable was attempting to address.

There was a moment that Malcolm himself described when, during one of his trips, he encountered a North African revolutionary.  The North African revolutionary questioned Malcolm about his use of the term “black nationalism.”  This North African revolutionary, being AFRICAN, was apparently also quite light-skinned and asked Malcolm where that put him in the context of “black nationalism”.  Malcolm did not have a clear answer for this but, towards the end of his life appeared to have been grappling with this issue and what it meant for how he was to conceptualize and describe his politics.

Marable used the term “race neutral” to describe a set of anti-racist politics that were Pan African and Third Worldist, not in the sense that liberals or the right use the term ‘race neutral.’  It would have been more akin to what the South African movement has called “non-racial” or “anti-racist.”  He was trying to describe this as something that was not about black as skin color but more akin to the manner in which “black”, terminologically, came to be used in places such as Britain, South Africa and the Caribbean in the late 1960s and 1970s, i.e., as a political characterization (thus, South Asians often identified as “black” in each of those settings and did not reserve this designation to only those of direct African descent).

What makes the criticism of Marable so patently disingenuous is that one need only consider the body of Marable’s works to know that his usage of the tern “race neutral” was far from an example of liberalism, or other such disorders.

This all leads to a final point, i.e., that many of the criticism of MX have little to nothing to do with the book itself; they have to do with Manning.  So, it is time to explore some of these in order to understand additional aspects of the temper associated with many of the responses. . . .

Marable followed three courses.  One was to make a name for himself in the academy as an exceptional scholar.  Second, he recognized the importance of and worked at the building a Left.  He was never a Marxist-Leninist and, as such, was not involved in the revolutionary party-building efforts of the 1970s and 1980s.  His politics were complicated, even when he was in the Democratic Socialists of America.  In essence he was a Marxist looking to create a mass, left-wing formation that was thoroughly anti-racist and anti-sexist.  He was concerned with and critical of vanguard-ism, as he saw it, among so many radicals, not only in the USA but overseas.  In fact, his book about African and Caribbean politics goes through an important analysis of the collapse of the Grenadian Revolution, the sources of which involved elements of what came to be known as the “crisis of socialism,” including but not limited to vanguard-ism.  

Marable was very influential in the early stages of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a formation that resulted from a split in the Communist Party, USA. Although Marable had never been a member of the Communist Party, he hoped that CCDS would become a mechanism for a Left realignment and the building of a mass, radical, transformative project.

This was also the same person who was at the core of initiating the Black Radical Congress, an effort to create a front or coalition of Black leftists ranging from left nationalists to non-nationalist communists.  If anything could be said of Marable, it was that he approached this in a non-sectarian manner, even where he had differences with individuals (and groups) from other tendencies.

The final of the three courses was Marable’s commitment to entering into mainstream discourses from the Left.  Contrary to many leftists who are content to speak to themselves and their small groups, Marable sought to reach out to a broader range of the general public, from liberals on to the Left. . . .

MX attempts to speak to a broad audience.  It is not directed at the Black Left, though certainly many members of the Black Left have been reading it.  It seeks an audience within Black America and beyond who are and have been trying to understand this remarkable historical figure, Malcolm X.

Yet there is another side to MX that relates to the strategic differences that emerged in the BRC (noted earlier).  To some extent Marable was attempting to better understand the strategic challenges that Malcolm confronted in attempting to build a Black radical pole to lead the Black Freedom Movement.  The lost pages from the Autobiography, Malcolm’s interest in electoral politics; and, Malcolm’s embrace of Pan Africanism were not isolated ideas or notions, but reflected an effort by Malcolm to fashion a strategic vision and direction that would root the Black radical movement he sought to build within the larger currents of Black America. 

His announced intention, for instance, of supporting Civil Rights workers in the South was a significant step taken to build a bridge in the Black Freedom Movement.  Rather than castigating Black liberals and progressives who followed Dr. King, by 1964 Malcolm saw a chance for his brand of Black radicalism (with a nationalist bent, since it is important to note that there was Black radicalism already within the ‘King’ camp of both similar and different bents) to directly link with and influence other tendencies within Black America.  I believe that this is one thing that made Malcolm most intriguing for Marable.

Source: BlackCommentator

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Malcolm X: Criminal, Minister, Humanist, Martyr

Excerpts by Touré


June 17, 2011

For a more complete and unvarnished—yet still inspiring—version of Malcolm’s life, there’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by the late Columbia scholar Manning Marable. It’s the product of more than 10 years of work and draws on Malcolm’s letters and diaries; the results of surveillance conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department; and interviews with Malcolm’s contemporaries, including Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, whom Marable talked to for nine hours. Farrakhan has said that Malcolm was like “the father I never had.”

The loudest rumor before the book’s release was that it would shed light on Malcolm’s secret homosexual past. When he’s a young hustler, we find him apparently being paid to do things with one rich, older white man, but this moment is brief and anticlimactic and does not convey the impression that Malcolm was bisexual. Besides, there are far more titillating things in this book, which dives deep into Malcolm’s sex life. Marable obtained a letter Malcolm wrote in 1959 to Elijah Muhammad, then the leader of the Nation of Islam, in which he complains about his wife, Betty Shabazz: “At a time when I was going all out to keep her satisfied (sexually), one day she told me that we were incompatible sexually because I had never given her any real satisfaction.” Marable describes Malcolm as a virulent misogynist and a horribly neglectful husband who repeatedly got his wife pregnant, perhaps to keep her from making good on threats to cuckold him, and also made a habit of leaving for days or months immediately after the birth of each child.

That’s a Malcolm we all haven’t seen before. Meanwhile, the Malcolm we do know starts coming into view far earlier than expected, given that he’s known for metamorphosis. Born in Omaha in 1925, Malcolm was drilled as a child in the principles of Marcus Garvey — nationalism, separatism, Pan-Africanism, black pride, self-reliance, economic self-­empowerment—by his parents, Earl and Louise Little. Malcolm’s father was a particularly powerful role model: a devoted Garveyite who in 1930s Michigan stood up for what was right for black people, even in the face of death threats, and then paid for his bravery with a gruesome end. The apple did not fall far at all. And as a young man working the streets of Harlem, Malcolm came to know most of the stars of ’40s jazz and absorbed their example, learning to use pace, tone and space in jazz­like ways and perhaps to become a sort of jazzman of the spoken word. “He lived the existence of an itinerant musician,” Marable writes, “traveling constantly from city to city, standing night after night on the stage, manipulating his melodic tenor voice as an instrument. He was consciously a performer, who presented himself as the vessel for conveying the anger and impatience the black masses felt.”

As Malcolm moved away from the insular religiosity of the Nation of Islam, which at the time counseled members not to vote, and into political issues, his relationship with Elijah Muhammad began to rupture. Many know that Muhammad’s womanizing—the married minister fathered children with several young women—was one cause of the break between them, but few know how close their sexual paths ran. Evelyn Williams, one of the most fascinating characters in the book, fell in love with Malcolm when he was a street hustler, then moved to Harlem and joined the Nation after he became a minister. Malcolm proposed to her but changed his mind days later. After he became engaged to Betty, Williams ran screaming from the mosque. She was soon sent to Chicago to work for Muhammad and later had his baby.

That must have been painful for Malcolm, but Marable does not cite Muhammad’s womanizing as the main reason Malcolm broke with the Nation. Instead, he points to an incident in Los Angeles in 1962, when police officers burst into a mosque and shot seven Nation members, killing one and paralyzing another. Malcolm moved to create a squad that would assassinate members of the Los Angeles Police Department, and when Muhammad vetoed that idea, Malcolm lost faith in him, wondering if he really cared about his people’s lives. Right there the bond was irreparably shattered. Later, Malcolm told Farrakhan, a protégé turned rival, about Muhammad’s affairs, a conversation Farrakhan said he would have to report to the minister. This set Malcolm’s death spiral in motion.

Touré’s new book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now,” will be published in September.

Source: NYTimes

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Lawsuit Threatened over Malcolm X Biography

Excerpts by AFRO Staff

28 May 2011

Columbia University, Viking Press and the estate of Manning Marable face a potential lawsuit over assertions in Marable’s posthumously-released biography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X:A Life of Reinvention.

Lawyers representing a key figure in the biography, in a “cease and desist” letter to the publisher May 23, challenged the characterization of Linwood Cathcart, a Malcolm X colleague in the Nation of Islam.

The letter from Cathcart’s attorney Mark Fury threatened legal efforts “not by any means necessary, but by all available means at law or equity.”

In the book, Marable implicates former Nation of Islam Minister Linward X Cathcart in the murder of Malcolm X. Cathcart and his lawyers strongly refute the claim and said that New York police and FBI investigators “dismissed him as a potential suspect.”

“Your author, Manning Marable, knowingly printed false allegations, misleading statements and made glaring omissions that clearly defame Mr. Cathcart, injure him and his family, and even put him and them at risk of physical harm,” Fury wrote.

Fury said that Marable got several facts in the book wrong, including the fact that the men shared a girlfriend named Sharon Poole.

Marable said in the biography that Poole and Cathcart lived together. Fury claimed that she rented an apartment in his house for years with her husband, while Cathcart lived there with his wife of 40 years.

Fury said his client wants the books removed from stores and corrections made immediately.

“Therefore, please be advised that should you fail to remove the book from shelves and make the necessary corrections immediately, I shall seek to enjoin your further distribution of the book and punitive damages, not by any means necessary, but by all available means at law or equity,” Fury wrote.

Despite these claims, Marable received many kind words at his death. NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous said Marable was “one of the keenest intellects of our age to the contemporary conversation on race in America.”

Marable’s good friend, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, told the AFRO that it was time that the world gave Marable “his due” and that “a giant has fallen.”

Source: Afro and BlackRadioNetwork

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What he might have become

The fascinating evolution of his beliefs

Excerpts by Mark Lane


7 April 2011

Mr Marable argues that the Autobiography was more of a memoir—hence the exaggeration of the young Malcolm’s involvement in hard-core crime—than a solid exercise in objective fact. Rather than rely on the Autobiography, Mr Marable has scoured contemporary press clippings in America, Europe and Africa. He has benefited, too, from the recent release to the public of hundreds of Malcolm’s letters, photographs and texts of speeches.

Malcolm was only one of the prominent black figures in America’s turbulent racial politics of the early 1960s. John Lewis, now a member of the House of Representatives, was organising the Freedom Riders in an attempt to register black voters in the American South; Martin Luther King was preaching non-violence in the black quest for civil rights; and Stokely Carmichael, one of the Freedom Riders but soon to join the Black Panther Party, was becoming impatient with non-violence and coining the slogan “black power”.

It was Malcolm, however, who appealed most to poor blacks, rural and urban alike: “Impoverished African Americans could admire Dr King, but Malcolm not only spoke their language, he had lived their experiences—in foster homes, in prisons, in unemployment lines,” writes Mr Marable. The question was how Malcolm would use this appeal.

He was originally Elijah Muhammad’s favoured disciple, but his attraction to politics did not fit with the Nation’s refusal to be involved in the civil-rights movement. By early 1964 Malcolm had formally left the Nation. The estrangement was both personal, thanks to the jealousy Malcolm had provoked at the Nation’s headquarters, and ideological: his conversion to orthodox Islam was at odds with the heresies of the Nation (not only did Elijah Muhammad claim to be a new prophet but the Nation’s founder, Wallace Fard, had claimed to be the personification of Allah).

Was the Nation responsible for Malcolm’s murder? Its leaders denied any link, but Louis Farrakhan, later to become the Nation’s leader on the death of Elijah Muhammad, had declared in December 1964 that: “Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death.” As Mr Marable notes: “This code phrase was a call to arms within the sect.” The conviction of three men from the Nation failed to silence sceptics who suspected police and FBI complicity.

Mr Marable avoids judgment on the assassination. Instead he examines Malcolm’s legacy. Whereas King appeared on an American stamp and has a national holiday in his honour, Malcolm appeared on an Iranian stamp and has been lauded by al-Qaeda. Mr Marable speculates on what might have been if Malcolm had lived: “

As his social vision expanded to include people of divergent nationalities and racial identities, his gentle humanism and antiracism could have become a platform for a new kind of radical, global ethnic politics.” Maybe. Yet some may feel that this conclusion rests more on the author’s wishful thinking than on the reality of the life he describes so well.

Source: Economist

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Marable’s Malcolm X Book Puts Icon in Context

Excerpts by Michael Dawson

29 April 2011

Malcolm X's ability to capture that sentiment among blacks, combined with his growing realization that the equally strong demand for full equality was consistent with such a sentiment, provided the foundation for the great majority of black radical movements moving forward. Black feminism's break with Malcolm X was not because of his demand for black self-definition or black power per se; nor was it because of the demand for full equality. Rather, the break was with the patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia that Marable makes clear were also essential parts of Malcolm X's personality and politics. 

Black self-definition had several components, according to Marable's analysis of Malcolm X's politics. One key element was a strong, foundational Pan-Africanism that was both cultural and political. Malcolm X's Pan-Africanism was cultural in several senses—not the least his insistence that blacks in the United States were historically tied to blacks in Africa and throughout the Diaspora.

It was political in the sense that X saw the political fate of blacks in the United States tied to the liberation of blacks throughout the world, not just in theory but in practice. Perhaps the central political component of Malcolm X's view of black self-determination was his insistence that blacks in the U.S. had the right to choose their political relationship with the United States. As Marable states, "He never abandoned the nationalist's ideal of 'self-determination.' "

Here I think Marable's analysis is slightly off. The black demand for self-determination was never limited to black nationalism in the 20th century. Early black socialist activists such as Hubert Harrison  and Cyril Briggs—black communists of the Depression and World War II era—as well as many of the black radicals of the black power era, some traditional Marxists and others who combined socialism with black nationalism, all supported the demand for self-determination. Malcolm's influence in advocating self-determination both had deeper roots and wider influence than suggested. 

In his epilogue, Marable wonders if, with the election of Barack Obama, blacks still (if ever) "have a separate political destiny from their fellow white citizens" and whether Malcolm would have to "radically redefine self-determination and the meaning of black power in a political environment that appeared to many to be 'post-racial'."

Do we live in a post-racial society? I do know from survey and other evidence that black Americans between 2009 and 2010 once again became disillusioned with the antics of some of their fellow white citizens in the Tea Party and elsewhere, who often appeal to white racism while pursuing a policy agenda that would be devastating to the African Americans who were once Malcolm's main constituency—the black poor in particular.

The majority of blacks once again are pessimistic about blacks achieving racial equality in the foreseeable future, while the great majority of white Americans believe that racial equality has either been achieved or is imminent. So self-determination may or may not need to be "radically redefined," but the need for black political power demonstrably remains in a country where the political disagreements, which still arise along racial cleavages, remain so vast.

Michael Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; his third book on black politics, Not in Their Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics, will be published this fall by the University of Chicago Press.

Source: TheRoot

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Manning Marable’s Controversial New Biography

Refuels Debate on Life and Legacy of Malcolm X

Interview Excerpts by Amiri Baraka


19 May 2011

Amy Goodman:—on this day that Malcolm X would have been 86 years old, what do you think we should understand about him?

Amiri Baraka: Well, we should understand the impact that Malcolm had on the whole of American society. I think that the one problem I have with Marable’s book is Marable never understands that the black liberation movement had the most impact on American society—not the CP, not the DSA, not any of these social democratic groups, but the black liberation movement had. And it wasn’t—if it wasn’t for the black liberation movement and people like Malcolm, people like Martin Luther King, people like Rosa Parks, wouldn’t be an Obama. You know, that’s the fruit of that struggle. And to downplay—I mean, calling the Nation of Islam a sect, or saying that Malcolm loved history, but he wasn’t a historian, you know, these are the kind of things that show you that it’s a class bias that Marable had. And I’m not opposed to Marable; he was a friend of mine. I was in his office waiting for him the day before he died. You know what I’m saying? But he clearly denigrates the black liberation movement.

He tries to make it seem that the Nation of Islam, we know, killed Malcolm X. That’s not true. The people who killed Malcolm X are the people that had most opportunity to kill him. And they say there’s a killer still lurking in my town, Newark. I think we should ask the police who that is. They are the ones in charge of that. You know, they should—they should be the ones put on the grill for that.

But the thing of trying to so-called humanize Malcolm, especially by adding these little unproven non-facts about him—see, because I’m not worried about the charges of, you know, homosexuality or that he, you know, had some kind of affair with this fool Kenyatta. There is no proof of that. That’s just speculation. Why put it in there? You understand?

When my wife and I got 3,000 pages from the FBI, which they claim they didn’t have, I had to go to Allen Ginsberg’s lawyer to get that. They charged me 10 cents apiece for the pages. What she said, Amina said this, she said, "Well, look, the stuff they crossed out—we need to worry about the stuff they let you see, because it’s the stuff they let you see that’s going to twist what you think." And then I just pushed it aside. And I think the same thing. Marable got those tidbits from where? FBI, CIA, New York Police, BOSS, and people that hated him. And then they—

Amy Goodman: What do you mean by "those tidbits"?

Amiri Baraka:  Excuse me?

Amy Goodman: What do you mean, "those tidbits"?

Amiri Baraka: Well, all the rumors, the unproven rumors.

Amy Goodman: About?

Amiri Baraka: About Malcolm and Betty and those kind of things. You know, in fact, ironically, I had written Marable a month before that about his journal, where he quoted this man Thomas 15X saying that he had burned down the mosque, see? I mean, burned down Malcolm’s house in Long Island. And I wrote, "Well, how do you know that? Why would you quote this guy who was a professed enemy of Malcolm? Or to tell me about Captain Joseph, who said on television that Malcolm was Benedict Arnold?" You understand? There’s no consistency in Marable’s reporting, because his consciousness is somewhere else, you see. . . . Do you understand who you’re interviewing? See, I tell you, I wrote a letter to Marable a month before that, when he’s quoting Thomas 15X, the guy who accuses the Nation of Islam of setting fire to Malcolm’s house. And I said, “Do you think this is intelligent to quote these people?” . . .

If you’re going to quote a lot of people who either dislike Malcolm because he broke away from Elijah Muhammad, or you’re going to quote the very kind of a police force and secret police force that actually killed him, you know, then it makes the whole thing shaky. I’m not saying the book does not have a reason for existing that you can accept, but I’m saying if you’re going to make the book readable, because you’re going to throw in some unsupportable facts about Charles Kenyatta, who was a fool, some unsupportable facts about Betty Shabazz, which you cannot prove, you know, and which you’re going to just spice the book up—he had something about Malcolm, the day before he got murdered, went and slept with this woman—he said "might have" slept with this woman. Now, where did "might have"—where did that get in there? . . .

I was sitting in his office the day before he died. I was sitting in Marable’s office the day before he died, waiting for him. When I got home, they told me he had died. So I’m not no enemy of Manning’s. We worked together. I’m just saying what I disagree with that work. You know. . . .

Well, I met Malcolm the month before he was murdered, in the Waldorf Astoria, which was a hotel room by Mohamed Babu. But anyway, the thing that Malcolm impressed me with was a call for a united front.

Source: DemocracyNow

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Leaving Shabazz 

By Tariq Ali


1 May 2011

Malcolm made a second, longer African trip from July to November 1964, visiting a string of countries where he met a range of intellectuals and political figures. In Egypt, he spoke at the oau conference and talked with Nasser; in Ghana, he met Shirley DuBois and Maya Angelou; in Tanzania, Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu and Julius Nyerere; in Kenya, Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta. The international dimension was crucial to his thinking in the final months. In mid-December, he invited Che Guevara—in New York for the celebrated un General Assembly speech—to address an oaau rally; Guevara did not attend, but sent a message of solidarity. ‘We’re living in a revolutionary world and in a revolutionary age’, Malcolm told the audience. He continued:

"I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance of realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world. As long as we think—as one of my good brothers mentioned out of the side of his mouth here a couple of Sundays ago—that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out."

The fact that many of the initial recruits to the OAAU had come from the Nation of Islam was used by Elijah Mohammed and Malcolm’s numerous enemies within the Nation of Islam to depict him as a ‘traitor’. They decided to execute him, as he knew they would. In December 1964 he came to speak at Oxford. Afterwards, I walked him back to the Randolph Hotel, where we sat and spoke for over an hour. On parting I expressed the hope that we would meet again. He shook his head: ‘I don’t think we will.’ Why? ‘I think they’ll kill me very soon’, he said calmly. ‘Who will kill you?’ Here he had no doubts: it would be the Nation of Islam or the FBI, or both together. He explained how his break with separatism and moves to build alliances with progressive white groups made him a dangerous figure. In February 1965, three assassins from the Nation of Islam gunned him down at an oaau meeting in New York. Three years later, Martin Luther King, too, was killed soon after he broke with the Democrats and decided to stand as an independent Presidential candidate. And in the years that followed the FBI systematically organized the assassinations of Black Panther leaders and activists.

The strength of Marable’s account is the huge amount of information he provides. Everything is in here, but it comes at a cost, often disrupting the narrative. Details of Malcolm’s personal life—his unhappy marriage, his male lovers in prison—crowd what is essentially a political biography. The emphasis on the Nation of Islam is not totally misplaced, but it is accorded far too much space, at the expense of any discussion of the overall social and political contexts, both us and global, within which Malcolm operated. The result is seriously unbalanced: the events that shaped his continuing intellectual evolution—the killing of Lumumba and the ensuing crisis in Congo; the Vietnam War; the rise of a new generation of black and white activists in the us, of which Marable was one—are mentioned only in passing. This is a great pity, because in historical terms their significance far outweighs that of the audience sizes of various Nation of Islam meetings or the sectarian infighting which Marable discusses at length. Marable also makes some nonsensical comparisons between the Nation of Islam and Shia Muslims as well as other clumsy references to Islam that it might have been better to exclude.

Conversely, the book might have benefited from a comparative survey of the different sects, black and white, that proliferated in the US in the interwar years; the Nation of Islam were not the only game in town—Mormons, Scientologists, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses all gained large followings at the time, and remain influential now.

In an Epilogue, Marable sums up Malcolm’s legacy, seeking to counter ‘revisionist’ ideas that in his final years he had been ‘evolving into an integrationist, liberal reformer’. Correctly he argues that Malcolm would have had nothing to do with affirmative action—what he sought was ‘a fundamental restructuring of wealth and power in the United States’. He always demanded that middle-class blacks be accountable to the masses of poor and working-class African Americans. Marable contrasts the posthumous fates of Malcolm and Martin Luther King Jr: the latter sanctified by the political establishment as a martyr to a ‘colour-blind America’, celebrated by an official annual holiday, while Malcolm was pilloried and stereotyped by the mass media, albeit as ‘an icon of black encouragement’ to African American youth. Marable then tries to elide King with Obama, differentiating Malcolm from both of them. This is both sad and grotesque.

King was killed for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He never turned his back on the plight of African-Americans. The reason why he broke from the Democratic Party was to unite blacks and whites against war and for social justice. Obama’s record speaks for itself. Malcolm would have lambasted him for escalating the war in Afghanistan and extending it to Pakistan, where thousands of civilians have been killed by ‘targeted’ drone attacks. He would have pilloried Obama’s role as Wall Street’s handmaiden, even as working-class America, black and white, suffers from rising levels of unemployment and social deprivation. His words at Michigan State University in 1963 are all too applicable today, as many are coming to realize.

Marable suggests that Obama’s election means that Malcolm’s vision would have to be ‘radically redefined’, for a political environment that appears to be ‘post-racial’. In that case, Malcolm might have asked, why is it that in 2011 the number of African-Americans incarcerated in US prisons is the same as the slave population in 1860? And why, despite the ascent of such figures as Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Obama, do blacks remain on the lowest rung of the social ladder? Malcolm was not such a prisoner of the American dream as to think that getting a dark-skinned man in the White House need necessarily do anything to change the fundamental structures of wealth, race and power.

Source: NewLeftReview  69, May-June 2011, pp. 152-160.

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Why questions about Malcolm Xs sexuality are irrelevant

Excerpts by Javier E. David


6 March 2011

Marable's book is a near-masterpiece, detailing events that transpired throughout Malcolm's life that were previously shrouded in mystery. Some of the more eyebrow-raising revelations found in A Life of Reinvention include Malcolm's extensive drug use prior to his conversion to Islam, which may have included cocaine; an alleged cover-up of the plot to assassinate Malcolm by the New York Police Department; and that a Newark man may have played a key role in his slaying. But the book breathes new life into one element in particular of Malcolm's early years—his alleged bisexuality—which has long provided a subtext to the gripping narrative of the civil rights activist's life.

According to Marable's research, Malcolm spent much of his late teens and early 20s wending his way through a "variety of hustles" that included work as a "steerer" where he connected a network of prostitutes with willing johns. That line of work led him to be linked with one Paul Lemmon, a well-to-do Boston resident that may have been one of Malcolm's sexual conquests.

It should be said outright that this area of Malcolm's life is neither new nor novel. Speculation about his sexuality soared after the publication of a 1992 book, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. The novel's author, Bruce Perry, alleges Malcolm had sporadic same-sex encounters throughout his hustling years, claims which have yet to be independently verified. However, Marable's scholarly research in A Life of Reinvention discounts the idea that Malcolm was a practicing bisexual. The rather amorphous claim, based exclusively on Malcolm's employment by Lennon as his personal butler, barely takes up one full page of the 600-plus behemoth. The professor even goes out of his way to explain that there was "no evidence from his prison record in Massachusetts or from his personal life after 1952 that he was actively homosexual."

For someone who was less than athletic in his adolescence, Malcolm X cut an imposing figure when he reached adulthood. Such was his raw power that none other than the Nation of Islam's firebrand Louis Farrakhan, upon encountering Malcolm for the first time in 1954, was quoted in Marable's book as saying the fallen civil rights hero could be so intimidating "I was scared of him." Malcolm X's unapologetic message of black self-actualization gets lost in historical accounts of his often strident rhetoric, but without question much of his mystique lay in his preternatural poise and unquestioned masculinity.

All the more reason why posthumous conjecture about Malcolm's sexual orientation is spurious at best, and utterly irrelevant at its worst. A Life of Reinvention makes clear that Malcolm's relationship with Lennon was limited at best: on its face the arrangement appeared much more financial than romantic. Much of the available literature about his life makes clear that Malcolm's early years were a blur of dissolute behavior and endless hustles that he probably regretted with age. Upon his release from prison, Malcolm devoted himself full-bore to civil rights activism and religious conversion. No verifiable claims of male liaisons have surfaced since.

The possibility of Malcolm X's bisexuality begs the obvious question: so what? In the current environment, there seems to be a prurient temptation to refract the legacies of historical figures through a prism of modern-day sexual mores. Such notions, however, are devoid of the necessary context. Although his biography can polarize, Malcolm continues to be a world-bestriding historical figure, and by all accounts was a devoted husband and father. The example that he set, as a family man and a person of deeply held principle, is one that can be emulated by anyone, regardless of their race, creed or sexuality.

Source: TheGrio

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The Legacy of Malcolm X

Why his vision lives on in Barack Obama

Excerpts by Ta-Nehisi Coates


May 2011

Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind?

The implicit jab was not at some specific white person, but at a systemic force that compelled black people toward self-loathing. To my mother, a poor black girl, Malcolm X said, “It’s okay. And you’re okay.” To embrace Malcolm X was to be okay, it was to be relieved of the mythical curse of Ham, and reborn as a full human being.

Virtually all of black America has been, in some shape or form, touched by that rebirth. Before Malcolm X, the very handle we now embrace—black—was an insult. We were coloreds or Negroes, and to call someone “black” was to invite a fistfight. But Malcolm remade the menace inherent in that name into something mystical—Black Power; Black Is Beautiful; It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.

Hip-hop, with its focus on the assertion of self, the freedom to be who you are, and entrepreneurship, is an obvious child of black consciousness. One of the most popular music forms today, it is also the first form of pop music truly to bear the imprint of post-’60s America, with a fan base that is young and integrated. Indeed, the coalition of youth that helped Barack Obama ride to the presidency was first assembled by hip-hop record execs. And the stars that the music has produced wear their hair however they please.

For all of Malcolm’s invective, his most seductive notion was that of collective self-creation: the idea that black people could, through force of will, remake themselves. Toward the end of his book, Marable tells the story of Gerry Fulcher, a white police officer, who—almost against his will—fell under Malcolm’s sway. Assigned to wiretap Malcolm’s phone, Fulcher believed Malcolm to be “one of the bad guys,” interested in killing cops and overthrowing the government. But his views changed. “What I heard was nothing like I expected,” said Fulcher. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Let’s see, he’s right about that … He wants [blacks] to get jobs. He wants them to get education. He wants them to get into the system. What’s wrong with that?’” For black people who were never given much of an opportunity to create themselves apart from a mass image of shufflers and mammies, that vision had compelling appeal.

What gave it added valence was Malcolm’s own story, his incandescent transformation from an amoral wanderer to a hyper-moral zealot. “He had a brilliant mind. He was disciplined,” Louis Farrakhan said in a speech in 1990, and went on:

I never saw Malcolm smoke. I never saw Malcolm take a drink ... He ate one meal a day. He got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to say his prayers . . . I never heard Malcolm cuss. I never saw Malcolm wink at a woman Malcolm was like a clock.

Farrakhan’s sentiments are echoed by an FBI informant, one of many who, by the late 1950s, had infiltrated the Nation of Islam at the highest levels:

Brother Malcolm . . . is an expert organizer and an untiring worker . . . He is fearless and cannot be intimidated . . .  He has most of the answers at his fingertips and should be carefully dealt with. He is not likely to violate any ordinances or laws. He neither smokes nor drinks and is of high moral character.

In fact, Marable details how Malcolm was, by the end of his life, perhaps evolving away from his hyper-moral persona. He drinks a rum and Coke and allows himself a second meal a day. Marable suspects he carried out an affair or two, one with an 18-year-old convert to the Nation. But in the public mind, Malcolm rebirthed himself as a paragon of righteousness, and even in Marable’s retelling he is obsessed with the pursuit of self-creation. That pursuit ended when Malcolm was killed by the very Muslims from whom he once demanded fealty.

But the self-created, martially disciplined Malcolm is the man who lives on. The past 40 years have presented black America through the distorting prism of crack, crime, unemployment, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration. Some of its most prominent public faces—Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, O. J. Simpson—have in varying degrees proved themselves all too human. Against that backdrop, there is Malcolm. Tall, gaunt, and handsome, clear and direct, Malcolm was who you wanted your son to be. Malcolm was, as Joe Biden would say, clean, and he took it as his solemn, unspoken duty never to embarrass you.

Among organic black conservatives, this moral leadership still gives Malcolm sway. It’s his abiding advocacy for blackness, not as a reason for failure, but as a mandate for personal, and ultimately collective, improvement that makes him compelling. Always lurking among Malcolm’s condemnations of white racism was a subtler, and more inspiring, notion—“You’re better than you think you are,” he seemed to say to us. “Now act like it.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues for and the magazine. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle

Source: TheAtlantic

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So That Colored People Might Color Themselves Anew...'

Excerpts by Ta-Nehisi Coates


One of the more philistine critiques of Malcolm X holds that he "never did anything." You hear this often among people who believe that the only way to understand Malcolm is to compare him to Martin Luther King who "did things." I think this misses the incredible cultural revolution that's overtook black America in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  

In my new piece for the magazine I argue that that revolution has spread to the entire country, so much so that it laid the groundwork for a president with an African name. For as surely as 2008 was made possible by black people's long fight to be publicly American, it was also made possible by those same Americans' long fight to be publicly black. Put simply, Malcolm X is all around us in ways that we now take as normal. 

To illustrate that point I reached past Malcolm to someone a little closer to home...

When my mother was 12, she walked from the projects of West Baltimore to the beauty shop at North Avenue and Druid Hill, and for the first time in her life, was relaxed. It was 1962. Black, bespectacled, skinny, and buck-toothed, Ma was also considered to have the worst head of hair in her family. Her tales of home cosmetology are surreal. They feature a hot metal comb, the kitchen stove, my grandmother, much sizzling, the occasional nervous flinch, and screaming and scabbing. 

In the ongoing quest for the locks of Lena Horne, a chemical relaxer was an agent of perfection. It held longer than hot combs, and with more aggression—virtually every strand could be subdued, and would remain so for weeks. Relying on chemistry instead of torque and heat, the relaxer seemed more worldly, more civilized and refined. 

That day, the hairdresser donned rubber gloves, applied petroleum jelly to protect Ma's scalp, stroked in a clump of lye, and told my mother to hold on for as long as she could bear. Ma endured this ritual every three to four weeks for the rest of her childhood. Sometimes, the beautician would grow careless with the jelly, and Ma's scalp would simmer for days. But on the long walk home, black boys would turn, gawk, and smile at my mother's hair made good. 

Ma went off to college, leaving the house of my grandmother, a onetime domestic from Maryland's Eastern Shore who had studied nursing in night school and owned her own home. This was 1969. Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. Baltimore had exploded in riots. Ma hung a poster of Huey Newton in her dorm room. She donated clothes at the Baltimore office of the Black Panthers. There, she met my father, a dissident of strong opinions, modest pedigree, and ill repute. In the eyes of my grandmother, their entanglement was heretical, a rejection of the workhorse ethos of colored people, which had lifted my grandmother out of the projects and delivered her kids to college. The impiety was summed up in a final preposterous act that a decade earlier would have been inconceivable—my mother, at 20, let her relaxer grow out, and cultivated her own natural, nappy hair. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates, born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore, not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

Source: TheAtlantic

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Reinventing Malcolm with Marable

Pursuing Pathology by Another Name

Excerpts by Dr. Maulana Karenga

21 April 2011

Every work reflects, consciously or unconsciously, a philosophical framework within which it is rooted, conceived and carried out, no matter what claims are made about objectivity and detached critical analysis, and Manning Marable's recent, posthumously published and problematic book on the life of Min. Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, is not exempt from this rule or reality. Indeed, Marable's work and the subsequent controversy of denunciation and praise which surrounds it raises larger questions beyond the book about how we understand, interpret and write history. It also raises interrelated questions of how we address the tendency of so many Black intellectuals to embrace the deconstructionist approach to history and humanities writing, pursuing criticism as an act of faith and revelation of the unseemly as proof of progress toward "humanizing" persons thought to be in need of it.

Clearly, deconstructive writing as critical analysis is to be embraced and encouraged, but deconstructionism in its most negative forms can easily degenerate into collecting and musing over trivia, trash and other extraneous information whose sensationalist character becomes a substitute for things relevant and more intellectually rewarding. Indeed, it becomes little more than the passionate pursuit of racialized pathology by another name. And, at its worst, it takes the form of "scavenger history," the constant search for stench and stain, bottom feeding on the salacious, unseemly and sensational. This leads to pretensions and claims of revealing new material and offering original insights into things found earlier by others and rejected as uninstructive and unuseful to a more disciplined and rigorous scholarship. . . .

Pursuing the deconstructionist popular culture path, Marable situates Malcolm in the folk tradition of Black outlaws and dissidents, not the tradition of master teacher and moral leader. He assigns to this list Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, Stagger Lee, blues guitarist Robert Johnson, and catering to the hip-hop constituency, rapper Tupac Shakur. A few lines down we discover he is not talking about Malcolm, but rather Detroit Red. This too is a problem of his portrayal of Malcolm, the collapsing of Detroit Red with Malcolm X, refusing to accept the radical rupture Malcolm makes to reconstruct himself as a more worthy and world-historical person and a continuously unfolding human possibility. This is the audacious agency that appealed even to President Obama in his search for an African anchor for his identity, purpose and direction, and is the basis of Malcolm's durability as a model of African and human excellence and achievement among his people.

Marable tells us that he and his researchers and perhaps co-writers of sections, wanted to humanize Malcolm, a kind of saving him from his "manufactured" self and from the alleged mythological conceptions of him hosted and harbored by those too appreciative of Malcolm to see his flaws. But it is important to know what these "humanizers" really mean by this self-assigned and sanctimonious sounding mission of humanizing Malcolm. In such a conception, the flaws are the defining feature of Malcolm's being human and his excellence assumes a secondary role and relevance.

Malcolm expressed a myriad of flaws, but Marable believes he exaggerated some and left out others, and he must set the historical record straight, assigning him flaws which cater to or coincide with current tastes and talk, disrobing and redressing him in costumes of assumed audience and publisher and PR preference. Thus, Marable dismisses Malcolm's pre-Muslim serious juvenile and adult lumpen life, downgrading it as lumpen lite. He pursues his deconstructive argument against available evidence by characterizing Malcolm's pre-Muslim life of crime as a thief, robber, numbers runner, dope-dealer, pimp, panderer and burglar by terming it "amateurish," "clumsy," and "ridiculous," and calling his crime partners "a motley crew."

In addition, he tells us that pre-Muslim Malcolm's efforts to shield his younger brother from lumpen life, "suggests he was never himself a hardened criminal." It's like arguing a mafia member, shielding his son from his business or a pimp protecting his daughter from prostitution makes them less lumpen, i.e., less committed to crime. It is such specious speculation and repeated misreading of Malcolm in too many places that calls to mind a diligent but mistaken scholar trying to translate a Swahili text with a Zulu dictionary.

Source: LASentinel

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Malcolm X’s Daughters Unhappy with Marable Book

Excerpts by Nekesa Mumbi Moody


7 April  2011

Marable subtitled the book A Life of Reinvention in part because Malcolm X acknowledged mistakes and transformed and transcended himself, from street hustler and convict to black separatist of fierce anti-white opinions to political and social activist seeking to work with all races, worldwide. His marriage, however, was widely seen as steady, close and supportive, especially as dramatized by Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett in Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X. Shabazz herself would remember her years with Malcolm as "hectic, beautiful and unforgettable—the greatest thing in my life."

Malcolm X married Betty Sanders, a nurse and fellow member of the Nation of Islam, in 1958. They had six children. According to the book, the marriage was often tense, in part because of Malcolm's wish to have a traditional, subservient Muslim wife and because he was away so often and his life was often threatened. There were problems of emotional and physical intimacy. Marable includes a letter from Malcolm to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad that offers a blunt account of their home life, with Malcolm reporting that his wife believed they were "incompatible sexually." Malcolm also tells Muhammad that Betty had threatened to "seek satisfaction elsewhere."

Marable writes that Betty became involved in 1964 with Charles Kenyatta, a close associate of Malcolm's. Malcolm, too, may have had affairs, although the evidence is uncertain. He knew of the relationship between his wife and Kenyatta, according to the book, and "the news of infidelity seems to have loosened Malcolm's own marital bonds."

Malaak Shabazz said there "may have been a little bit of stress, like any marriage," but that "there was really no times for shenanigans. She raised the children at home; he worked on a global level."

Source: BlackAmericaWeb

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Dragging Malcolm X to Obamaland

Excerpts by Glen Ford


27 April 2011

Gratuitous, non-defensive violence, in Malcolm’s NOI talks, always came from the hand of Allah. Malcolm never rejected the right of self-defense; otherwise, he would not have become Malcolm the icon. Marable knew this, so he again invades Malcolm’s mind (page 302). “By embracing the ballot, he was implicitly rejecting violence, even if this was at times difficult to discern in the heat of his rhetoric.”

What kind of violence was Malcolm rejecting? Certainly, not defensive violence. And Malcolm had never publicly urged Blacks to commit unprovoked aggressions against whites. The purpose of Marable’s sentence can only be to show alleged movement by Malcolm toward some state of non-volatility, which we are expected to associate with political moderation: reform.

Marable grows so bold in pushing his back-to-the-future reformist fantasies, by page 333 he describes a Malcolm X who has become “race-neutral.” On May 21, 1964, Malcolm spoke at Chicago’s Civic Opera House, telling a crowd of 1,500 people, “Separation is not the goal of the Afro-America, nor is integration his goal. They are merely methods toward his real end – respect as a human being.” Malcolm went on the say: “Unless the race issue is quickly settled, the 22 million American Negroes could easily adopt the guerilla tactics of other deprived revolutionaries.” Not that he necessarily advocated that. (wink)

Three days before he was assassinated, Malcolm said, “I’m man enough to tell you that I can’t put my finger on exactly what my philosophy is now.” But, not to worry, Dr. Marable has the vision and the answer. He concluded that Malcolm had “made his race-neutral views clear in Chicago….” There is no rational basis for Marable’s amazing interpretation, other than he thought it moved his political story line on Malcolm’s evolution (or race-neutralization) forward.

The opposite of race-neutral, Malcolm lived and died a Race-Man, meaning simply that he put the Race first. As he wrote to an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood luminary who was disappointed that Malcolm was so decidedly non-race-neutral, “As a black American, I do feel that my first responsibility is to my twenty-two million fellow black Americans” (page 368). . . .

Marable risks making himself look stupid simply to make the intended point that Malcolm and his Black Nationalism and self-determination talk are passé and should be dismissed except as historical artifacts. For Marable and his Black left Obamites, Malcolm’s only other use is to somehow authenticate today’s reformers—and even President Obama!—as heirs to yesterday’s revolutionary Black nationalists. This is the purpose put to Malcolm by Peniel Joseph, the Tufts University professor of history and author of Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, which attempts to draw a straight-line historical connection between Malcolm X and the corporate politician in the White House.

Manning Marable was up to the same trick. “Given the election of Barack Obama,” Marable writes on page 486, “it now raises the question of whether blacks have a separate political destiny from their white fellow citizens.” He does not explain why Black destinies have changed just because a Black Democrat who raised more corporate money than the Republican won a presidential election. How did that electoral fact entwine Black/white destinies in ways that did not previously exist? How were the Black masses empowered by Obama’s victory, and if they were somehow empowered, why would that draw them closer to whites?

It would have been better for Marable to have left out his last chapter of Reflections – it reflected badly on his powers of reasoning.

Finally, Marable attempts to create artificial space between Malcolm X and his direct political progeny, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. On page 403 he wrote:

“Had Malcolm continued to mainstream his views, it is unclear how he would have negotiated relations a few years later with the Black Panthers, a group born of much of the intellectual framework Malcolm had assembled in the early to mid-1960s.”

It is nearly impossible to conceive of a Black Panther Party had there not been a Malcolm X. Marable insults a generation of Blacks that came into political consciousness in the Sixties—a cohort to which he chronologically belonged. He substitutes his imagined, inferred, reinterpreted Malcolm for the man whose words and bearing called forth and virtually sculpted the youthful Party that debuted in the year following his death. Marable projects Malcolm as if he would be a stranger to the Panthers, with whom he would have to “negotiate,” when Malcolm’s life tells us it is far more likely that the emergence of a militant revolutionary nationalist youth movement that spoke his language – because they learned it largely from him – would compel Malcolm to take the struggle to an even “higher level.”

Source: BlackAgendaReport

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An Ivory Tower Assassination of Malcolm X

Excerpts by Kamau K. Franklin


19 April 2011

I am pleased that Karl Evens and Zak Kondo, two biographers of Malcolm X, are speaking up and offering accurate critiques of Manning Marable’s new twisted biography of Malcolm X. They are defending Malcolm’s legacy, as Karl Evens put it, as “a Black Panther of a Man.” Manning’s book is a second assassination along the lines of Bruce Perry’s previous hatchet job and George Breitman’s attempt to move Malcolm from his ideological positions. In Marable’s bio we get a two for one attempt to move Malcolm from being a powerful black nationalist into a more academy friendly anti-racist social justice activist. Dangerous to no one but perfect for a liberal left academic establishment.

The only two books on Malcolm I can remember receiving in-depth New York Times reviews where Manning's and Bruce Perry's. Both were applauded by the Times, and both were meant to reinvent Malcolm and undermine his stature as the fountainhead of modern Black Nationalism. Breitman began the legacy of attempting to re-position Malcolm with his commentary on Malcolm’s shift to the socialist camp by picking individual statements and extrapolating their “true” meaning, which of course tended to be close to the writers ideological position. In Perry’s bio Malcolm sets his own house on fire, he introduces the first claim of Malcolm’s newly discovered sexual habits and tells us how psychologically unbalanced Malcolm was. . . .

When biographers replace their own ideology and wish list for their subjects they are no longer scholars but propagandists who speak through their subjects. The attempt to kill Malcolm again by “making him human” then re-packaging his ideas into the author’s version of a “mature” person is the most disdainful.

Marable claims Obama is part of Malcolm’s legacy. Really? Malcolm supported the bombing of Africa? He supported the continued embargo on Cuba? Free-trade zones? (Malcolm may not have yet been a socialist, but he was clearly anti-capitalist). Reliance on the two party system to solve the problems of African people in the United States? Malcolm spoke about black self-determination, not integration. Malcolm worked openly and actively to improve the collective lives of Black people, devise closer links to Africa and to bring the United States government up on charges before the United Nations, as he said not to bring the case to the criminal (civil rights) but to bring the criminal to court (human rights). This is our Malcolm, the real one.

 Kamau K. Franklin is an activist attorney and a leading member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He is the former co-chair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and a past member of the Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild.

Source: BlackAgendaReport

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Paper Tiger: Manning Marable's Poison Pen

Excerpts by Karl Evanzz


13 April 2011

As a former professional researcher (I worked in the news research department of The Washington Post for more than a decade), I immediately recognized Marable’s fraud, one of many in this pedestrian publication.

The late professor uncovers no significant new material, yet he has the chutzpah to dismiss with a flick of his wrist earlier books about Malcolm’s life and assassination:

In reading “all [emphasis supplied] of the literature about Malcolm produced in the 1990s, I was struck by its shallow character and lack of original sources (p. 490).”

When I began reading Chapter 7, I felt like I was revisiting my biography of Elijah Muhammad. It deals with marital discord between Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and Clara Muhammad. The chapter’s first four pages read like a “reinvention” of chapters from The Messenger, published by Pantheon Books in 1999. I checked the footnotes for those four pages and noticed that seven of the first ten cite The Messenger as the source (p. 521).

Why didn’t Marable use the original source material? He makes no mention of the FBI’s national and Chicago files on Clara Muhammad.

Marable has two primary arguments: (1) the intelligence community and the New York Police Department deliberately ignored serious threats against Malcolm’s X life, and (2) there is overwhelming evidence that the five assassins came from the Nation of Islam’s Newark mosque. That’s it.

His first argument is based upon research in my first book, The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, published in November 1992. His second argument—and the one that the media chose to ignore for the past two decades—is based upon the research of Zak Kondo of Baltimore City Community College. Conspiracys [Conspiracies]: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X (1993) is without question the most authoritative examination of the mechanics of the assassination.

Marable had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his disposal for more than a decade. He had over twenty researchers at his disposal. Given far less capital and manpower, both David J. Garrow and Taylor Branch separately produced three-volume works of encyclopedic detail on Malcolm’s contemporary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite his acknowledgments of gratitude to other prominent researchers and benefactors, Marable’s book is a single volume with questionable documentation.

Poor exposition and inexcusable typographical errors taint the book. When I communicated with Marable last June regarding a statement obtained from Linward X Cathcart by New York police after the assassination, his reply referred to “Linwood” Cathcart. I advised him of the misspelling and cautioned him to check his manuscript for the mistake.

One of his assistants replied under his name and told me that Marable dictated his responses for her to relay. She blamed herself for misspelling the name and assured me that the book had the proper spelling. There are two references to Cathcart’s full name in the book, and both times the name is spelled Linwood (p. 5, 452).It is also misspelled in the index.

In the prologue, Marable describes Malcolm X’s memoir as a “cautionary tale about human waste and the tragedies produced by racial segregation (p. 9).” Human waste? As in feces and urine?

“No man has more accurately described and analyzed the existential, political, social, moral and spiritual plight of a victimized people than has Malcolm X in this book,” an objective reviewer wrote about the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

A Life of Reinvention, by contrast, is immediately forgettable. It was written by a chronic pen pusher who lived a rather unremarkable middle class existence but nonetheless implies that Malcolm X was an amateur this or a mediocre that.

“I’m the man you think you are,” Malcolm X said. Malcolm X was at the top of the class in school, on top of the hustling game during his hoodlum years, and a hell raiser in prison. He was national spokesman for a black organization that barely functioned before he joined in 1952. He was, finally, a revolutionary known and respected by other prominent revolutionaries—Fidel Castro, Ben Bella, and Che Guevara, to name a few.

He was, in short, a black panther of a man. By contrast, Marable was just another paper tiger.

Karl Evanzz is the author of three books, including an investigative look at the assassination of Malcolm X, The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. He is the coauthor of Dancing with the Devil with hip-hop artist Mark Curry. His next book will be published in May.

Source: VoxUnion

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Manning Marable's "Malcolm X”

Excerpts by Wil Haywood

8 April 2011

Malcolm X’s life has inspired filmmakers, writers, painters, rappers and dramatists, yet much about his murder has remained a mystery. Now we have Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X,”a groundbreaking piece of work. Marable, a historian who died on the eve of this book’s publication, convinced people who had been silent for decades to sit for interviews. He also drew upon oral histories, dusty police reports and FBI and CIA documents. The result is not just a biography, but also a history of Muslims in America and a sweeping account of one man’s transformation—and of the conspiracy, abetted by police inattention, that took his tumultuous life. The tension toward book’s end—when Malcolm was trying to figure out who might murder him—is so gripping it nearly soaks through the pages. . . .

Two incidents, in addition to Elijah Muhammad’s infidelities, exacerbated the split between Malcolm X and Muhammad. The first came in 1962, when Ronald Stokes, an unarmed Muslim who was a friend of Malcolm’s, was shot and killed by Los Angeles policemen in a parking lot. Malcolm wanted revenge, but Muhammad urged against it. Malcolm eventually joined with L.A. civil rights leaders to protest police brutality, a move that infuriated Muhammad. The second, more serious incident came in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination. Malcolm tried to blame the killing on U.S. military violence abroad; Kennedy’s death, he said, was an example of “the chickens coming home to roost.” Muhammad was livid. He believed that the authorities would strike back at black Muslims, particularly those in prison, for Malcolm’s words. He suspended Malcolm, and the suspension led to a convulsive split, with Malcolm eventually forming his own organizations. . . .

My only criticism of the book is that Marable did not tell us enough about Malcolm’s family in the years following his death. That family has suffered much pain. In 1995, Qubilah, one of Malcolm’s daughters, was charged with hiring a hit man to murder Louis Farrakhan, who had sided with Muhammad during the Malcolm contretemps. The case fell apart in court. Malcolm’s widow, Betty Shabazz, died in 1997 from injuries suffered in a house fire set by her grandson Malcolm, Qubilah’s son.

It will be difficult for anyone to better this book. It goes deeper and richer than a mere homage to Malcolm X. It is a work of art, a feast that combines genres skillfully: biography, true-crime, political commentary. It gives us Malcolm X in full gallop, a man who died for his belief in freedom, a man whom Marable calls the “fountainhead” of the black power movement in America.

Wil Haygood , a Post reporter, has written biographies of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. and, most recently, Sugar Ray Robinson.

Source: WashingtonPost

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Negative review of Malcolm X bio is rejected

By David Montgomery


14 April 2011

In his review—a shortened version of which he has posted on his blog—[Karl] Evanzz challenges the quality of Marable’s research and chides Marable for “scurrilous” assertions about Malcolm X and people close to him.

But Evanzz said he has no hard feelings toward the Root. “I didn’t spend one minute worrying about them rejecting it, because I expected it,” he said.

The dueling appraisals of Marable’s book raise important questions that deserve wider discussion, said Jared Ball, an associate professor of communications studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He posted Evanzz’s review on his blog and discussed the matter on his Friday morning radio program on WPFW (89.3 FM) in the District.

“It’s a tough situation,” Ball said in an interview. “On the one hand, I greatly respect the career and work of Manning Marable.” But “I think the issues [Evanzz] raises in terms of research, scholarship, the claims of offering new revelations are valuable. I think people should read Marable’s book, read all the reviews, and go back and read all the literature, including Evanzz’s book, and see for themselves where the merit lies in Marable’s book.”

Source: WashingtonPost

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Malcolm X artifacts unearthed—Police docs and more found among belongs of 'Shorty' Jarvis—1 February 2012—Documents outlining the crime that landed Malcolm X in prison in the 1940s are among some 1,000 recently unearthed items purchased jointly by the civil rights leader's foundation and an independent collector of African-American artifacts. The documents and other artifacts belonged to late musician Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis, who served in prison with Malcolm X and was one of his closest friends. Jarvis' 1976 pardon paper also is part of the collection, which was recently discovered by accident. The items had been in a Connecticut storage unit that had gone into default, and were initially auctioned off to a buyer who had no idea what he was bidding on. The Omaha, Nebraska-based Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, which oversees the Malcolm X Center located at his birthplace, will house and display the just-arrived archives. It split the cost with Black History 101 Mobile Museum, based in Detroit—the birthplace of the Nation of Islam.—Mobile Museum founder and curator Khalid el-Hakim declined to identify the original buyer or the price the two organizations paid for the trove. Still, even after splitting the cost, he said it's the largest acquisition to date for his mobile museum, which includes Jim Crow-era artifacts, a Ku Klux Klan hood and signed documents by Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. . . . The collection also reveals an enduring connection between the two Malcolms after their incarceration, Malcolm X's conversion to Islam and his rise to prominence. There's a 72-page scrapbook of Malcolm X's life that was maintained by Jarvis until after his friend's 1965 assassination. One of the civil rights era's most controversial and compelling figures, Malcolm X rose to fame as the chief spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a movement started in Detroit more than 80 years ago. He proclaimed the black Muslim organization's message at the time: racial separatism as a road to self-actualization and urged blacks to claim civil rights "by any means necessary" and referred to whites as "devils."—TheGrio

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Manning Marable's Malcolm X Book

By Amiri Barka

Malcolm X Life of Reinvention Blog

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

Pulitzer Prize for History 2012 Winner—For a distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000). Awarded to Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by the late Manning Marable (Viking), an exploration of the legendary life and provocative views of one of the most significant African-Americans in U.S. history, a work that separates fact from fiction and blends the heroic and tragic. (Moved by the Board from the Biography category.)—Pulitzer

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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

By Jan R. Carew

Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm's family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm's older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm's mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family's experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm's mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X's transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm's death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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