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In 1974 Marable joined the Democratic Socialists of America [DSA], and for a time

was even a Vice Chairman of that organization which is called “Left” but is not

a Marxist and certainly not a Marxist-Leninist organization. It is one of those

organizations like the group that split from Lenin’s 2nd International which

 he called socialists in word but chauvinists in reality.



Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone  / The Essence of Reparations / Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems  / Blues People

 Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka / Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones / Black Music

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music / Home: Social Essays

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Books by Manning Marable

From the Grassroots / Blackwater / Black Radical Democrat  / How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America / Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Race, Reform and Rebellion / Beyond Black and White / Let Nobody Turn Us Around  / The Great Wells of Democracy / Living Black History

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Manning Marable's Malcolm X Book

By Amiri Baraka


On Mar 30 I waited for a car that Manning Marable was supposed to send to pick me up at my house so that we could meet later that day in his office at Columbia University because he wanted to interview me as part of an oral history project. I had met with him two weeks before to discuss how Columbia would handle my papers, that is when we scheduled this last project.  But the car never came. I called another driver I knew, a friend of mine and we drove to Columbia, but Marable was not there. It seemed no one at the Africana studies department knew where he was. Finally some word got to me that Manning had gone back into the hospital. I went back home, the next day I got the news on the internet that he had died.

The strangeness of that missed appointment was weird enough, but the fact that his last work on Malcolm X was to be released two days later made the whole ending of our living relationship a frustrating incomplete denouement.

Initially, a friend of mine gave me a copy of the book at a happy discount. Taking it on one of my frequent trips out of town, I began to read. I gave that first copy to my wife when I returned because she had also, as many other people had, been clamoring to read it. As well as asking me relentlessly had I read it. I bought another copy of the book at the Chicago airport, and I guess started to get into the book seriously.

I have known Manning for a number of years. Actually I met him while he was still teaching in Colorado. I even worked under him, when I taught briefly at Columbia University, when he was chairman of the Africana Studies Dept. at Columbia. As well, I have appreciated one of his books, the Du Bois (Black Radical Democrat) work and at least appreciated the theme of How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, as well as the entire stance of his acknowledgement of the important aspects of American (Black American) history which had to be grasped. 

But as recently as a few weeks ago, ironically I had written him a letter about his journal Souls about an essay that quoted a man* who had been accused of participating in the assassination, making some demeaning remarks about Malcolm. My letter questioned the “intelligence” of including the quote since it offered nothing significant to the piece. This was not just loose criticism; I really wanted to know just what purpose the inclusion served. ( *This man Thomas 15X is the same one quoted by Marable as saying that it was the Nation of Islam that burned Malcolm’s house down.)

But with the publication of what some have called “his magnum opus” Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention It is not just Marable’s inclusion of tidbits of presumed sexual scandal that should interest readers, that I question, but more fundamentally, what was the consciousness that created this work?

First of all I don’t think we can just bull’s-eye the writer’s intentions, we must include Marable’s consciousness as the overall shaper of his intentions, as well as his method. Originally from Ohio, Marable was a freshman in college in 1969; he did not graduate until 1971. He has been attached to Academic institutions since 1974, Smith, Tuskegee, Univ. of San Francisco, Cornell, Colgate, Purdue, Ohio State, University of Colorado, Columbia. It is no denigration of his life to say that Manning was an academic, a well principled one, but an academic nevertheless.

But Marable did have a political aspect to his life, which I understood and why I think he was a very principled academic. He did understand that the “purely” academic was fabrication of the essentially unengaged. That whatever you might do, there was a conscious political stance that your political consciousness had to assume, even if you refused to take it. So his “membership” in the 1970’s National Political Assembly chaired by Richard Hatcher, Mayor of Gary, Indiana, Rep. Charles Diggs, the congressman from Detroit and myself as chairman of the Congress of African Peoples, signified that he was aware and a partisan of that attempt to raise and institutionalize Black political consciousness as a way to organize Black people nationally to struggle for Black political power.

In 1974 Marable joined the Democratic Socialists of America [DSA], and for a time was even a Vice Chairman of that organization which is called “Left” but is not a Marxist and certainly not a Marxist-Leninist organization. It is one of those organizations like the group that split from Lenin’s 2nd International which he called socialists in word but chauvinists in reality. So that it is important that we recognize the specific political base upon which Manning’s “observations” may be judged. He is not simply “observing”. He is making judgments.

So that, for instance, for Marable to consistently, throughout his book, call the Nation of Islam [NOI] a “sect” is a judgment not an observation. The NOI certainly has and had more influence on society than DSA, certainly on Black people.The meaning as a small breakaway group of a religious order only used now to connote a “jocular or illiterate” character (according to the OUD) is spurious.

photo (l to R) Carmichael, Baraka, and Rap Brown

But then in relationship to revolutionary Marxism or Marxism–Leninism, DSA certainly fits the description.My point being that Marable must be judged by what he says not by what others say he “intended.” The best thing about the book, of course, is that it raises Malcolm X to the height of our conversation again, and this is a very good thing in this Obama election period. (Post racial it ain’t!)The very profile of Malcolm’s life, the outline of his life of struggle needs to be spread across the world again, if only to re-awaken the fiercest “blackness” in us to fight this newly packaged “same ol’ same ol’” emergence of white supremacy and racism.

Whatever Marable is saying or pointing out, in the end, is to convince us of the superiority of social democracy which he refers to as “the Left,” which is anything from DSA to the Trotskyists. The characterization of Bayard Rustin’s “superior” reasoning in a debate with Malcolm or the response of James Farmer to Malcolm’s bringing a “body guard” to Farmer’s house, “Do you think I want to kill  you?” tries to render Malcolm some paranoid case when indeed there were people plotting very actively to kill him.

Ultimately, it is Marable’s own political line that renders the book weakened by his consistent attempts to “reduce” Malcolm’s known qualities and status with many largely unsubstantiated injections, many described by Marable himself as “rumors.” Is there, for instance, any real evidence of Malcolm’s or Betty’s sexual trysts. People who knew Charles Kenyatta, for example, in Harlem, will quickly recall a vainglorious fool & liar. Could much of this rumor material actually have come from Marable’s “official” sources, the FBI, CIA, BOSS, NYPD, as well as those in the NOI who hated him. About Malcolm, a sentence like Marable’s “That evening Sharon 6X may have joined him in his hotel” is inexcusable. 

When I wrote the FBI asking them to release surveillance materials they had gathered on me, at first the director even denied such papers existed. It was Allen Ginsberg’s lawyer that finally got an admission that such papers existed, and that I could get them for ten cents a page. But when I got the papers, it was my wife, Amina, who said how do we know that the information they haven’t crossed out is stuff they want us to see and so confuse us about what was really going on.

I would submit that is exactly what those agencies would do in this case! To assume because you are given “access” to certain information, that that information is not “cooked,” as people around law enforcement say, is to labor in deep naiveté as to whom you are dealing with!

Marable never made any pretensions about being a “revolutionary.” His hookup with the DSA is open acknowledgment that he rejected Lenin’s prescription for a revolutionary organization, or party of the advanced, or such concepts as “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” In fact the DSA says they are not a party, aligning themselves very clearly with Lenin’s opponents in the 2nd International.

Such people, social democrats, are open opponents of revolution, so that at base Marable was opposed to the political logic of Malcolm’s efforts to make revolution.  Marable is even more dismissive of the Nation of Islam which he brands a “cult” a “sect” dismissing the fact that even as a religious organization, the NOI had a distinct political message, and that it was this message, I think, more than the direct attraction of Islam, that drew the thousands to it.

If Marable was giving a deeper understanding of Elijah Muhammad’s call for Five States in the South, he would have mentioned the relationship of this concept to Lenin’s formulation of an Afro American Nation in the black belt South (called that because that is the largest single concentration of Afro Americans in the US). It was not simply some Negro fantasy.

If Marable actually understood the political legitimacy of Malcolm’s Black Nationalism and how Malcolm’s constant exposure to the revolutionary aspects of the Civil Rights movement and the more militant Black Liberation Movement shaped his thinking and made his whole presentation more overtly political and that this was not only negative to the core of the NOI bureaucracy but certainly to the FBI, &c.  They have even written Malcolm X was much safer to them in the Nation than as a loose cannon roaming the planet outside of it. They understood that what Malcolm was saying, even in The Ballot or the Bullet was dangerous stuff. That his admission that all white people might not be the Devil was not morphing into a Dr. King replica but an understanding, as he said at Oxford University, that when Black people made their revolution there would be some white people joining them.

The meeting with the Klan was not Malcolm’s idea, certainly it was Elijah Muhammad’s as it had been Marcus Garvey’s idea before him. Malcolm’s Black Nationalism became more deliberately a Revolutionary Nationalism, such as Mao Tse Tsung (or Cabral or Nkrumah) spoke of, necessary to rally the nation’s forces together to make lst a national revolution to overthrow foreign domination and followed by a revolution to destroy capitalism.

Importantly, Marable does draw a clearer picture of Malcolm’s childhood and early days, especially indicating the Garvey influence his parents taught him and how that would make him open to what Elijah Muhammad taught. Unlike the obscure flashbacks of Spike Lee’s version of Malcolm’s early days.  Though Marable ascribes some wholly political “defiance” to the conked hair and zoot suits of the 40’s rather than understanding that there was also a deep organic cultural expression that is always evident in Black life. It is not just a formal reaction to white society. African pants are similarly draped. Access to straightening combs or conkolene are a product of the period, and certainly if any straight hair is gonna be imitated, there was some here before the Latinos.

The “antibourgeois” attitude of the Black youth culture is organic and an expression of the gestalt of black life in the US and Marable seems not to wholly understand it. For instance his take on BeBop as the music of “the hepcats (sic) who broke mostly sharply from swing, developing a black oriented sound at the margins of musical taste and commercialism.” BeBop was a revolutionary music, dismissing Tin Pan Alley commercialism and raising the blues and improvisation again as principal to black music.

The essential “disconnection “ in the book is Marable’s failure to understand the revolutionary aspects of Black Nationalism, as a struggle for “ Self Determination, Self Respect and Self Defense.” A struggle for equal democratic rights expressed on the sidewalks of an oppressor nation by an oppressed Afro American nationality.

What the book does is try to remove Malcolm from the context and character of an Afro American revolutionary and “make him more human,” by dismantling that portrait by redrawing him with the rumors, assumptions, speculations, questionable guesses and the intentionally  twisted seeing of the state and his enemies.

Was Captain Joseph (who later changed his name to Yusuf Shah) close to Malcolm? He appeared on television calling Malcolm “Benedict Arnold” and told Spike Lee that I had come up to the Mosque and stood up to question Malcolm and Malcolm told me to “sit down until you get rid of that white woman.” I met Malcolm only once, the month before he was murdered. This was in Muhammad Babu’s room at the Waldorf Astoria. Babu had just finished leading the revolution in Zanzibar, and would later become Minister of Economics for Tanzania( which was Zanzibar and Tanganyika).        

At that meeting Malcolm responded to my demeaning of the NAACP by saying I should be trying, instead, to join the NAACP, to make a point about Black people needing a “United Front.” That idea was not an attempt at “trying to become respectable,” to paraphrase Marable, Malcolm had come to realize that no sectarianism could make the revolution we needed. Interestingly, Stokely Carmichael also called for the building of a Black United Front, and Martin Luther King, when he visited my house in Newark, a week before he was murdered, called for the same political strategy. It was such a front that was a major part of the national democratic coalition that elected Obama.

As for Yusuf Shah, when Spike Lee repeated Shah’s wild allegations about me in his book How I Made The Movie X [By Any Means Necessary], I asked a college friend of mine, who had become my part time lawyer, Hudson Reed, to file a suit against Shah demanding he be questioned in court for any “exculpatory” evidence relating to the murder of Malcolm X, particularly as to the involvement of himself and organized crime. A short time later, Shah, who had moved to Massachusetts, died in his sleep. Marable reports that Captain Joseph/Yusuf Shah’s FBI file was “empty”!

It is Marable’s misunderstanding of the revolutionary aspect of Black Nationalism that challenges the portrait not only of Malcolm but of the period and it’s organizations as well. He treats the split between Malcolm X and the NOI much like he assumes the police did. (Though this is patently false.) As a struggle between “two warring black gangs,” a sect splitting from the main.

So that there is much more from Marable framing Malcolm’s murder as directed by the NOI, rather than the state. Marable’s general portrait of Malcolm is as doomed and confused individual about whom he could say that “Malcolm extensively read history but he was not a historian.” As if the academic title “HISTORIAN” conferred a more scientific understanding of history than any grassroots’ scholar might have. Simple class bias.

To say of the NOI that it was not a radical organization obscures the Black Nationalist confrontation with the white racist oppressor nation. Marable thinks that the Trots of the SWP [Socialist Workers Party] or the members of the CP [Communist Party] or the Committees of Correspondence are more radical. That means he has not even understood Lenin’s directive as pointed out in Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism, in "The National Question,"

. . . The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist view of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such ‘desperate’ democrats and ‘socialists’, ‘revolutionaries’ and republicans . . . was a reactionary struggle. …Lenin was right in saying that the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy but from the point of view of the actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of struggle against imperialism.—Foundations of Leninism, p.77.

Marable thinks that the Trots like the SWP or the soi disant Marxists in CPUSA or the Committees of Correspondence (a breakaway from the CPUSA) or the DSA are more radical than the NOI or Malcolm X. Perhaps on paper. But not in the real world of the Harlem streets. Malcolm came out the NOI, Dr. King from the reformist SCLC.  But both men were more objectively revolutionary on those Harlem streets or in those southern marches than any of the social democratic formations and the social democrats ought to face this.

Marable spends most of his time trying to make the NOI Malcolm’s murderers. Information from FBI, BOSS, CIA, NYPD, would tend to push this view, for obvious reasons. In this vein Marable says that Malcolm’s Africa trips “made his murder all the more necessary from an institutional standpoint.” That Malcolm’s actions “had been all too provocative” to Elijah Muhammad and the NOI. But what about the Imperialist U.S. state and its agencies of detection and murder? They would be more provoked and better able to end such provocation. If there’s a well-known murderer of Malcolm X still running loose as Marable and others have pointed out, how is it he remains free and we must presume that those agencies of the state know this as well as Marable and the others!

But even as he keeps hammering away that it was the Nation of Islam, he still says contradictorily “The fatwa, or death warrant, may or may not have been signed by Elijah Muhammad, there is no way of knowing.”  Many of Marable’s claims fall under the same category.

He even quotes Malcolm after he was refused entrance into France that he had been making a “serious mistake” by focusing attention on the NOI Chicago headquarters “thinking all my problems were coming from Chicago and they’re not.”  Asked then from where, Malcolm said “From Washington.”

Marable also tells us that even today the FBI refuses to release its reports on Malcolm’s assassination. Yet he will quote one of those agencies without question. Of Betty Shabazz’ death Marable says flatly, of Malcolm’s daughter Qubilah . . . ”her disturbed twelve-year old son set fire one night to his grandmother’s apartment.” How does he know this? Is an official government “information” release that impressive? There are many doubts about that murder; shouldn’t some of them have been investigated?

Some of the characterizations in the book are simply incorrect and suffer from only knowing about the movement on paper.

 Marable saying about Stokely Carmichael, after splitting with “pacifist” Bob Moses and SNCC that he would subsequently join the Black Panthers” is such an example. Carmichael didn’t join the Panthers; he was “drafted” along with Rap Brown.

Marable says in effect that Malcolm misunderstood Martin Luther King’s influence on Black people. He didn’t misunderstand that influence: he was trying to provide an alternative to it. Though ultimately I believe both leaders later conclusion that a United Front would be the most formidable instrument to achieve equal rights and self-determination for the Afro American people, I would have liked to see Malcolm and Martin in the same organization, and for that matter Garvey & Du Bois. They could argue all day and all night and in the end some of us might not agree on the majority’s decision, but like the Congress of the United States we’d have to say, “I don’t even agree with that . . . but that’s what we voted to do”!   

Interestingly, on the back of the book are three academics who represent the same social democratic thought as Prof Marable. [Skip] Gates who disparages Africa, looks for racism in Cuba not Cambridge and says the Harvard Yard is his nation.

My friend Cornell West who in response to me calling out at the Left Forum, “Where are the socialists, where are the communists” shouts “I’m a Christian!” And Michael Eric Dyson who wrote a book on Dr. King calling it the “True Dr. King” somewhat like Marable’s approach to Malcolm.  But who and what else in the paper “Garden of Even” of “Post Racial America.” So it is necessary that we rid ourselves of the real leaders of our struggle, in favor of Academics who want to tell us we were following flawed leaders with flawed ideas. We don’t need equal rights and self-determination, an appointment to an Ivy League school will do just fine.

4 May 2011

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Public Memorial Service for Dr. Manning Marable

Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 5:30pm - 7:00pm

Columbia University Roone Arledge Auditorium at Lerner Hall

The public is invited to attend a Memorial Service for Dr. Manning Marable on
Thursday May 26, 2011 at 5:30pm
on the Morningside Campus of Columbia University
Roone Alredge Auditorium, Lerner Hall (115th Street & Broadway)

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Dr. Manning Marable
(May 13, 1950 - April 1, 2011)
Scholar, Activist, Mentor

By Russell Rickford

Prof. Manning Marable, an ebullient teacher and institution-builder who embodied the reciprocal possibilities of scholarship-activism, and a Du Boisian intellectual who sought in the black past lessons for the radical transformation of American democracy, died on April 1, 2011 at the age of  60.

Dr. Marable was a prolific scholar whose labor in the arenas of history, political science and social criticism inspired popular and academic audiences. He was a “race man” in the best sense of the tradition—“our grand radical democratic intellectual,” in the words of philosopher Cornel West. His wellspring of love for black folk nourished a passion for democracy and a vision of Africana studies as a crusade for the material and spiritual liberation of all oppressed people. Marable’s deep knowledge of the African Diaspora made him a force in the field of black history; his courage and progressive politics made him a treasure for “the grassroots.”

For Dr. Marable, “living black history” was more pilgrimage than principle. His journey began on May 13, 1950 in Dayton, Ohio.

Born to James and June Morehead Marable, schoolteachers who enforced a regimen of U.S. and world history books, the young bibliophile soon discovered the gift of historical imagination. Acutely conscious of race matters, he was further politicized by the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

He was among the first mourners to arrive at the Atlanta church that hosted King’s funeral. (He covered the event for Dayton’s black newspaper.) A high school senior at the time, he perched on the steps of Ebenezer Baptist in the predawn shadows to await the masses.A precocious student, he completed his bachelor’s in 1971 at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana (while leading the black student union) and went on to earn his master’s (1972) and Ph.D. (1976) in history at, respectively, University of Wisconsin, Madison and University of Maryland, College Park. Between the mid-1970s and early 1990s, Dr. Marable served on the faculty of Tuskegee Institute, University of San Francisco, Cornell University, Fisk University, Colgate University, Purdue University, Ohio State University, and University of Colorado, Boulder.

As a scholar who traversed the disciplines of history, political science and sociology, Dr. Marable grounded his work in the black American experience while exploring the larger African Diaspora, traveling to Kenya, Tanzania, Cuba, South Africa and Brazil. He developed political and academic contacts throughout the black world, seeing the remaking of racialized societies as the primary task of the engaged intellectual. Armed with the theories of Du Bois, C. L. R. James and Antonio Gramsci, he mastered political economy, emphasizing material solutions to social inequality and exposing the interlocking shackles of race and class.

During the first half of his career, Dr. Marable headed the Race Relations Institute at Fisk, the Africana and Latin American Studies Program at Colgate, and the Department of Black Studies at Ohio State. However, it was his directorship of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, which he founded in 1993, that marked his most significant personal and political transitions.

Facing the sudden acceleration of sarcoidosis, an illness he had battled for years, and increasingly devoted to the socially redemptive power of political ideas, he crafted the Institute in the image of Du Bois’s Atlanta University project. Under Dr. Marable’s stewardship, the Institute married scholarship and social transformation, launching initiatives to bolster the case for African-American reparations, fight the specter of racialized mass imprisonment, and reclaim the radical vectors of Malcolm X’s legacy. Meanwhile, Dr. Marable cultivated two generations of scholars, activists and students, discovering in each individual a unique genius for advancing the cause he lovingly described: empowering the black masses to reclaim their agency and “return to their own history.”

Dr. Marable wrote prodigiously. The legal pads he dispatched in longhand became the masonry of a scholarly edifice that included more than 30 books and edited volumes, as well as hundreds of articles in academic and popular journals. From the Grassroots, Blackwater, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, Race, Reform and Rebellion, Beyond Black and White, Let Nobody Turn Us Around  (with Leith Mullings), The Great Wells of Democracy, Living Black History, and now, Malcolm X, anchor the shelves of countless students and circulate endlessly in prison yards, their covers curled and shabby, their wisdom pristine. Committed to class-conscious analysis rendered in straightforward prose, Dr. Marable also  produced and distributed free of charge, a public affairs column—“From the Grassroots” (later “Along the Color Line”)—that for three decades reached a vast readership through the black press, reinvigorating Du Bois’s legacy of political commentary and agitation.

Much of Dr. Marable’s energy was spent building—and not merely interpreting—the movement for racial justice. As he observed, “It is only when we stand against the current, confronting the powerful forces of prejudice and inequality, that the tools of scholarship become meaningful.” Some of his most rewarding experiences came through his involvement with the Institute of the Black World in the 1970s (an association that enabled him to chauffeur—and thus interrogate and debate—the great Pan Africanist historian Walter Rodney). He participated in the National Black Political Assembly, the National Black Independent Political Party and the Democratic Socialists of America in the 1980s and the Committees of Correspondence in the 1990s. His long record of leadership on the left included his role as co-founder of the Black Radical Congress in 1998 and his participation in the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.

From Jamaica to Cuba to Sing Sing Prison, Dr. Marable lectured. He made frequent media appearances on programs like Democracy Now! He served as founding editor of Souls, a journal of black history, politics and culture. He established Columbia’s Center for Contemporary Black History. He created archives and digital resources for teachers and researchers. He served on the board of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. He received many commendations, including the 2005 National Council for Black Studies Ida B. Wells—Cheikh Anta Diop Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Leadership in African-American Studies, as well as two honorary degrees: John Jay College of the City University of New York (2006); and State University of New York, New Paltz (2000).

Dr. Marable was a generous mentor. A Marxist feminist who was also a “Malcolmite”; a black history savant with pop culture tastes (“You can’t handle the truth!” was one of his stock phrases); a dissident social scientist who remained faithful to the political promise of the hip-hop generation, he brandished these identities with passion and grace, convincing his pupils that they, too, could achieve a more perfect whole. Ultimately, that eclecticism reinforced his vision of what social history and critical theory might accomplish: the construction of a liberation movement that shatters social barriers based on color, class and gender.

Dr. Marable is survived by his wife, the anthropologist Leith Mullings; his three children, Malaika Marable Serrano, Sojourner Marable Grimmett, and Joshua Manning Marable; two stepchildren, Alia Tyner and Michael Tyner; a sister, Madonna Marable; his mother, June Morehead Marable; three grandchildren and an extended family in New York, Ohio and Tuskegee.

Donations can be made to The Manning Marable Memorial Social Justice Fund which will provide grants and awards to organizations and individuals that reflect an honor Dr. Marable’s commitment to the struggle for justice. Checks can be made out to The Manning Marable Social Justice Fund and sent to:

The Manning Marable Memorial Social Justice Fund
c/o The Adco Foundation
328 8th Avenue
Suite 404 
New York, NY 10001
Attention: Dana Ain Davis 

Source: IRAS 

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Responses to Baraka's Manning Review

Dear Rudy,
Thanks for sharing Baraka's review essay with us.  Among those of us who still believe a truth is a possibility, there are so many territories to investigate: Warren's wolf-ticket regarding the end of African-American Literature, Marable's "reinvention" of Malcolm, President Obama's audacious management of his presidency. These are small parts of the total territory for our minds to engage, because local issues such as miseducation of young people, random and not-so-random racial resentments, literacy, and forms of economic insanity (or deep uncertainty)—I truly can't process all these interrelated mindscapes at once. The provocations send my blood pressure upward.  I am very fortunate in having weekly conversations with Kalamu , conversations that help me to deal with more items than I could independently.
I am still trying to clear my work space of overdue projects and haven't tackled Marable's book yet.  Being an academic or a person who teaches in academic settings, I find Baraka's swipe at academics as a class a bit unsettling. Not all of us hop into bed with academic ideologies.  I am not perhaps a genuine "black nationalist," but I do tend to invest in the black rootedness I can derive from David Walker and Richard Wright.  I do use small bits of Marxist analysis and perspectives in my work, but I refuse to trust Marx, Lenin, or Mao more than I trust vernacular revolutionary thinkers  (including Baraka  himself).  I think revolutions are subtle not overt and dramatic.  They occur without our being fully cognizant of them, and they seem never to destroy all the paradigms we lived by before we gain awareness of their having taken place.
Thus, until I am able to make my own critique of Marable's book, I can only take what Baraka says with grains of pepper and salt.—Peace,  Jerry

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Thanks, Rudy. I've read it rather hastily and think that he makes some valid points, but also think it's very curious that Baraka, a former Marxist, takes Marable to task for his social democratic consciousness (i. e., his ideology), which Baraka thinks affects his (Marable's) perspective.—Miriam

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Miriam, I think you have grasped the gist of Baraka's critique. Nevertheless, I am rather ignorant of Marxist ideologies. But Baraka, as I understand it, is making a distinction between social democrat and communist (socialist) revolutionary: Manning is the former and he views himself the latter.
As far as I know Baraka remains a "Communist." But he has been doing Marxist analyses in racial contexts since the 60s (maybe influenced by his Cuban sojourn), before he later declared himself a "cultural nationalist" (following Karenga) and for sometime now a Communist, whatever that means. I suspect that it makes one more radical than other arm-chair theorists on revolution. He seems however to be in the rather Stalinist-Maoist mould as a counter to Trotskyism (socialist revolution cannot be sustained in one country kind of ideology), which I suspect he views as defeatist and thus counter-revolutionary. I have never been attracted by Stalin and Mao and thus I rather gravitated to the more romantic Trotsky, who as I recall was on Stalin's hit list and was eventually assassinated in Mexico.
I have been reading recently Jones' Home: Social Essays, which contains a piece in which he argues against the "individualism" of Peter Abrahams, a well-known Pan-Africanist  and James Baldwin, which he concludes that if they were able to become white the struggle would come to a close immediately. Sometimes I am up and sometimes I am down when it comes to Baraka and politics. As an ideological thinker I find him wanting. As one who has a gut poetic insight into that social-is, he is quite excellent, wonderful, and rewarding.  I suppose we all in this light would be viewed as petty-bourgeois reformers, or, that other dirty word—individualists.

That is the grate, I assume, of Baraka's socialist criticism.Loving you madly, Rudy

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I don't know (or care) enough about political ideology to make nice, polite distinctions between Marxism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Maoism/Communism (Russian-style)/Socialism (Cuban-style), ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Indeed, Baraka criticizes Marable for being an academic, and then he (Baraka) engages in academic mind games himself. Baraka has put on and taken off so many different ideological coats in his life-time, and I suspect that Marable has too. To live is to grow, to evolve intellectually, as Malcolm certainly did, to his credit. The Black Nationalists that I know are pissed that Marable has desecrated, in their view, this image of Malcolm as the ballot-or-bullets radical; the womanists/feminists are upset about the subservience of women in the NOI, and Marable adds fuel to that fire: the Nation is outraged because Marable has called some of them out: the Leftists are concerned because of Marable's reliance on questionable government documents; and so it goes. Acklyn maintains that Marable isn't responsible for the book's slant; he was too sick to finish the book, which was probably completed by his "partner" or Whites who wanted to cut Malcolm down a notch or two. Baraka is certainly right when he maintains that the whole debate has brought Malcolm front and center again, and that's a good thing.

Point two, I'm sick and tired of radicals criticizing academics as some kind of elitist, ivory tower, uncommitted cop-outs. Acklyn was an academic who has been in the front line all of his life; so much so, that he was almost beaten to death. Ron Walter was an academic activist to the core. I was an academic who led students in a boycott of the president's office, organized a boycott of the city schools, went to jail, was maced and threatened. In fact, most of the Black academics I know have been firebrands, at least the ones I hung out with. We have to get over these stereotypes we have that divide us as a people.—Miriam

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No matter what else you could say about Baraka he has always been in the mix and exceptionally brilliant even when on the occasion or two when he was wrong, usually because he was running a bit ahead of the pack. Your comments are learned though reflecting your youth and they take me back to 1965 when I first met Baraka, then still LeRoi Jones, in person at the Three Days of Soul Festival, or maybe Three Days of Bluesbecause what stands out from the day I attended was the glee of several young black males behind me tickled so much by what they thought was the backwardness of downhome blues—held in Washington, D.C.

After Jones’s presentation I walked down to the front of the stage and introduced myself. He knew me already knew from Negro Digest and the like. He’d mentioned me in Blues People, I believe, or some similar book, but I’m 90 per cent sure that was the one as it wasn’t Home, which seems to have come out by then.  It could have been Black Music, but I don’t see any such book listed in Wikipedia.  He was already quite famous; indeed he appeared to arrive early on as a jazz critic, the most prominent and pretty much the only black writing then in Downbeat and doing jazz music jacket covers. I  was having trouble getting a publisher for my Negro Digest article turned book, The Black Anglo Saxons. He wrote down and gave me the name and address of his newly ex-wife, who was New York literary agent, but she promptly wrote back that my work did not interest her; perhaps it was also too nationalistic and/or she had had enough of us at that point.

I am glad you are reading the pre-Sixties and inviting other young intellectuals to do likewise. Nobody can do that without reading LeRoi Jones. Baraka can speak for himself (LOL).—Nathan

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To Rudolph Lewis

Amiri Baraka’s review of Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking, 2011)

Berlin, Germany, Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baraka’s review of Marable on Malcolm X demonstrates all the strengths and all the weaknesses of Baraka’s striking, but erratic genius.  It is a very curious blend of hero worship and self-aggrandizement.  I do not consider Malcolm X to have been any more important as a thinker than Baraka, himself.   He is greater in death than in life.  If Baraka had managed to get himself assassinated in 1965, who knows?   Baraka might today occupy a status higher than that of Malcolm.   In fact, I am almost certain that he would have. 

As an intellectual, Baraka demonstrates a more impressive mastery of  revolutionary socialist thought and activity than Malcolm ever did.  There are very few talking heads or college professors with superior knowledge.  Certainly Baraka’s knowledge of matters relating to Marxist-Leninist doctrine is superior to my own.  Over my career, I have exerted my own intellectual and emotional powers to their fullest.   I am not ashamed to admit that my productivity does not match that of some others.  The fact that people like Marable and Baraka and Cornel are able to read and study as much as they do, while functioning as “public intellectuals” impresses me greatly.   If I ever had the creative and/or intellectual powers to accomplish such feats as they have, I have lacked the stamina and the emotional resources.  

Baraka for all his presupposed black-centeredness, seems obsessed with Lenin, quoting him extensively, and at one point he validates Five-State Black-Belt Nationalism with the following words:  “Lenin’s formulation of an Afro American Nation in the black belt South (called that because that is the largest single concentration of Afro Americans in the US). It was not simply some Negro fantasy.”   This phraseology is self-revealing and unfortunate.  Is “negro fantasy,” suddenly endowed with validity if it can be attributed to Lenin?  In any case I always associated the scheme with Stalin, but I yield to Baraka’s expertise in this as in other matters.

I have been a humble college professor, a poor academic, although somewhat suspect as an historian.  My MA is in British Literature and my Ph.D. in American Studies.  In fact, I now lay myself open to the charge of dilettantism, for I am occupying my final years with a chase after a jack-o-lantern, called European studies, which has involved passing a paltry French examination, and improving my still imperfect German.  The goal has been simply to complete a project in European arts and letters that I began at the age of fourteen.  I was young and naive when I began.   Now, although I am old enough to know better, I still pursue the jack-o-lantern, because my mother would have wished me to do so. 

Marable, for whatever reason—not necessarily any that Baraka has named—has chosen to write a book about Malcolm that deviates dramatically from the hagiography of Alex Haley. Albert Ellery Bergh, editor in the 1907 edition of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, said:  “men of every variety of political opinion, however far asunder, find confirmation of their doctrine in him.”    This is one of the dangers of hero worship.  Everyone wants a piece of the True Cross, and everyone claims to have one. 

For my part, I steer clear of such controversies, and that is why I have no desire to become involved in controversies over Malcolm.   Thomas Jefferson is problem enough for me.  If I can simply force a few people to admit that Jefferson was a third-rate philosopher, and that democracy, whether Jeffersonian or otherwise is a flawed concept, I shall be satisfied.

Of course, it is naive of me to think I can have any effect at all, but my project is enough to keep an old man harmlessly occupied during his few remaining years on this increasingly radioactive dying planet.Wilson J. Moses

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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

posted 8 May 2011

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Manning Marable Refuels Debate on Life and Legacy of Malcolm X

With Amiri Baraka, Herb Boyd, and Michael Eric Dyson

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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. —Library Journal

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Cover Image

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music

By Amiri Baraka

For almost half a century, Amiri Baraka has ranked among the most important commentators on African American music and culture. In this brilliant assemblage of his writings on music, the first such collection in nearly twenty years, Baraka blends autobiography, history, musical analysis, and political commentary to recall the sounds, people, times, and places he's encountered. As in his earlier classics, Blues People and Black Music, Baraka offers essays on the famous--Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane--and on those whose names are known mainly by jazz aficionados--Alan Shorter, Jon Jang, and Malachi Thompson. Baraka's literary style, with its deep roots in poetry, makes palpable his love and respect for his jazz musician friends. His energy and enthusiasm show us again how much Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and the others he lovingly considers mattered.

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice . . .—Publishers Weekly

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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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Home  Du Bois-Malcolm-King  Amiri Baraka Table  Amiri Baraka    Jerry W. Ward Jr. Table and Bio   Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Related files: Streets of Despair, Street of Protest    Revolutionary Suicide   Blacks in Higher Education  Most Dangerous Black Professor in America 

Rethinking Black Liberation   Manning Marable Reinvents Malcolm X