Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rest in Peace Manning Marable

"His every fiber was devoted to completion of this book. It's heartbreaking he won't be here on publication day with us." So mourns Wendy Wolf of Viking Press who, as editor of a new, groundbreaking biography of Malcolm X, is expressing her anguish over the untimely death of its author, Manning Marable. The quote comes from a front page story in the New York Times today about Dr. Marable's passing.

A prolific and well known Marxist scholar of African-American politics and history, Dr. Marable suffered for many years from Sarcoidosis and finally received relief from the disease owing to a recent double lung transplant that required two months of hospitalization but that appeared to result in a full recovery. During the many years in which he was hampered by this disease, Dr. Marable traveled undaunted with the help of oxygen tanks to dozens of archives to research this biography which many believe will eventually be seen as his magnum opus.

As the article suggests, this new biography offers many new insights into Malcolm's life and accomplishments. For instance, Marable characterizes the now classic "Autobiography of Malcolm X," largely penned by Alex Haley, as fictive and as the product of Haley's liberal Republican, integrationist roots. Marable shows that Malcolm's views, though evolving, remained staunchly radical and that Haley's attempt to portray him as increasingly moderate does not square with the facts.

There are many other revelations, including a 24-week sojourn to Africa and the Middle East based on Malcolm's own diaries that occurred after his famous trip to Mecca, and details about a campaign to get the United Nations to condemn the US for entrenched racism.

I have been a reader of Dr. Marable's work for many years and once used his brief but incisive study of W.E.B. Du Bois's life in a course I taught on Biography and Leadership. The book about Du Bois, subtitled "Black Radical Democrat," reflects Marable's passionate commitment to participatory democracy exhibited strongly throughout his career. I have also had occasion to teach from Marable's "Black Leadership," a volume containing an important essay called "Black History and the Vision of Democracy," that poses the question: "how do oppressed peoples come to terms with their exploitation?" His answer? For African Americans, it is by pursuing without let-up a just and democratic society in which everyone is united behind the common goals of treating each person with undiminished respect, supporting "unfettered participation in the economic and political life of this country, full civil liberties, and equal protection under the law."

For all of us, this should continue to be our shared vision. We would do well to consult the writings of Manning Marable to rededicate ourselves to believing in and living out this essential creed.

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