(ThyBlackMan.com) I just finished reading Manning Marable’s biography of Malcolm X. Let’s look at the controversial claims it made, the key ideas it contained, and some of the fascinating coincidences it brought to light.
Malcolm X, like Martin Luther King, was assassinated at age 39 on the eve of turning 40 the age at which, in African society, one becomes an elder and attains the highest wisdom. Powerful and influential as they were, they were cruelly snatched away from us before they had actually reached their full potential. Today, the building where Malcolm X died, The Audubon Ballroom
Malcolm, many thought, would one day succeed Elijah Muhammad as the head of the Nation of Islam. However, Elijah’s son, Wallace Deen Muhammad, ended up succeeding him. Malcolm was the seventh child born to his family, likewise Wallace was the seventh child born in his family. Malcolm headed Muslim Mosque No. 7 which was located in Harlem. Louis Farrakhan succeeded Malcolm as leader of Mosque No. 7. Malcolm broke away from Elijah and, at the time, Farrakhan criticized him for doing so. However, years later, after Wallace came to power as Elijah’s successor, Farrakhan would follow suit and leave the Nation, and like Malcolm, also set up his own independent Muslim organization.
When Malcolm was a child his house was set on fire, and his parents barely got the children out safely. His father would later falsely be accused of setting the fire. Towards the end of his life, Malcolm’s house was set on fire and he and his wife, Sister Betty, barely got the children out safely. He was later, like his father, falsely accused of setting the fire. Both Malcolm and his father died violent, mysterious deaths, and white reactionaries are strongly suspected of being involved in both men’s demise.
Malcolm died just as his autobiography was coming out. Manning Marable died just as his Malcolm X biography was hitting the stands.
I was not at all surprised that the book proved controversial. The essence of Malcolm was controversy. Everything he did. Everything he said. Everything he stood for was controversial in America, from the moment he enunciated them, right up until today. Marable, however, seemed to court even more controversy by speculating about sexual issues. Free speech allows him to do so. But all that he presented was speculation. What else could it be? You can never know what a person does, or does not do, behind closed doors unless you are there. Furthermore, those issues were only a few pages in a 600 page book, so I hardly paid them any attention.
What I take fault with is where, on a number of occasions, Marable questions Malcolm’s judgement. I think he would have been better off sticking with the facts or saving the editorializing for a separate chapter toward the end.
What really engaged me was his recounting of the tumultuous events in America in the 1960s. It was a time when bold, completely fearless young leaders rose to commanding heights and courted death and never flinched, many paying the ultimate price. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, just to name a few. What we witnessed in the 60s can literally be called the “Death of Charisma.” Powerful, mesmerizing figures of stupendous oratorical talent, and incandescent personal magnetism ruled the airwaves, and one-by-one were cut down. All of that was 40, 50 years ago, and still, their shadows loom large in our collective memory, as we wander in a wilderness led by false prophets and manufactured political personalities benumbed by a stupendously engaging mass media of distraction.
Books like this, even with their flaws, are to be applauded. They engage our minds as they ignite spirited exchanges of ideas rooted in our researching, re-reading, and ultimately re-interpreting, our own history in endless give-and-take. The term “revisionist history” is a common one. But is not all history revisionist? Who can lay claim to absolute truth? Not Alex Haley. Not Manning Marable. No one. Doubtless, some young person who reads this book today will write an even more compelling retelling of Malcolm’s life tomorrow, only to eventually be eclipsed by another writer perhaps as yet unborn, and on and on.
Malcolm X brought Islam into the American consciousness. Malcolm X spawned the Black Power movement. Malcolm X was the first to call for Black Studies. Malcolm X took the struggle for Black equality onto the international stage. Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, were at the cutting edge of our embracing of our African heritage and our taking pride in calling ourselves Black.
Another thing that struck me in reading this book is how, throughout history, movements that challenge the status quo, not just here in America but around the world, usually end up becoming involved in bitter internal feuds. And outside forces, the powers-that-be, manipulate this infighting toward deadly ends.