Much of America is familiar with the life story of Malcolm Little from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, authored by Alex Haley. Those who have not read the Haley book likely saw Malcolm X, an epic film – which should have won an Oscar – from the lens of movie director Spike Lee. If you have not seen or read either of the two, do so…soon.
Considered very popular among anti-establishment African Americans and those considered not of the “mainstream” political class, Malcolm X’s image has been often distorted in modern history, as many of his present-day accounts dismiss his true imprint upon American politics.
Manning Marable’s Malcom X: A Life of Reinvention is an exception, and pulls no punches about the spectacular life and legacy of the controversial icon. The book, a testament to Malcolm’s impact, raises several questions about the things that have kept us wondering exactly who is responsible for Malcolm’s untimely death. This author’s account of Malcolm X uses historiography to describe him as a proud and politically brazen man whose life’s circumstances yielded a tight response to adversity unlike any other figure of his time.
Links between a Life of Passion and Untimely Death
Though many believed Malcolm to have split from Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam because of Muhammad’s infidelity and jealousy among his fellow Black Muslims, Marable explains that there were two other incidents which expanded the division between the two men.
According to Marable, in 1962, the Los Angeles Police shot and killed an unarmed Muslim who was a friend of Malcolm. Wanting revenge, Malcolm later joined L.A. civil rights leaders in protest to police brutality though Elijah Muhammad advised him against it.
In the second occurrence, after President Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm sought to tie U.S. Military casualties abroad to the Kennedy tragedy by saying the incident was a case of “the chickens have come home to roost.” Muhammad was not pleased with the comment, and silenced and indefinitely suspended Malcolm as spokesperson for the Nation of Islam.
An important factor in the life of Malcolm X is that his primary appeal and exposure was in the urban setting among large concentrations of African Americans. In addition to his popularity as spokesperson for Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Malcolm’s ability to reach large numbers of African Americans with Black Nationalist Islamic theology attracted the scrutiny of Federal watchdogs and placed him in an even more tenuous position.
Praise for a Unique Account of Malcolm X
Henry Louis Gates commended Marable’s work in the book’s cover, noting “Manning Marable has written the definitive biography of this outrageously misrepresented figure. He has plumbed countless historical records to bring out what is there, not what is imagined.”
Aside from an examination of untapped resources that may have been a greater challenge for Haley to uncover, historian Marable used the tools of his trade and the separation in time from the incidents leading to and following Malcolm’s death to paint a more complete, though not exhaustive, picture of the complexities of Malcolm’s life.
But for Haley’s direct access to Malcolm X during his life, our acquaintance with Malcolm X, the man, would likely have been many years in coming to light. Manning, blessed with the gift of extreme hindsight, has done what historian’s do: he has searched the record, including valuable clues presented in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and used the important space of time between the murder of Malcolm X and today to come up with a more accurate representation of the story of a great man.
Because of the passion, dedication and commitment to the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary,” Malcolm X was able to give Black people the truth of our existence in a way we had not before heard. Even if we had been told before, Malcolm X’s delivery was such that it forced our eyes open to the reality that we had the power to change our circumstancing by standing up as men to those who oppressed us.
Malcolm X, following his own hero, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was the ultimate advocate for Black Power in America. As such, his murder, has not received the attention nor thorough examination it should, an example of how America deals with those who, in their efforts to bring about justice, march to a different drummer. Without discrimination, Marable’s work knocks on the door of America asking this generation to demand justice for a fallen soldier in the fight for freedom, justice and equality.