From The Grio — His intellect was often compared to that of Frederick Douglass. His deep-throated laugh was infectious and often balanced by a piercing, thoughtful stare. His contributions to the black freedom struggle were awesome, producing a cadre of young scholars committed to educating others about black liberation and the development of a progressive movement toward that goal. Though brilliant, he remained modest and accessible, as evidenced by his insistence that those of us who worked with him simply refer to him as “Manning.”
These are among the qualities that made it so fitting that Dr. Manning Marable produced the first scholarly biography of another giant freedom fighter, Malcolm X.
Today marks the release of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which is being regarded by many as Manning’s magum opus. Building upon more than 10 years of research and exploration, the project reveals many interesting and previously unknown facts about Malcolm X, as a student of faith, as a human rights leader and as a human being. This was Manning’s gift — the unique ability to make giants human, to work into their greatness the common thread that unites us in this movement for racial justice.
Among the fascinating revelations in the book — including Marable’s assertions that The Autobiography of Malcolm X was in many ways fictional — is that Malcolm X was a man, plain and simple. He was not a superhero, but rather an evolving human being who above all else, sought to advance the black freedom struggle and its connection to the advancement of a pan-African human rights agenda.
I was 21 when I was hired as the first staff member at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, where Manning was the founding director. In that capacity, I read everything that he wrote and regularly — though innocently — interrupted his workspace to discuss with him my latest idea about how we were going to save our people.
It was a glorious time, and I never wanted to leave the Institute. It was a sanctuary of black thought, filled with students who were thirsty for a safe haven to unapologetically love black people. In Manning, we found an intellectual father and a man who told fascinating tales about our beloved black intelligentsia, stories that were as titillating at times as they were insightful. With every detail about our leading scholars — old and emerging — was the lesson that we should not worship our leaders, but rather, seek to understand their experiences so that we can advance the black freedom movement. This is the genius of A Life of Reinvention.