A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable's Malcolm X
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In the tradition of John Henrik Clarke’s classic anthology “William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond,” this volume provides a striking critique of Marable’s text. In 1968, Clarke and his assembled writers felt it essential to respond to Styron’s fictionalized and ahistorical Nat Turner, the heroic leader of one of America’s most famous revolts against enslavement. In A Lie of Reinvention, the editors sense a different threat to an African American icon, Malcolm X. This time, the threat is presented as an authoritative biography. To counter the threat, Ball and Burroughs respond with a barbed collection of commentaries of Marable’s text.
The essays come from all quarters of the Black community. From behind prison walls, Mumia Abu-Jamal revises his prior public praise of Marable’s book with an essay written specifically for this volume. A. Peter Bailey, a veteran journalist who worked with Malcolm X’s Organization for Afro-American Unity, disputes how he is characterized in Marable’s book. Bill Strickland, who also knew Malcolm X, provides what he calls a “personal critique” of the biography. Younger scholars such as Kali Akuno, Kamau Franklin, Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, Christopher M. Tinson, Eugene Puryear and Greg Thomas join veterans Rosmari Mealy, Raymond Winbush, Amiri Baraka and Karl Evanzz in pointing out historical problems and ideological misinterpretations in Marable’s work.
Accessed August 27, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/4xhjwyq. * This essay also appears in this volume. Chapter Seven 1 Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (New York: Viking Press, 2011), 490. 2 Ibid., dust jacket. 3 Ibid., 374. 4 Dayo F. Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, and Komozi Woodard, Want to Start a Revolution? Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 84. 5 S. E. Anderson, Interview with Yuri Kochiyama, n.d. Quoted with permission. 6
some of his innate militancy, but his status as an American icon was firmly branded by the imagery of the American flag being burned into an “X.” This image could then be purchased on a cap for $19.99 in a Spike Lee store. The branding of Malcolm X reached its zenith when Malcolm’s image was put on a postage stamp. Marable recounts other such efforts to capitalize on the Malcolm X brand, but fails to prove, as he asserts, that The Autobiography was responsible for it, or how.39 One of the
uneven. Some were as awful as Marable claimed, but some made important contributions, and a few were quite good. For instance, William W. Sales Jr.’s From Civil Rights to Black Power: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity is an astute analysis of the OAAU and its impact on the Black liberation movement.59 Incidentally, Sales drew on much more than what Marable contends were merely “transcribed speeches, and secondary sources, such as newspaper articles”60; he used the FBI files
ideological development, and his evolving strategy for Black liberation. Those who consider these the most critical questions and who have been attracted to Malcolm as a symbol of revolution are likely to be disappointed with the book. Several reviews have highlighted Marable’s uneven research and accused him of irresponsibly resorting to conjecture when making provocative and sometimes scandalous claims about Malcolm’s personal life. Although certainly far more remains to be said about both,
Americans. His thinking on this question, however, remained consistent throughout his life. Well up until his death, Malcolm maintained that the Black community had every right to defend itself against racist violence. Unlike many of the leaders with whom he shared the political spotlight, Malcolm never saw the granting of civil rights as a panacea. It may have been a means to an end, but Malcolm never confused the two; to him, civil rights did not guarantee material improvement in Black