X: A Life of Reinvention
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Hardcover: 608 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 4, 2011)
Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 2.1 inches
Dr. Manning Marable, a
professor of history at Columbia University and author of fifteen books,
knew how important and controversial this book, Malcolm X: A Life of
Reinvention, was going to be. Unfortunately, the director of
Columbia's Center of Contemporary Black History died just before its
As I was working on a book with Khalil Islam, aka Thomas Johnson, the
alleged assassin who fired the infamous kill-shot into
Malcolm X that fateful
day in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, I was keeping tabs on Dr. Marable's
research. Islam, who denied any involvement in the slaying, died in 2009.
Indeed, Dr. Marable's biography sets some things about the Black Power icon
straight, but it also offers several critical questions.
For the most part, the Marable biography presents a distilled, truer Malcolm
than Alex Haley's
collaboration with the slain leader, beginning with the slim boy from Omaha,
Nebraska, his tragic family history, his early days as the hustler Detroit
Red in New York and Boston, his imprisonment and conversion into a member of
the Nation of Islam. The book courts debate over his alleged homosexuality
during Malcolm's hustler years, with his supporters violently questioning
the inclusion of "any gay slander."
Although this book addresses the crucial role played by Malcolm as the best
ambassador of the NOI's particular brand of religion for years, it examines
completely the complex set of rifts between the fiery spokesman and the
Honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the organization. When it came to
Malcolm X's attention that Mr. Muhammad had allegedly fathered children to
at least six young female members, he pulled back from his pivotal role. NOI
members thought he was a traitor and was plotting against their leader.
The Marable biography, setting itself apart from some of the other
biographies, reveals information from previously unavailable interviews,
confidential police reports as well as FBI and CIA documents. Threats,
harassment, and intimidation made life hell for Malcolm and his family.
By the time of his slaying, the ex-Black Muslim spokesman was an emotional
shell of his former self, yet still defiant, bold, and unrepentant.
Look for Dr. Marable's excellent work on Malcolm's involvement with African
leaders and their resistance to colonialism, singling out Nasser, Kenyatta,
Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure. The doomed leader was determined to convince
the Organization of African Unity to back a petition protesting American and
South African racism, a truly revolutionary move.
While the Marable biography underlines the depth of Malcolm's emotional and
spiritual evolution and a largely accurate chronicle of the NOI as an
influential movement in Black America, the book's value appears in its
startling revelations about the mystery of his murder, prompting readers to
question why this neglected case is not reopened. I fully agree with critic
Michael Eric Dyson
that Dr. Marable was "a disciplined scholar." Notwithstanding the sexual
furor over the leader's early years, one cannot wonder if Dr. Marable had
lived, how would he answered some of the prickly questions that the book
poses. Still, this remarkable book does his career proud.