Manning Marable's Re-Invention Of Malcolm X

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The redemptive value of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" makes it the real magnum opus among books. Standing next to each other, "The Autobiography ..." dwarfs Marable’s "Malcolm X, the Life of Reinvention."

[A Critique]

Writer Questions Prof. Marable's "Motives" In Critique

Since the publication of Prof. Manning Marable's book, "Malcolm X, the Life of Reinvention," I have not only read the voluminous book of 600 pages, I have also read many reviews of it written by scholars and reviewers with different perspectives from left to right.

As usual, with any issue such as this, there are those who have overwhelmingly praised it and there are others who have criticized it as an attempt by Prof. Marable to deconstruct the positive image of Malcolm X in the minds of millions of people around the world.

Prof. Henry Louis Gate Jr. has called the book "Marable's magnum opus." 

I am one of the millions of people around the world who have been inspired by Malcolm X's epic story of evolutionary redemption. That he was able to overcome life as a common criminal to become one of the 20th century's most celebrated historical figures is very much inspiring to say the least.

Because of this, I am compelled to add my two cents to the great debate that has been ignited by Prof. Marable's book. Before doing so, I will like to give a little background to how I came to know about the man who I consider to be my greatest hero among many in the Pan-African liberation struggle.

I was in Africa in April when I heard on the BBC about Prof. Marable's book. Since returning to the States a month ago, I have been following the debates among critics on both sides.

It was in late 1987 in my home town of Saclepea in north central Liberia when I first heard the name Malcolm X. A friend who had just returned from Monrovia, the Liberian capital, played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, including "I Have a Dream".

I was mesmerized by the cadence. It sounded great. At a gathering of another friend I mentioned the King speech. One friend said, "That's great but wait till you listen to the real man called Malcolm X." He told me Malcolm was not as celebrated in the U.S. because he was Muslim.

As Muslims, it was a great discovery and it gave us a sense of pride to know that there had been a famous American Muslim called Malcolm X. I had never imagined there was a Muslim in America, let alone a celebrated one. My friend could not tell me any further about the man he considered to be a great Muslim who was assassinated in the US.

After high school I moved to Monrovia in 1988. One day, walking in central Monrovia, I heard a Dr. King speech being played in a record store and went it. When I walked out I had bought the "House Negro, and Field Negro." That became the start of my own journey into the understanding and developing deep appreciation for the man. Later that year, I came across the "Autobiography of Malcolm X." It was the most important book I had read beside the Holy Quran.

A friend named himself Malcolm X and later on named his son Shabazz, after Malcolm X. Malcolm is at the top of my list of the great heroes of the Pan African struggle. In Liberia, I formed the Malcolm X African Disciples (MAXAD) in Monrovia in the early 1990s. We held programs during Black History Month in February and on May 19, Malcolm's birthday.

Every human being goes through different stages of change. The obvious one is the biological one--from infancy to adulthood, and through old age and death. Depending on the environment we live in we go through many stages of change--social, political, religious, or ideological.

n 39 years on earth Malcolm X went through different stages which may be divided between his lives as :Malcolm Little, Malcolm X, and Alhaji Malik Shabazz.

Malcolm Little was lost in the wilderness of a criminal culture. Malcolm X was the rebirth of the man who had been was lost. This is the Malcolm who became a fierce critic of the White power structure not only in the US but globally. Alhaji Malik Shabazz grew to become a universal campaigner for human dignity. At the end of the day, Malcolm's evolution from street criminal to one of the most celebrated revolutionary figures in the world is the story that has captivated the hearts of millions around the world.

If these changes are what Prof. Marable means by Malcolm’s "reinvention" of himself, it would not matter. It only matters if Malcolm’s evolution was done out of deception. Yet,

Malcolm X, at any stage of his life was the real Malcolm. There was nothing fake about him. In fact, the many changes he allowed himself to go through is what resulted in his celebration by millions of people around the world.

Prof. Marable's book attempts to deconstruct the positive image of Malcolm X that made him an admirable global figure. Malcolm never concealed his negative attributes or experiences.

Prof. Marable goes to great length to prove that the man the world has come to admire and celebrate is far less than a clean figure; to be admired and celebrated as such. There is vigor in digging up the "dirt" about Malcolm; as if Marable angered by all the positive attributes of the man.

For all those who know the man through his autobiography, that's not the case. Malcolm highlighted, to the maximum, his negative past so as to tell people, particularly the young, that they too can turn their lives around. So in a nutshell, the world already knew Malcolm as the once wayward youth who became a liberated and dedicated his life to freeing others.

Indeed, it's Prof. Marable who tried to reinvent Malcolm X; whom we knew for 40 years as the criminal turned revolutionary.

What were Prof. Marable's motives?

Was he bothered by the respectability Malcolm X had come to enjoy from people in the US and around the world? All the holes Prof. Marable tried to punch in Malcolm X's image cannot be supported beyond reasonable doubt. Some of his "new" revelations about Malcolm X are mere speculation. Consider the assertion that Malcolm "was engaged in homosexual affair with a white man" in his youth. According to Marable, Malcolm was referring to himself when he "falsely attributed his own sexual encounters with an older white male to a friend named Rudy (p. 66)." Prof. Marable went on to say: "Based on circumstantial but strong evidence, Malcolm was probably describing his own homosexual encounter with Paul Lennon."

This statement has two qualifiers: "circumstantial" and "strong." This is a mere speculation with no "strong evidence" at all. His allegations about Malcolm’s own extra-marital affairs and that of his wife Dr. Betty Shabazz are similarly not sustained by evidence. As noted by many objective reviewers, if the allegation of extra-marital affair was true, either the FBI or the Nation of Islam would have run with it to the bank. It would have been in their mutual interests to tell the world not to take Malcolm seriously because he was guilty of the same moral shortcoming he was accusing Elijah Muhammad of. Prof. Marable could not show any evidence why the FBI or the Nation was not interested in this even if they knew about it. This factor deals a deadly blow to Prof. Marable’s infidelity allegations.

If Prof. Marable’s intent was to discredit either Alex Haley or Malcolm and "The Autobiography...", he again failed miserably. "The Autobiography..." had presented the side of Malcolm X the world did not know. Did Haley try to hide any facts in the autobiography? For me the answer is no. We learned that Malcolm X was once a hoodlum, drug dealer, and a pimp. From "The Autobiography ..." we know too that Malcolm preached the false doctrine of Yakub that was taught to him by Elijah Muhammad. "The Autobiography..." also tells us about the transformation.

In fact, Marable would have fared better in attempting to discredit Malcolm had Malcolm or Haley tried to hide all his negative attributes while playing up the positives. The redemptive value of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" makes it the real magnum opus among books. Standing next to each other, "The Autobiography ..." dwarfs Marable’s "Malcolm X, the Life of Reinvention."

Perhaps the most important revelation of Prof. Marable’s book is the light it sheds on the assassination, especially the trigger man, William Bradley, now identified as Mustafa Shabazz. Even then, Prof. Marable's book can never take the place of "The Autobiography ..."

"The Autobiography ..." was for me an introduction to the African American experience. It opened the door to a deeper understanding of the Black experience in America. Further reading led me to the discovery of the African American literature which has greatly inspired my own interest in writing.

The autobiography succeeded in presenting the two sides of Malcolm X. It is the version of Malcolm who was constantly changing towards perfection and in the process was gunned down right before his family and hundreds of supporters. The fact that he was gunned down for standing up for the truth, for standing up so selflessly on behalf of his oppressed people is the reason why millions of people around the world love him.

He did not hesitate to take the bullet for his belief, and for his people. He willingly paid the price many cowards will not even dream about. Of course he did not do everything right and that’s because he was simply a human being.

Islam says our good deeds and bad deeds are going to be put on the scale. We are forgiven when our good deeds outweigh the bad ones. In the case of Malcolm X, there is enough evidence from all the books written about him that his good deeds tip the scale. Ultimately, that’s what that matters--anything to the contrary not withstanding.

About the Author: Nvasekie N. Konneh is a poet and writer and nine years veteran of the US Navy. Nvasekie Konneh is the author of a book of poetry, "Going to War for America," about his experiences of surviving the Liberian civil war and time served in the US military. He’s currently the publisher of the Uptown Review Magazine in Monrovia, Liberia which covers Liberian arts, culture and tourism. He can be reached 267 407 5735 in the US or 011 231 657 0507 in Liberia or you can email him @ or

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