|Feb 7, 2013 - Issue 503|
Brief Reflections on the Debate Surrounding
[Acknowledgment: Author wishes to express heartfelt appreciation to Bill Fletcher Jr., Professor Robyn C. Spencer, Professor Jeanne Theoharis, Professor Johanna Fernandez, Professor Farah Griffin, Professor Zak Kondo, Professor Komozi Woodard, Professor Clayborne Carson, Professor Ronda Levine, Professor Michael Vinson Williams, Garret Felber, Professor Waldo E Martin, Joshua Bloom, Zaheer Ali, Professor Barbara Ransby etc.,. and all who struggle for social justice. This brief article is dedicated to the memory of Dr Manning Marable. All errors herein are the sole responsibility of the author.]
“History is not everything, but it a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.”
-Dr. John Henrik Clarke.
“It is vital to critique the mistakes of those who came before us.. to correct the mistakes and to emulate the success”
-Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)
Casting Manning out of the community?
At a Colgate University October 24 2011 memorial
program on Manning Marable, in a panel discussion of scholars
including Professor Robin C. Spencer (
Pointedly, Professor Spencer described the
powerful nature of Dr Marable’s scholarship.
“Manning’s work was seen as a deeply threatening to people who have built up lives, careers, social cache etc., from representing certain aspects of the oppression of Black Folks but not all aspects of it… I see the critique of Manning’s work ‘Reinvention’ coming from that sort of vantage point … almost a vitriolic attempt to cast Manning out the community,” (emphasis added).
Tension between Family legacy rights, scholarly research and public access
Presciently, the recent publication in 2013 of the Portable Malcolm X Reader, edited by Dr Manning Marable and Garret Felber, includes an interesting introduction by Dr Manning Marable describing major problems in this political biographic work. His attempt to resolve these challenges may have fueled the controversy which accompanied the 2011 publication of “Reinvention of Malcolm X”.
In the Portable Malcolm X Reader, Dr Marable states,
“Almost immediately I encountered four major problems in telling Malcolm’s life
story; The first was the embargo on information imposed by the attitude
and decisions taken by Malcolm X’s widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz.
Following her husband’s assassination, Dr. Shabazz
decided not to collect and archive his papers and original documents in
preparation for either giving or transferring them to a library or archive.
Instead, for more than three decades, thousands of pages of correspondence and
documents written or issued by Malcolm X, even his Holy Qur’an, were left
rotting on the basement floor of her
A similar conflict between financial and legal interest of family vs the needs of scholars is described in a newly published work The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks by Professor Jeanne Theoharis.
“Unfortunately many of Park’s
personal effects-dresses, awards, sewing basket, eye glasses and papers - have
been caught up in an extended legal dispute between the Rosa and Raymond Parks
Institute, which she confounded ...and her family. This led a
order to address these family legacy concerns, scholars such as Dr Clayborne Carson and Dr Marable
leveraged the considerable resources of well-endowed private universities such
deposit of these documents in the proper care and keeping of the New York
Public Library Schomburg Center of Black Research
with public access, scholarship research etc. Another component of the settlement
may have been facilitation of family members to be appointed as Directors of a public/private
Professor Zak Kondo, the well respected author of Conspiracies Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X, stated on April 29 2011, in a presentation titled, “The 2nd Crucifixion of Malcolm X,” in remarks strongly critical of Dr Marable’s Reinvention work, insightfully noted that Dr Betty Shabazz’s heartfelt desire was to replicate for the family of Malcolm, the same wealth of royalty and financial benefits provided to Coretta Scott King and family from Dr King’s legacy. If this is an accurate assessment, the steps taken by scholars such as Dr Marable were reasonable efforts to enable publication of Malcolm X, a Life of Reinvention.
Lost in Translation - a political biography or a personal memoir?
At the heart of the vitriolic debate that followed publication of Reinvention, may have been an unfortunate misunderstanding. Dr Marable, the Estate of Malcolm, Loyalists, family members etc., all used similar language to describe their vision of biographic scholarship. Dr Marable consistently described his work as “telling Malcolm’s life story”. However, Dr Marable’s nontraditional vision of political biography was similar to Professor Ransby in her definitive work Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement.
On the other hand, the Estate, family members, family friends, Malcolm loyalists etc., may have reasonably desired a traditional personal biography similar to the inspiring and financially successful Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, the autobiography Growing Up X by Ilyasah Shabazz, the definitive work Betty Shabazz - Surviving Malcolm X by Russell Rickford, etc.
The difference between these competing biographic approaches is dramatic
example, Professor Michael Vinson Williams acknowledges the invaluable personal biographic memoir of Medgar
Eves, For Us the Living, authored
by Medgar Evers’ wife and widow, Myrlie
Evers-Williams and Williams Peters. Professor Williams notes in his
Bibliographic Essay, “the authors of For Us, the Living present a primary
account of Evers as husband, father, and social/political activist”.
An interesting contrast can be seen with the following bold disclaimer included by Professor Theoharis in her newly published political biography of Rosa Parks, which states:
“This is fundamentally a political biography; it does not fully capture her community of friends and family ties, her faith, and church life, her marriage, her daily activities. That is a task for others.” (emphasis added).
Conclusion – “Our Black manhood”, Challenging iconoclastic racial/gender etc., myths
-Ossie Davis’s famous Eulogy at Malcolm’s funeral in February 1965.
The paternalistic description of civil rights leaders such as Rosa Parks as a demure, self effacing, passive, unlikely heroine was a popular myth extensively promoted at her funeral by political leaders, barely two months after their failed Hurricane Katrina victim’s disaster relief.
Unfortunately iconoclastic accolades by core members of Malcolm’s circle of trust, such as Ozzie Davis with his famous eulogy of Malcolm as “our shining Black manhood,” were well meaning but deeply limiting legend. In realty, warriors such as Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr King, Rosa Parks, etc. faced all of the racial, gender, class, etc. complications challenging all human beings, yet they were extraordinary in their dedication to social justice.
As Nelson Mandela consistently stated to his biographers, “I am no Angel”. Instead, Nelson Mandela fondly quotes W.E. Henley work, Invictus.
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
|BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Jack Smith, is an alumnus of