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.
readers learn nothing new of significance; Marable merely provides greater detail of things already known. Eugene Puryear: Putting aside Marable’s claims of having produced a definitive biography, A Life of Reinvention has raised more questions than answers. Some of these questions may be irresponsible and some may confuse matters that should be crystal clear, but Marable’s biography of Malcolm X has at least shown the need to study and debate Malcolm’s legacy and the movements from which he
Education. 36 Lomax, “The White Liberal,” 46. 37 Harold Cruse, “Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American” in Harold Cruse, Rebellion or Revolution? (New York: Morrow, 1968), 96. 38 OAAU Basic Unity Program, 264. 39 Ibid., 264–265. 40 Ibid., 263. 41 For more on the Congo crisis, see Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, translated by Ann Wright and Renée Fenby (London and New York: Verso, 2001). For African Americans’ identification with struggles on the African continent, see
could not change a security decision made by the OAAU’s security forces. Had the OAAU begun a policy of searching rally attendees, the assassins’ attack plan would at least have been much more difficult to pull off. I will always regret that the organization did not carry out that policy. On page 434, Marable presents another quote that bears no resemblance to what I actually said during the interview. He writes on that page that, on Sunday, February 21, 1965, “When Malcolm entered the Grand
on Malcolm. He correctly contends that, “nearly all of the scholarly work on Malcolm was based on a rather narrow selection of primary sources,” declaring the following: “I was struck by its shallow character and lack of original sources.” 57 Presumably, Marable’s observation also applies to works published prior to the 1990s, like Goldman’s The Death and Life of Malcolm X and Wolfenstein’s Victims of Democracy.58 Admittedly, the works produced during the Malcolm X resurrection of the 1990s were
engage defenders of Marable’s Malcolm X in principled and public debate. Thus, as Burroughs uses an actual panel experience to highlight his point on the matter, so too might the absence of many other such panels—those that never were or apparently never will be—support the point as well. For example, we extended an early summer 2011 invitation to Zaheer Ali and other members of Marable’s Malcolm X Project research team to appear on my radio show, to respond to questions that were to be provided