A Review Essay of Malcolm X: A Life Reinvantion by Manning Marable

By Jackson, Eric R. | Journal of Pan African Studies, June 2012 | Go to article overview

A Review Essay of Malcolm X: A Life Reinvantion by Manning Marable


Jackson, Eric R., Journal of Pan African Studies


Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life Reinvention. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. 487 pp., research notes, notes, glossary, bibliography, and index; ISBN: 978-0-14-312032-2.

When Malcolm X was murdered at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 the majority of the mainstream media in the United States quickly suggested that the bloodshed he experienced was nothing more than what he had sown for many decades. Calling Brother Malcolm an extremist, a demagogue, a racist, and spiritually bankrupt as well as viewing him as an advocate for violence and a staunch believer that all whites were devils became the daily, general description of various media commentators who had apparently held these views for many years despite the transformative status of this charismatic, spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI). At best, the press praised Malcolm X's outstanding oratorical skills, great intellect, and warm personality but they simultaneously found him to be misguided, viewing him as an opportunist, a religious zealot, or an enigma of the African American-led Freedom struggle who was the total opposite of the supposedly increasingly admired Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Several months later, with the posthumous publication of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, co-authored by Alex Haley, a more complex man was portrayed and thus a somewhat softened Malcolm X appeared. This classic volume explored the transformation of Malcolm X from a young street hustler to a drug dealer to a jailed prisoner to a member of the NOI and finally to a magnetic activist whose spiritual and political reawakening tragically ended with his untimely death as he sought to move beyond the total influence and teachings of Elijah Muhammad. In general, Manning Marable's captivating and momentous biography of Malcolm X helps us navigate through these different representations of this extremely important but often misunderstood national and international human rights leader.

In Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, the late Marable, who prior to his untimely and surprising death in early 2011, held numerous academic positions at a variety of higher educational institutions, such as Tuskegee Institute, the University of San Francisco, Fisk University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Ohio State University, Colgate University, Cornell University, and Columbia University, where he created the Center for Research in African-American Studies in 1993, gives us an account of Malcolm X that has never been seen before on such a broad scale. In essence, the author tries to make sense of the world in which Malcolm X lived as well as how that world made him live as he did. More specifically, Marable's central point "is to go beyond the legend: to recount what actually occurred in Malcolm's life" and also "present the facts that Malcolm himself could not have known, such as the extent of illegal FBI and New York Police Department surveillance and acts of disruption against him, the truth about those among his supporters who betrayed him politically and personally, and the identification of those responsible for Malcolm's assassination" (p. 12). Also crucial is the author's attempt to illustrate "how Malcolm's resurrection occurred, first among African Americans and later throughout America" at-large (p.14).

In the first three chapters, Marable discusses both familiar and unknown aspects of Malcolm's childhood which range from the background of his biracial parents who both separately and as a couple became members of the Garvey movement to the relocation of Malcolm's family from state-to-state for a short period of time to the internal struggles of his family after the controversial death of Malcolm's father at the hands of the Klan to the mental instability of his mother several months after she became a single parent to the ultimate dismantlement of the entire family itself. According to the author, Malcolm's tumultuous and unpredictable upbringing led him to a life of crime and eventually to a long prison sentence in the state of Massachusetts which ultimately led him to convert to and join the Nation of Islam (NOI), which was spearheaded by his "anxiously writing [of] letters to Elijah [Muhammad] on an almost daily basis" (p. …

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