By Chet Yarbrough
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
By Manning Marable
Narrated by G. Valmont Thomas
Malcolm X has been in the news lately. Some Malcom X’ papers have been found that seem to reveal a new vision of the man. However Manning Marable’s biography of Malcom X suggests the papers were never lost. Malcolm X’s life became an open book.
Driving to the office the other day, while waiting for a traffic light to change, a well-dressed youngish black man offers a newspaper titled “The Final Call” to anyone willing to make a donation to its publication. “The Final Call” is the official paper of the “Nation of Islam” (NOI) that covers news worthy events of black America and expounds the philosophy of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of NOI in the United States.
After reading a couple of “The Final Call” papers, one can understand its appeal because it offers news about black experience in America. However, every edition has one page dedicated to the philosophy of the “Nation of Islam” as a religious movement. It states blacks and whites must have separate nations with their own governments; including dedicated land for Nation of Islam’ believers, qualified by the color of their skin.
“Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” is an educational tour de force of the good and not so good aspects of the NOI movement in the United States. Acknowledging my personal skepticism about “organized religion”, the Nation of Islam has the same negative qualities of all organized religions; it makes claims of divine authority for humans that have the same failings of all humans; i.e. lust, and greed for money, power, and prestige.
Men like Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan offer a sense of pride and belief in oneself that every human being owns when they are born. But they, like all human beings, are not perfect. One can cast stones at Elijah Muhammad’s infidelity, Malcolm X’s incitement to riot, or Louis Farrakhan’s belief that a Black person can only be free in a Black nation, but what human being has not lusted for sex or coveted money, power, and prestige?
Manning Marable, the author of this book, was (he died in April of 2011) a professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University. This American historian, with the help of Alex Haley (author of “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”), has written this book to educate ignorant Americans on the NOI movement in the United States.
Though “Malcolm: A Life of Reinvention” is primarily about Malcolm Little’s (Malcolm X’s) life, it tells the history of the Nation of Islam and the rise of its current leader, Louis Farrakhan Muhammad, Sr.
Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. In the last year of his life, he split from NOI because he did not believe America could be separate and equal for black and white Americans; i.e. he endeavored to make NOI a political; not just religion-based, black organization. This was a contradiction to the Nation of Islam leader’s teaching, which may have led to his assassination. Malcolm Little’s transition from uneducated hoodlum to Malcolm X, a self-educated political activist and religious leader, is a well told story in Marable’s book.
With the election of Barack Obama, one is inclined to believe Malcolm X was on the right trail (the political power trail) and Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam in the United States, was mistaken because he relegated the black movement to an extreme form of religion; akin to nationalism, that has the same social baggage carried by right-wing propagandists like George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party leader of the early 60s.
Louis Farrakhan Muhammad continues Elijah Muhammad’s message by insisting on NOI’s adherence to religious, economic, and political separation of black and white people. In a practical and bigoted sense, Rockwell and Farrakhan are allies in extremis.
Malcolm X is not a saint in this biography. He is shown to be a hoodlum in transition but he touches the nerves and lives of black and white America. Malcolm X lives and dies in America’s effort to become a true land of the free, with equality of opportunity for all.
Malcolm X’s life story kindles fear and hope in a world populated by “all too human” human beings.