Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
By: Manning Marable
Hardcover: 608 pages
Published: April 1, 2011
One of the most highly anticipated books of 2011, Manning Marable’s last book, released just days after his death, is perhaps the most thorough and unequivocal account of the life and death of Malcolm X ever written.
A book whose origins date back to when Marable was a freshman in college, he details the evolution of Malcolm X as an individual and as a political figure. Thanks to the disclosure of government documents detailing the FBI’s surveillance of the NOI and Malcolm X himself, transcripts of speeches, interviews, and oral history, Marable re-tells the story of Malcolm’s life, and most importantly, makes him human and tangible to us all.
We realize the Autobiography of Malcolm X was written from the perspective and political motives of Alex Haley. Its purpose was to serve as a cautionary tale of what we presume to be Malcolm X’s life from street hoodlum to prominent figure of the Nation of Islam (NOI). As Marable describes, “Self-invention was an effective way for him to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community; giving justification for their hopes.” Each layer of his life really is expressed through the various names given or self-imposed throughout his lifetime: Malcolm Little, Homeboy, Jack Carlton, Detroit Red, Big Red, Satan, Malachi Shabazz, Malik Shabazz, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Each identity cannot exist without the other.
Much of the controversy around the book focuses on a few pages of the book, which really does no justice to the amount of research conducted over a span of two decades, describing what may have been a casual relationship between a young Malcolm and a white man. What is most significant about Malcolm X youth is that it is marred by tragedy, poverty, and racism—the reality of growing up black in the United States.
What is most fascinating about this book are not the accounts of the the inner-workings of the NOI, nor Malcolm’s emergence as a reluctant figure during the civil rights movement of the 1960s (well, ok a little bit), but rather how he struggled and fought to find an ideology that would allow for personal liberation and serve as an inspiration for black folks struggling to survive during a very tumultuous time in the 20th century. The last sentence of the Acknowledgements and Research Notes section sums it up best: “Without erasing his mistakes and contradictions, Malcolm embodies a definitive yardstick by which all other Americans who aspire to a mantle of leadership should be measured.”