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Manning Marable’s Controversial New Biography Refuels Debate on Life and Legacy of Malcolm X

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After two decades of work, Dr. Manning Marable completed a new biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Dr. Marable used material for his book that was recently made available, thus providing a new insight into the famed civil rights leader. His biography, however, has also refueled the debate on many controversial aspects of Malcolm X’s life and interpretation of his politics and legacy. To discuss Dr. Marable’s biography, we host a roundtable discussion with three guests. Amiri Baraka is an acclaimed poet, playwright, music historian and activist based in Newark, New Jersey. Herb Boyd is a Harlem-based activist, teacher and author who edits the online publication, The Black World Today, and writes for several publications, including Amsterdam News. Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and is the author of numerous books, including Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. [includes rush transcript]

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Video squareStoryMay 19, 2005A Life of Reinvention: Manning Marable Chronicles the Life of Malcolm X
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to an excerpt of a speech Malcolm X gave at the Audubon Ballroom about six months before he was assassinated in 1965. It’s called “By Any Means Necessary.”

MALCOLM X: One of the first things that the independent African nations did was to form an organization called the Organization of African Unity. The purpose of our Organization of Afro-American Unity, which has the same aim and objective: to fight whoever gets in our way, to bring about the complete independence of people of African descent here in the Western hemisphere, and first here in the United States, and bring about the freedom of these people by any means necessary. That’s our motto.

The purpose of our organization is to start right here in Harlem, which has the largest concentration of people of African descent that exists anywhere on this earth. There are more Africans here in Harlem than exist in any city on the African continent, because that’s what you and I are: Africans.

The Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are the principles in which we believe, and that these documents, if put into practice, represent the essence of mankind’s hopes and good intentions. Desirous that all Afro-American people and organizations should henceforth unite so that the welfare and well-being of our people will be assured, we are resolved to reinforce the common bond of purpose between our people by submerging all of our differences and establishing nonsectarian, constructive programs for human rights. We hereby present this charter:

I. The Establishment.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity shall include all people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. In essence, what it is saying, instead of you and me running around here seeking allies in our struggle for freedom in the Irish neighborhood or the Jewish neighborhood or the Italian neighborhood, we need to seek some allies among people who look something like we do. And once we get their allies. It’s time now for you and me to stop running away from the wolf right into the arms of the fox, looking for some kind of help. That’s a drag.

II. Self-Defense.

Since self-preservation is the first law of nature, we assert the Afro-American’s right to self-defense.

The Constitution of the United States of America clearly affirms the right of every American citizen to bear arms. And as Americans, we will not give up a single right guaranteed under the Constitution. The history of unpunished violence against our people clearly indicates that we must be prepared to defend ourselves or we will continue to be a defenseless people at the mercy of a ruthless and violent racist mob.

AMY GOODMAN: Malcolm X, speaking six months before he was assassinated February 21st, 1965. He was 39 years old.

To talk more about Malcolm X and the controversy, as well, around Manning Marable’s new book, A Life of Reinvention, we’re joined by three guests.

Amiri Baraka, acclaimed poet, playwright, music historian, activist, based in Newark, New Jersey. His many works include the 1969 play The Death of Malcolm X. He’s the author and editor of numerous books, including Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing.

Herb Boyd is with us, the Harlem-based activist, teacher, author. He edits the online publication, The Black World Today, and writes for number of publications, including the Amsterdam News.

And joining us from Washington, D.C., Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, author of numerous books, including Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Amiri Baraka —


AMY GOODMAN: — on this day that Malcolm X would have been 86 years old, what do you think we should understand about him?

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, we should understand the impact that Malcolm had on the whole of American society. I think that the one problem I have with Marable’s book is Marable never understands that the black liberation movement had the most impact on American society — not the CP, not the DSA, not any of these social democratic groups, but the black liberation movement had. And it wasn’t — if it wasn’t for the black liberation movement and people like Malcolm, people like Martin Luther King, people like Rosa Parks, wouldn’t be an Obama. You know, that’s the fruit of that struggle. And to downplay — I mean, calling the Nation of Islam a sect, or saying that Malcolm loved history, but he wasn’t a historian, you know, these are the kind of things that show you that it’s a class bias that Marable had. And I’m not opposed to Marable; he was a friend of mine. I was in his office waiting for him the day before he died. You know what I’m saying? But he clearly denigrates the black liberation movement.

He tries to make it seem that the Nation of Islam, we know, killed Malcolm X. That’s not true. The people who killed Malcolm X are the people that had most opportunity to kill him. And they say there’s a killer still lurking in my town, Newark. I think we should ask the police who that is. They are the ones in charge of that. You know, they should — they should be the ones put on the grill for that.

But the thing of trying to so-called humanize Malcolm, especially by adding these little unproven non-facts about him — see, because I’m not worried about the charges of, you know, homosexuality or that Betty, you know, had some kind of affair with this fool Kenyatta. There is no proof of that. That’s just speculation. Why put it in there? You understand?

When my wife and I got 3,000 pages from the FBI, which they claim they didn’t have, I had to go to Allen Ginsberg’s lawyer to get that. They charged me 10 cents apiece for the pages. What she said, Amina said this, she said, “Well, look, the stuff they crossed out — we need to worry about the stuff they let you see, because it’s the stuff they let you see that’s going to twist what you think.” And then I just pushed it aside. And I think the same thing. Marable got those tidbits from where? FBI, CIA, New York Police, BOSS, and people that hated him. And then they —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by “those tidbits”?

AMIRI BARAKA: Excuse me?

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “those tidbits”?

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, all the rumors, the unproven rumors.


AMIRI BARAKA: About Malcolm and Betty and those kind of things. You know, in fact, ironically, I had written Marable a month before that about his journal, where he quoted this man Thomas 15X saying that he had burned down the mosque, see? I mean, burned down Malcolm’s house in Long Island. And I wrote, “Well, how do you know that? Why would you quote this guy who was a professed enemy of Malcolm? Or to tell me about Captain Joseph, who said on television that Malcolm was Benedict Arnold?” You understand? There’s no consistency in Marable’s reporting, because his consciousness is somewhere else, you see.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, that’s the interesting thing to me in some of the critiques I’ve seen that you’ve written on the book, that you believe the fundamental flaw was that he did not understand the self- —- the struggle for self-determination -—

AMIRI BARAKA: Absolutely, absolutely.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — of African Americans in the country.

AMIRI BARAKA: Absolutely.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in an effort to humanize him, basically set aside the real political issues —

AMIRI BARAKA: Absolutely, right on it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — that both the Nation represented.

AMIRI BARAKA: That’s exactly right. You see, because to Manning, the left, as he calls it, which is anything from Trotskyites to CP, DSA, is finally more important politically. You know, Marable was the vice president or vice chairman of the DSA for several years.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Democratic Socialists of America.

AMIRI BARAKA: Right. And so, he literally believed that left, that Democratic Socialist that Lenin denounced, you know, when he changed the name from Social Democrats to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, is that Marable thinks that they’re more important politically, you see? So that, to him, you know, like saying the thing, you know, Malcolm loved history, but he was no historian — so, are you telling me that if you get an academic title historian, then you understand history more than a person who’s dedicated to studying it? No, that’s just a class bias.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Michael Eric Dyson into this discussion, professor at Georgetown University. Your thoughts on Malcolm X today and what Amiri Baraka is saying in his criticism of Manning Marable’s book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, Malcolm X was a remarkable figure. As Manning Marable himself said on your show, the most remarkable figure, he said, produced by black people in the 20th century. So I don’t think that there’s any lack of evidence to substantiate the claim that Manning Marable believed Malcolm X was the most remarkable black person produced in the 20th century. That says everything, and a heck of a lot about his own understanding and his consciousness here.

Amiri Baraka is a genius. There’s no question about that. I would respectfully disagree with him on this point, however, because I think that Manning Marable’s consciousness is not what’s at stake here. What’s at stake here are the facts. What’s at stake here is the framework. And I think Mr. Baraka is absolutely right in terms of looking at the framework that informs and constructs the facts, that brings together this symphony of data, and trying to orchestrate it into an intelligible and a coherent treatise that gives us a sense of who Malcolm is.

I don’t think we engage in any anti-intellectualism here. Yes, the professionalization and academization of history is a real problem. But the answer to that is to be as broad and humane and as literate about the multiple sources that feed into our own understandings and interpretations of history, rather than appealing to this kind of bifurcation, this Manichean distinction between us and them, between the dude who was living history and the dude who was studying history. Yeah, I would say that, absolutely, if you’re in the thick of history — Manning Marable was not trying to in any way besmirch the character of Malcolm X by saying he was not a historian. He’s saying that a historian is somebody who takes a look at the wide range of facts and phenomena and tries to organize them into a narrative that makes meaningful interpretation of those events. So he’s not trying to besmirch Malcolm X’s character.

AMIRI BARAKA: So do you think Fidel Castro wasn’t a historian?


AMIRI BARAKA: No, I’m saying — I mean, it’s such a formal, academic definition, is what I’m saying. And the fact is, if you’re saying the data that Marable has — first of all, I question all of these unproven assumptions and all these things.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right, OK. But —

AMIRI BARAKA: They come from the same sources that finally killed him, you know.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I understand that. But what I’m saying to you is that — I’m going to come to that very quickly — I’m saying it’s not a formal understanding of history. It’s either we’re going to have somebody who is relatively fair-minded, not objective — we know we don’t have a point of objectivity outside of the flow of human history — but we also have to have people who were involved who are trying to understand and interpret this. And to say that Manning Marable didn’t have the right kind of consciousness is itself the kind of doctrinaire sectarianism that Malcolm X argued against.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: When Malcolm X talked about the unification of black people, he said we want to do it beyond that. And I’m saying that if Mr. Baraka’s claim against Manning Marable is that he’s a certain kind of Democratic Socialist versus Leninism, I’m saying that if you’re talking about consciousness, is the ultimate black nationalist consciousness informed by a European theoretician of Marx and a person who engaged in practices that necessarily didn’t take into account the full range of black life? So when you say, furthermore, that Manning Marable —

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, Lenin was a revolutionary. Mao was a revolutionary.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: When you say that Manning Marable did not — what’s that?

AMIRI BARAKA: I said Lenin was a revolutionary. He made a revolution. Mao Zedong was a revolutionary. He made a revolution.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I’m just saying, but —

AMIRI BARAKA: Fidel Castro was a revolutionary. He made a revolution, you see?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I’m not denying any of that. But what you’re saying, you’re —

AMIRI BARAKA: Ho Chi Minh was a revolutionary.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You’re impugning — you’re indicting Manning Marable for not understanding the flow of black nationalism. And I’m saying, if that’s the case —- he talked about Pan-Africanist identity, talked about Malcolm X’s engagement, his influence by Garvey, his understanding that, like King, that you want to talk about the liberation of black people. I’m saying, when you make the charge that Manning Marable doesn’t fundamentally understand that the liberation of black people is at the heart of the project of making America what it is, I think that’s contradicted by every one of Manning Marable’s books, where he makes that argument brilliantly, and he talks about the revolutionary -—


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — power of African-American thought to change American consciousness and African-American practice to change American democracy.

AMIRI BARAKA: But it seems to me he’s always —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: So there’s no way — that argument is really baseless.

AMIRI BARAKA: He thinks that we are aspiring to be social democrats. He thinks that black nationalists are actually aspiring to be social democrats, aspiring to be in a Democratic Socialist sort of CP. That’s not true. The black — the revolutionary nationalist motion, like Lenin said, is more important, in revolutionary sense, because you don’t say, “This is formally involved in democracy.” You say, “How much has this done to undermine imperialism?” And there’s nothing done as much to undermine imperialism in these United States as the black liberation movement. That’s what I’m saying. And he doesn’t understand that.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, this is the irony to me. This is the irony.

AMIRI BARAKA: And he doesn’t understand that.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yes, sir. This is the irony to me. You’re quoting a dead white guy, so to speak, and you’re indicting Manning Marable for his inability to, in one sense, burrow beneath the field —

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, the Democratic Socialists come from dead white guys, too. I mean —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let me finish. Let me finish. But burrow beneath the fields of African-American consciousness and culture and practice, and you’re quoting dead white guys as opposed to African or African-American people who are black theoreticians of social revolution and change, who have talked about — or other people of color, who have talked about revolution, that don’t necessarily derive from Lenin.

AMIRI BARAKA: But you read the book, right? You already — you read the book?

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I can, for a second —- let me -—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I have read the entire book. Let me just say this. All I’m saying to you, sir —

JUAN GONZALEZ: Not to stop this —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let me get to my point.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Not to stop this debate, but I’d like to bring, for a second, Herb Boyd into the —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: First let me get to my point.

AMIRI BARAKA: He wrote a book like that about Martin Luther King.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to bring Herb Boyd into this. Herb, do you —

HERB BOYD: Don’t bring me into this. But I’m comfortable in this — in the middle of this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Herb, you knew — you knew Malcolm. He was a big influence on you.

HERB BOYD: Indeed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Talk about — as you read this book and this — and Manning Marable’s analysis, because it is a grippingly written book, it’s very well written — your analysis of the book?

HERB BOYD: No doubt about that, Juan, indeed. One of the things about this is it stimulated this debate, and I think that’s all constructive. We need to march toward the truth here. But I believe in going back to, like, the first principles, the kind of the base as opposed to superstructure. I don’t think that would be interpreted as some kind of Marxian analysis there. But I think one of the things about this is that the concern about the homosexuality and the infidelities are based upon, you know, fairly spurious, specious documents to begin with.

AMIRI BARAKA: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: This is what Manning Marable writes in his book.

HERB BOYD: Yeah, exactly. You know —

AMIRI BARAKA: Where does it come from?

HERB BOYD: Because, first of all, when you look at it in terms of the letter that Malcolm wrote to Elijah Muhammad in March of 1959, that was then — a man named Gary Zimet said he had the authentic copy of that letter. That should have been challenged in the book. I don’t think we went far enough with that. I mean, when you find the citation in the footnotes on that, it goes back to the same guy who was trying to sell it on eBay for $100,000. The authenticity of that letter should be challenged.

AMY GOODMAN: And the letter said what?

HERB BOYD: And the letter began to talk about —

AMY GOODMAN: Supposedly.

HERB BOYD: —- the troubled relationship with Betty. That’s what Malcolm -—

AMY GOODMAN: With his wife.

HERB BOYD: — was saying to Elijah Muhammad. So we need to question that. That’s a document that needs to be questioned for its authenticity. In terms of the infidelities and the homosexuality, that comes from a man named Malcolm Jarvis, and he was called “Shorty” in the autobiography. We need to go back and see that — who was he, and why would he make this assertion? Because he was not an eyewitness to supposedly Malcolm’s sprinkling talcum powder on this here white client in order to bring him to sexual completion. So, if that constitutes homosexuality, it gives a whole new meaning for the whole concept, for me, you know?

AMIRI BARAKA: And what’s the relevance in that in a political book?


AMIRI BARAKA: I mean, what’s the relevance to that?

HERB BOYD: Well, he figured he had to —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, you know what? Here’s the thing here.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You talk about [inaudible] —

AMIRI BARAKA: Are you going to talk about dead white people again? Are you going to talk about dead white people again?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I’m talking about living black people who are —- I’m talking about living black -—

AMIRI BARAKA: Because I didn’t know you were a racist. I didn’t know you were a racist.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right. Let me —

HERB BOYD: But Michael, Michael —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: When I talk about dead white guys —- that the construction of dead white men is a well-known formulation that refers to the classics and the degree to which the Western canon -—

AMIRI BARAKA: But don’t you teach at a university full of dead white men?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let me — let me finish. That the canon has an impact upon the construction of consciousness. But let me get to the point here. First of all, the deep and profound homophobia and the resistance of certain sectarian interests within African-American culture that refuse to acknowledge the full humanity wants to talk about black unity, but always wants to exclude —- oh, my god. You don’t have a problem with Malcolm being a hustler, don’t have a problem. You haven’t asked no evidence of that, or the pimp. And it was exaggerated in the autobiography, with his amanuensis Alex Haley. Malcolm exaggerates his hustling itinerary to prove the redemptive power -—

AMIRI BARAKA: You got that from Marable. You got that from Marable.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. None of that is being questioned. But when we talk about same-sex activity — and Manning Marable was talking about him as Malcolm Little, not as Malcolm X. He was speaking about what happened before the point of redemption from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

AMIRI BARAKA: How does he know that? What is facts?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And he’s talking about another extension of his practice as a hustler. The fact —- Rodnell Collins, the nephew of Malcolm X, in his letter. You see the citation that Manning Marable makes there. And by the way, Manning Marable was not the first scholar to suggest that. We know Bruce Perry, in his 1991 book, which is very problematic -—

AMIRI BARAKA: You’re not going to quote that book.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But Malcolm —- very problematic. But Manning Marable does the footwork and the spade work. And it’s two pages in a multi -—

AMIRI BARAKA: Perry says Malcolm was white [inaudible] —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — a huge tome that engages in a serious analysis of who Malcolm X is. So if we’re going to sit up here, and with — Mr. Baraka, with all due respect —- of trying to see Manning Marable through a narrow ideological lens and to see Malcolm X through an equally problematic lens -—

AMIRI BARAKA: No, no, no. It’s quite the contrary. He sees Malcolm through a narrow ideological lens.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — it distorts the entire understanding of who Manning Marable is and who Malcolm X was.

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, I know Manning.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And we’re talking about ideological apparatuses, as opposed to the facts at hand and how we can best interpret them.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to have to break for 30 seconds, and we’re coming back. And Herb Boyd, you are going to get a word in edgewise.

HERB BOYD: Oh, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Michael Eric Dyson — he’s in Washington, D.C., he’s a professor at Georgetown University; Amiri Baraka, poet, playwright, activist; Herb Boyd, Harlem-based activist, teacher, writer, author, journalist. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests, Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.; poet Amiri Baraka is with us here in New York, as is Herb Boyd, the Harlem-based activist, teacher, author, journalist.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, Herb, I’d like to begin with you.


JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve written that you have found as many as 25 significant errors in the book by Marable.

HERB BOYD: Sure, mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about some of those?

HERB BOYD: Well, these are factual things that — this day and age, in the whole publishing industry, I mean, the fact checking is just thrown out the window. And I think many of these errors that I talk about could have been caught by a good fact checker. Some of them are absolutely egregious, in terms of the founding of the NAACP, the distance from the Apollo Theater to the Hotel Theresa. It was almost like he never walked the streets of Harlem. And I think that those kind of things should have been caught with a fact checker.

But beyond that, and I think I certainly believe that from a “dead Chinaman’s” standpoint that, as Mao Zedong said, “Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” And that kind of discussion is going on here. It’s very good. I think it’s a solid debate that we need to have about going back to the first documents, going back to the autobiography, because all of the biographies stem from the autobiography. And in other words, if the premise is flawed, then some of the conclusions may be flawed, too. So we need to go back to that.

And, of course, we have an attorney out in Detroit who has in his possession the original manuscript. And in discussions with him, he finds a number of discrepancies as he goes from the — and annotates the original manuscript and the published account. There’s a number of discrepancies there, along with the three missing chapters, which seem to — at least one of those chapters — anticipate the founding of the Organization of African-American Unity. In other words, Malcolm was moving more and more in a political vein, far in advance of the 1963 “the chickens come home to roost.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the most significant contributions of the book that you see, in terms of brand new information or insights —


JUAN GONZALEZ: — that have escaped others in the past?

HERB BOYD: I think one of the things — and I think your earlier guest pointed out, Mr. Ali pointed out, that — the fact that he had access to materials that a number of the biographers before did not have, particularly the memorabilia. I was at the Schomburg when those two big crates came back. After the family had put it in an auction out in the Butterfields in San Francisco, it came back to the Schomburg, where it remains today. And in that, you found the diary. And I think one of the most interesting and probably the most critical thing about the book is that he had — Manning had access to that diary.

And 1964, as far as I’m concerned, is the most important year of Malcolm’s life. Spike Lee did not get a chance to deal with that constructively and exhaustively in his film. Manning had access to this diary. He could go day by day. I had a chance to see that same diary at the Schomburg. And I think that’s probably the most interesting and enlightening aspect of that book. You can follow Malcolm’s — these two trips that he made to Africa. 1964 was extremely important in terms of his political development and his connection, you know, to the whole geopolitical situation, the third world.

AMY GOODMAN: Amiri Baraka?


AMY GOODMAN: Did you want to weigh in on that?

AMIRI BARAKA: No. I think that, you know, it’s interesting that on the back of the book, they have — you know, what do you call that?

HERB BOYD: Blurbs.

AMIRI BARAKA: Yeah, blurbs by Skip Gates, Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West. You know, Skip Gates, as we know, would rather look for racism in Cuba than in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dyson wrote a book on Martin Luther King with similar kind of charges. And I was with Cornel West at the Left Forum, and I said, “Well, where are all the communists in here? Where are all the socialists?” And Cornel says, “I’m a Christian.” I’m just saying that those three people are the ideal people to push this book, because they all come from social democracy. And for somebody to say that I’m, by quoting Lenin and Mao Zedong, I’m quoting dead white guys — social democracy comes from that period where a group of people broke away from Lenin, in the Second International. He calls those people — they call themselves socialists, but they’re really chauvinists. That’s — so if he doesn’t understand that Democratic Socialists are not a party, you know, they’re people who claim to be on the left —- you understand by that? But when -—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: What does that have to do with Manning Marable? What does that have to do with Manning Marable’s book, Mr. Baraka? What I’m saying to you —

AMIRI BARAKA: That’s who he is. That’s who he is.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You might be making a legitimate point. Let me finish.

AMIRI BARAKA: But that’s who he is.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You’re making a point about — you’re talking about a political and ideological formation, which may or may not be legitimate, but that has nothing to do with the facts at hand. And I’m saying to you, you’re indicting Marable for lacking sufficient black consciousness, and you’re quoting everybody but black people.

AMIRI BARAKA: No, I’m quoting that he —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And I’m saying to you that fundamentally —

AMIRI BARAKA: No, he demeans — he demeans — he demeans black revolutionaries.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I’m saying to you, fundamentally, Manning Marable’s book is about a complicated picture of Malcolm X as a —

AMIRI BARAKA: But it’s a book that has few facts.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — revolutionary force in American society that transformed the culture.

AMIRI BARAKA: Yeah, but it doesn’t have facts. It uses presumptions, suppositions.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: It is predicated upon facts, the most exhaustive —


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: —- the most exhaustive factual analysis -—

AMIRI BARAKA: From where?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — of Malcolm X, and taking them into account.

AMIRI BARAKA: BOSS? CIA? FBI? New York Police Department?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Look, look, let me tell you this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: He does interview —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Even the FBI files testify to the brilliance of Malcolm X, to his almost Spartan existence, to the way in which he forged connections among people based upon very organic ties and connections —

AMIRI BARAKA: Don’t trust FBI files, Michael.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — to African and African-American people. It does bear witness to that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But let me ask Amiri, because —


JUAN GONZALEZ: — Amiri, you say it’s largely FBI and CIA, but he does interview quite a few of the people who were in the Nation of Islam.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Exhaustively interviewed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: He interviews Herman Ferguson. He interviews practically everybody who was involved in what —

AMIRI BARAKA: Oh, but look — and that’s what I mean. Do you understand who you’re interviewing? See, I tell you, I wrote a letter to Marable a month before that, when he’s quoting Thomas 15X, the guy who accuses the Nation of Islam of setting fire to Malcolm’s house. And I said, “Do you think this is intelligent to quote these people?”


AMIRI BARAKA: So, you know what? I’ll tell you —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, you know, if you’re going to —

AMIRI BARAKA: Whoa, whoa. If you’re going to quote a lot of people who either dislike Malcolm because he broke away from Elijah Muhammad, or you’re going to quote the very kind of a police force and secret police force that actually killed him, you know, then it makes the whole thing shaky. I’m not saying the book does not have a reason for existing that you can accept, but I’m saying if you’re going to make the book readable, because you’re going to throw in some unsupportable facts about Charles Kenyatta, who was a fool, some unsupportable facts about Betty Shabazz, which you cannot prove, you know, and which you’re going to just spice the book up — he had something about Malcolm, the day before he got murdered, went and slept with this woman — he said “might have” slept with this woman. Now, where did “might have” — where did that get in there?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, you know what?

AMIRI BARAKA: Is that factual, Michael? “Might have”?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: This is what’s interesting to me. This is what’s — this is what’s interesting to me, is that what — precisely what Manning Manning was trying to do — with all, again, respect to Mr. Baraka — is to remove history from ad hominem, ad feminem attacks, to remove it from — because if we’re going to indict people for the ideological axes to grind and the narrowness of their perception, all of us are vulnerable here, including Mr. Baraka, Mr. Boyd and Michael Eric Dyson.

AMIRI BARAKA: Yeah. And Mr. Dyson, that’s true.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: None of us are free from the particular instances of bias or shaping our perception in a certain way.

AMIRI BARAKA: But there’s a difference. Michael, there’s a difference between —

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Having said that —

AMIRI BARAKA: There’s a difference between a pilot and somebody who knows about airplanes.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: —- what we acknowledge is the fact that Manning Marable has created a work that continues to inform us about one of the most powerful and revolutionary figures in American history, and he loves him so much. And let tell you what. Another manifestation of -—

AMIRI BARAKA: Rhetoric, rhetoric.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: — Manning Marable’s black consciousness is that he understood that Amiri Baraka’s genius must be protected and wanted to preserve the papers of Amiri Baraka, and brought them into shape, organized them, so that they could be sold to Columbia and whoever else, because he could understand the power of that.

AMIRI BARAKA: I was sitting in his office the day before he died. I was sitting in Marable’s office the day before he died, waiting for him. When I got home, they told me he had died. So, I’m not no enemy of Manning’s. We worked together. I’m just saying what I disagree with that work. You know.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: And I want to get from you, Herb Boyd —


AMY GOODMAN: You met Malcolm.

HERB BOYD: Yes, indeed, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You spent time with him, as — and Amiri also.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you want especially young people to know about Malcolm?

HERB BOYD: I think one of the basic concerns I have about Malcolm’s life and legacy is that, first of all, nothing in that book or any other biography can diminish the importance of Malcolm. You can say all those kind of things, but he transcends all of that. And I think what — I believe that our young people should contest and challenge and read as much as they can. I think to say, “No, I’m not going to read the book,” and dismiss it like that — no. There’s some very valuable things in there. Obviously, it’s flawed. You know, all of us are flawed. Malcolm was flawed. But we have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of that; otherwise, we can’t move ahead. Go back. Let’s take a good look at it in a Sankofa way. We can face forward, but we’ve got to look back and analyze. You know, otherwise, we’re just doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds, Michael Eric Dyson.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, look, Manning Marable’s book is not a besmirchment of the character of Malcolm X. He celebrates him as the greatest figure produced in the 20th century of African-American life. This book is a testimony to the monumental attempt to reconstruct an American life that had a revolutionary impact upon the culture and the consciousness of black people and America at large.

AMY GOODMAN: And Amiri Baraka, 10 seconds, if you can?

AMIRI BARAKA: Well, I met Malcolm the month before he was murdered, in the Waldorf Astoria, which was a hotel room by Mohamed Babu. But anyway, the thing that Malcolm impressed me with was a call for a united front.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there.

AMIRI BARAKA: A call for a united front.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Eric Dyson, Amiri Baraka, Herb Boyd, thanks so much for joining us.

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A Life of Reinvention: Manning Marable Chronicles the Life of Malcolm X

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