On my train commute home tonight I finished Manning Marable‘s sizable (500 pages) recent (2011) biography of Malcolm X. The book’s title is Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. I definitely learned a lot about Malcolm X – who has been a hero of mine for quite a while.
I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a few other Malcolm X books, saw the Spike Lee movie, and heard talks by and about Malcolm on KPFK radio and elsewhere. Back in the 1990s for about a half-dozen years I would host an annual party on Malcolm X’s birthday – May 19th (1925.) The glasses I wear I think of as Malcolm X glasses – though my father and many other folks wore similar retro-style frames. I’d hear Manning Marable speak on Democracy Now, so I was looking forward to reading the book… but it’s big, so it took me a bit of time to get into it and to finish it.
Marable’s book is very good. It humanizes Malcolm a bit. While it portrays him squarely as hero, Manning doesn’t idealize him as much as I think I had. He didn’t get along with his wife. He exaggerated some things about his criminal past – to make himself sound more badass than he was. Marable draws a useful distinction between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Where King’s movement work came out of a relatively well-off college-educated black middle class, Malcolm X’s movement work came out of a very street-level urban poor black working class. (more…)