Sunday, October 03, 2010
Revolutionary. Pan-Africanist. American Muslim leader. Brilliant organizer and orator. Expelled second-in-command from the Nation of Islam. Martyr. International icon. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Malcolm X.
On May 19, Malcolm would have been 80; last February 21 marked the 40th anniversary of his assassination. Yet charges by a prominent scholar have spilled kerosene upon the memory of the already controversial activist, claiming that Autobiography co-author Alex Haley may have been an FBI informant who collaborated in suppressing three critical chapters from the definitive Malcolm X classic. Locked in a lawyer’s safe to this day, these legendary “missing” chapters are the pan-Africanist equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In a February 21 interview on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, Manning Marable, a major leftist American scholar and former head of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, alleged that Haley’s goal was to shape the Autobiography in a way that painted Malcolm X in an unflattering light. “Haley was a republican. He was an integrationist... opposed to Black Nationalism,” Marable said. “Haley felt he could make a solid case in favour of racial integration by showing what was, to white America, the consequence of their support for racial separatism that would end up producing a kind of hate.”
Marable’s claims stem from Haley’s connection with journalist Alfred Balk, who allegedly approached the FBI regarding an article he and Haley were jointly composing for the Saturday Evening Post. The FBI, whose often-lethal role in suppressing American labour and ethnic liberation movements is detailed in Jim Vander Wall’s and Ward Churchill’s Agents of Repression, targeted the Nation of Islam for surveillance, infiltration and “neutralization,” especially to prevent the final project of Malcolm’s life, a coalition between Black Nationalists and integrationist civil rights groups.
“A deal was struck between Balk, Haley and the FBI,” Marable says, “that the FBI provided information to Balk and Haley in the construction of their article.... One can assume that Haley did because Haley and Balk co-authored the piece, traveled throughout the United States together and collected material together to form an article that they co-authored. It would be highly unlikely that Haley did not know.”
A. Peter Bailey, the former editor of Ebony and a founding member of Malcolm’s secular, united-front Organization of Afro-American Unity, doesn’t take Marable’s word for it. “Marable is going to have show me the basis for his claim,” he says.
Karl Evanzz, a leading Malcolm X scholar and the author of The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X and The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad, is far less forgiving than Bailey. Speaking from his office at the Washington Post, where he’s an online editor, he said, “It’s the old guilt-by-association attack. He’s basically saying that if one writer had been compromised, then both had been, which I think is pretty far-fetched. It reminds me of McCarthyism.... It’s a really cheap shot to say that Alex Haley was an informant based upon the fact that a co-writer was feeding information to the FBI, even if that’s true.... [Marable] found nothing to say that Haley was freely exchanging information about Malcolm with the FBI.”
To this day, almost no one has seen the missing chapters, which according to Marable formed Malcolm’s final political plan for a national and global African liberation movement. But Malcolm’s murder in 1965 meant he didn’t live long enough to approve the final manuscript, and so chapters excised by Haley stayed in the co-author’s possession until his death in 1992, when Detroit attorney Greg Reed purchased them at auction for $100,000. According to Bailey and Evanzz, Reed has no political interest in the content of the 90-odd pages. “When you talk to [Gregory] Reed,” says Evanzz, “he will tell you from the outset that his name is ‘G. R-E-E-D.’ He makes no qualms about what he’s been trying to do with those chapters: sell them.”
While Malcolm was never elected to any public office, his national and international standing during the “golden age” of pan-Africanism and anti-colonial struggle saw him rise to the level of de facto ambassador for African America; he addressed the Second African Summit Conference Organization in Cairo in 1964, and was granted observer status at the Organization of African Unity. This revolutionary vector likely caused panic in Washington, since Malcolm was planning to connect the struggle of Africans in America to their struggle overseas by taking the United States government before the World Court on charges of crimes against humanity. “I’d be willing to bet you,” Bailey says, “that whatever is missing probably dealt with whatever he was trying to accomplish on an international level.... I think the United States government would be interested in suppressing that information.”
Evanzz disagrees. “Haley was being paid to write an autobiography on Malcolm X, not a hagiography,” he says. “I’ve seen parts of those chapters that [Marable] talks about, and these chapters had nothing to do with biographical material; they were basically Malcolm’s political thought, so they belonged properly [in a book] of his political thought.”
Attempts to exploit Malcolm X for monetary reasons become even more ghoulish. In 1999, the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house listed a Malcolm X notebook—stolen by a court clerk from evidence lockup sometime before 1991—for $30,000 to $50,000. This same notebook, bloodstained and perforated by buckshot, was in Malcolm’s pocket the day of his assassination, and allegedly contained a list penned in Malcolm’s hand naming five men who would assassinate him. News of the auction caused outrage, and after a protracted protest, the auction house finally turned over the notepad to Malcolm’s daughters. “It’s an outrage—the idea that Butterfield would even consider selling something that precious, with the man’s blood on it, it boggles the mind. It’s something you’d read in a really bad farcical novel.” V
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