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Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention
Viking (April 4, 2011)
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is an abomination. It is a cavalcade of innuendo and logical fallacy, and is largely “reinvented” from previous works on the subject.
It may serve as grounds for at least two defamation actions. The publisher would do well to consider recalling the book and issuing an apology for two reasons: a man labeled an “alleged murderer” has never been formally accused or convicted of that crime, and a woman mentioned by name is accused of committing adultery 46 years ago. As such, there is virtually no way to verify the allegation.
Marable, who died on April 1, takes cheap shots at Malcolm X, Malcolm’s parents, Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s siblings, and almost anyone with a familial nexus to Malcolm X.
Its official release on the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is symbolic because this book amounts to an assassination of Malcolm X’s character. Marable’s friends dare to call this his “magnum opus.” To use street vernacular, this ain’t his magnum nothin’.
It is merely the logical culmination of a life spent in the ivory tower writing books of scant interest beyond the tower walls. If the so-called public intellectuals praising the book were Marable’s true friends, they might have at least apprised him of the hostile tone and the lack of vetting on key allegations, the central one being Malcolm X’s alleged homosexual affair. The media ran with this allegation without checking its validity.
Malcolm X, Marable claims, “falsely attributed” his own sexual encounters with an older white male to a friend named “Rudy (p. 66).”
“Based on circumstantial but strong evidence, Malcolm was probably [emphasis supplied] describing his own homosexual encounter with Paul Lennon. The revelations of his involvement with Lennon produced much speculation about Malcolm’s sexual orientation.”
Speculation by whom? Marable, that’s who.
There are four footnotes for this page, but none substantiates this scurrilous assertion, one that would be grounds for libel were either party alive. The claim is juxtaposed by dozens of pages relating to Malcolm’s maturation into selling drugs, pimping (including white women), burglary, and other crimes. If you look at the mug shot – the first in a pallid 16-page photo section – you see the face of a thug you do not want to tangle with.
Moreover, there is nothing in Malcolm X’s far superior work to suggest that there was any touching of genitalia, let alone oral or anal sodomy. In fact, Malcolm X’s autobiography clearly shows (in the chapter titled “Caught”) how amusing he found the strange things that made white “johns” reach orgasm. One man, he wrote, ejaculated by sitting outside a bedroom door listening to a black couple making whoopee.
Nor does Marable offer proof that the employer was homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. The only logical conclusion from the facts is that the man had unusual recreational habits. Marable offers no proof that the man didn’t pay women to pour powder on him from time to time, for example, or that anyone employed by the man was homosexual. His proffer is a want ad for a male secretary. The ad ran twice over a three-day period in one newspaper on one occasion.
Another example of logical fallacy here is the one used to denigrate Malcolm X’s father, Earl Little Sr., who is accused of bigamy.
“Earl abandoned his young wife and children . . . He did not bother to get a legal divorce,” he writes (p. 16).
Marable cites other authors to support this claim, but none of them establishes that he checked court records to confirm this allegation. He offers nothing to show that he conducted a court search for the divorce record.
On the opening page of Chapter One, Marable writes: “In 1909, he married a local African-American woman, Daisy Mason, and in quick succession had three children: Ella, Mary, and Earl, Jr.”
Notice the problem? Marable neglects to inform us of the exact date that the couple married in 1909 and whether the marriage was done legally or by common law. Again, his notes show no indication that he searched court records for a marriage license. Did Marable know the date of the marriage?
If they were not legally married, Earl had no legal obligation to file for divorce. As such, Marable’s condescending tone – he did not bother – shows his contempt not only for Malcolm but for Malcolm’s father as well. The real sin here is that Marable fails to show that he bothered to check for a marriage license or a divorce filing.
He uses similar tactics to malign Ella Little – the woman who fired one of his key sources – describing her as “belligerent,” “paranoid” and “reckless.” While he tries to countenance his charge by citing a psychiatric evaluation, Marable knows full well that psychiatrists routinely employed such terms to describe supporters of Marcus Garvey. Their reasoning was simple: any black person who rejects America has to be crazy.
In the preface, Marable boasts that his book will “reconstruct the full contours of his remarkable life” (p. 14), and proceeds to contrive the most mean-spirited biography of Malcolm X in two decades.
The footnotes reflect heavy reliance upon people who were known enemies of Malcolm X. An earlier biographer used anonymous sources for some of his controversial claims, which was bad. Marable gives no source for some of the tabloid-type allegations, which is a million times worse.
According to Marable, Malcolm was having an extramarital affair with one of his secretaries, an affair that lasted until his death. Keep in mind that Malcolm knew by early 1965 that he was under constant surveillance by the FBI as well as by members of the Nation of Islam. How do we know? Because Malcolm X said so repeatedly in speeches and his posthumous memoir:
“Elijah seems to know every move I make,” Haley quotes him (Epilogue) saying in the final days of his short life. On February 16, Malcolm X told Haley: “I have been marked for death in the next fives days. I have the names of five Black Muslims who have been chosen to kill me. I will announce them at the meeting.”
On February 21, five Black Muslims killed him while his wife and four little girls watched in horror.
FBI files show that agents worked in eight-hour shifts to keep Malcolm under around-the-clock surveillance in weeks prior to his death. Malcolm told Haley and others that he would see them watching him as they took notes while he left his house, as he went to the drugstore to get a newspaper, and as he went to his office. FBI documents confirm his suspicions.
Note further that Black Muslims were threatening to kill him to prevent him from testifying in a Los Angeles paternity case filed against Elijah Muhammad by two of his teenage secretaries.
With those kinds of stressors, an extramarital affair the night before he died seems highly unlikely, and he certainly would not have chosen a teenage girl at a time when he was scheduled to testify against Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad for doing the same thing.
After claiming that Betty Shabazz had an affair with one of Malcolm’s assistants guarding his family (p. 394), Marable alleges that Malcolm X pursued yet another extramarital relationship.
He also claims that Malcolm met with Alex Haley on February 20 to discuss their joint book project, took Betty to a friend’s house for her to spend the night, and then rented a cheap hotel room where he “may have” had the teenage secretary as a bed-warmer (p 423).
By that logic, he may have met with Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Popeye that night as well.
There are numerous published accounts from those close to Malcolm that he was near his breaking point by then. Black Muslims had bombed his home on Valentine’s Day because Malcolm refused to move out of the house pending a judgment over its ownership.
Marable claims that the same teenager who was romantically involved with Malcolm the night of February 20th showed up at the Audubon Ballroom the next day. She sat in the front row next to a man whose name would later appear in FBI documents related to the assassination.
The teenager, Marable writes, and the Newark mosque official now “live together in the same New Jersey residence, and [name deleted] has maintained absolute silence about her relationship with both Malcolm X and [name deleted]” (p. 452).
The source given for this allegation is Abdur-Rahman Muhammad. When I asked Muhammad for his sources, he declined comment.
Despite the obvious lack of due diligence, Marable spares no opportunity to praise his own ingenuity and tenacity.
“After years [my emphasis] of research,” he writes in “Life Beyond the Legend,” “I discovered that several chapters had been deleted [from the biography] prior to publication – chapters that envisioned the construction of a united front of Negroes led by the Black Muslims.”
Yeah, and Columbus “discovered” America.
The word “years” has to be a typographical error. Surely he means after minutes of research.
This is from the front page of the Life section of USA Today:
“MEMORIES FOR SALE: A manuscript of Alex Haley's first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, sold for $ 100,000 at an auction to settle claims against the late author's estate. The buyer was Detroit entertainment lawyer Gregory Reed, who also paid $ 21,500 for three deleted chapters of the book.” [my emphasis]
The date of the story? October 2, 1992.
The story ran in practically every major newspaper and black magazine in the next two months. Any college student could have signed on to Nexis or other news databases and found that in five minutes or less. A Google search for “Malcolm X,” “autobiography,” and “missing chapters” generated more than 4,000 hits on April 5.
As a former professional researcher (I worked in the news research department of The Washington Post for more than a decade), I immediately recognized Marable’s fraud, one of many in this pedestrian publication.
The late professor uncovers no significant new material, yet he has the chutzpah to dismiss with a flick of his wrist earlier books about Malcolm’s life and assassination:
In reading “all [emphasis supplied] of the literature about Malcolm produced in the 1990s, I was struck by its shallow character and lack of original sources (p. 490).”
When I began reading Chapter 7, I felt like I was revisiting my biography of Elijah Muhammad. It deals with marital discord between Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad and Clara Muhammad. The chapter’s first four pages read like a “reinvention” of chapters from The Messenger, published by Pantheon Books in 1999. I checked the footnotes for those four pages and noticed that seven of the first ten cite The Messenger as the source (p. 521).
Why didn’t Marable use the original source material? He makes no mention of the FBI’s national and Chicago files on Clara Muhammad.
Marable has two primary arguments: (1) the intelligence community and the New York Police Department deliberately ignored serious threats against Malcolm’s X life, and (2) there is overwhelming evidence that the five assassins came from the Nation of Islam’s Newark mosque.
His first argument is based upon research in my first book, The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, published in November 1992. His second argument – and the one that the media chose to ignore for the past two decades – is based upon the research of Zak Kondo of Baltimore City Community College. Conspiracys: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X (1993) is without question the most authoritative examination of the mechanics of the assassination.
Marable had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his disposal for more than a decade. He had over twenty researchers at his disposal. Given far less capital and manpower, both David J. Garrow and Taylor Branch separately produced three-volume works of encyclopedic detail on Malcolm’s contemporary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite his acknowledgments of gratitude to other prominent researchers and benefactors, Marable’s book is a single volume with questionable documentation.
Poor exposition and inexcusable typographical errors taint the book. When I communicated with Marable last June regarding a statement obtained from Linward X Cathcart by New York police after the assassination, his reply referred to “Linwood” Cathcart. I advised him of the misspelling and cautioned him to check his manuscript for the mistake.
One of his assistants replied under his name and told me that Marable dictated his responses for her to relay. She blamed herself for misspelling the name and assured me that the book had the proper spelling. There are two references to Cathcart’s full name in the book, and both times the name is spelled Linwood (p. 5, 452). It is also misspelled in the index.
In the prologue, Marable describes Malcolm X’s memoir as a “cautionary tale about human waste and the tragedies produced by racial segregation (p. 9).”
Human waste? As in feces and urine?
“No man has more accurately described and analyzed the existential, political, social, moral and spiritual plight of a victimized people than has Malcolm X in this book,” an objective reviewer wrote about the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
A Life of Reinvention, by contrast, is immediately forgettable. It was written by a chronic pen pusher who lived a rather unremarkable middle class existence but nonetheless implies that Malcolm X was an amateur this or a mediocre that.
“I’m the man you think you are,” Malcolm X said. Malcolm X was at the top of the class in school, on top of the hustling game during his hoodlum years, and a hell raiser in prison. He was national spokesman for a black organization that barely functioned before he joined in 1952. He was, finally, a revolutionary known and respected by other prominent revolutionaries – Fidel Castro, Ben Bella, and Che Guevara, to name a few.
He was, in short, a black panther of a man. By contrast, Marable was just another paper tiger.
Karl Evanzz is the author of three books, including an investigative look at the assassination of Malcolm X. He is the coauthor of Dancing with the Devil with hip-hop artist Mark Curry. His next book will be published in May.
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