Manning Marable, author of long-awaited Malcolm X biography, dies at 60

April 3, 2011

Manning Marable, an influential Columbia University scholar of African American history and culture whose forthcoming Malcolm X biography could revise perceptions of the slain civil rights leader, died April 1, just days before the book described as his life’s work was to be released. He was 60.

His wife, Leith Mullings, said Dr. Marable died from complications of pneumonia at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. She said he had suffered for 24 years from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease, and had a double lung transplant in July.

She said his latest book, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” will be released Monday.

Two decades in the making, the nearly 600-page biography is described as a reevaluation of Malcolm X’s life, bringing fresh insight to such subjects as his autobiography, which is still assigned in many college courses, and his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York on Feb. 21, 1965.

The book is based on exhaustive research, including thousands of pages of FBI files and records from the CIA and State Department. Dr. Marable also conducted interviews with the slain civil rights leader’s confidants and security team, as well as witnesses to his assassination.

Blair Kelley, a history professor at North Carolina State University, called Dr. Marable’s death a “devastating” loss for black historians.

“He really deserved the opportunity to be celebrated for his groundbreaking scholarship,” Kelley wrote on Twitter.

Dr. Marable was born in Dayton, Ohio, on May 13, 1950. He wrote in his 1998 book, “Speaking Truth to Power,” that he was born into the era that witnessed the emergence of Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolent movements in the South to combat white supremacy.

But as the child of middle-class black Americans in the North, he watched from afar as African Americans in the South struggled against segregation and racial inequality, he wrote. As a teenager, he found his emergent political voice writing columns for a neighborhood newspaper.

Dr. Marable wrote that his mother encouraged him to attend King’s funeral in Atlanta “to witness a significant event in our people’s history.” As the correspondent for a local black newspaper, he marched with thousands of others in the funeral procession.

“With Martin’s death, my childhood abruptly ended,” he wrote. “My understanding of political change began a trajectory from reform to radicalism.”

Dr. Marable graduated from Earlham College in Indiana in 1971 and received a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1972 and a doctorate in history from the University of Maryland in 1976.

In the 1970s, he was active in the National Black Political Assembly, a community organizing group. He taught at Cornell University, Ohio State University and the University of Colorado before joining the Columbia faculty in 1993.

He lectured widely throughout the country and was co-founder of the Black Radical Congress, an organization of African American activists.

Dr. Marable wrote almost 20 books, including the landmark “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America” (1983). Before his biography of Malcolm X, he published books on Medgar Evers and W.E.B. Dubois.

At Columbia, he was founding director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and established the Center for Contemporary Black History.

His marriage to Hazel Ann Marable ended in divorce.

In addition to his second wife, survivors include three children from his first marriage and two stepchildren.

— Associated Press

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