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Glowing tribute to the late professor manning marable

By Paul T. Shipale
On 22 August 2011, a female PhD fellow R.N. Bradley wrote a glowing tribute to the late Professor Manning Marable, who passed away on the 31st March 2011. Bradley wrote, "Looking like a million bucks, Trim, silver-haired, and neatly dressed, Manning Marable, the M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies and professor of history and public affairs at Columbia, arrived at Faculty House to celebrate the publication of "Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader, a collection of essays spanning Marable's 35 years as a self-described "public historian and radical intellectual." It was March 3, 2011, and Marable was in a period of unimaginable demands.

In a few weeks he was scheduled to travel the country to promote a 500-page, much-anticipated work that he had completed with the help of an oxygen tank. The previous summer, he had undergone a doublelung transplant, the result of a lupus-like condition called sarcoidosis that had afflicted him for 25 years. ("He kept trying to pull himself out of sedation," Marable's wife and intellectual partner, the anthropologist Leith Mullings, later said. "He was determined to finish the book.") Now, back on his feet, Marable stood at a lectern in the Presidential Room and reflected on his career.

As the April 4 publication date approached, with all its unsubtle historic significance, Viking Books was buzzing with requests for advance copies and author interviews for the book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which Marable wrote. This wasn't surprising. Few figures in American history are as intensely loved, hated, and misinterpreted as Malcolm X, and Marable, never shy in his public engagement, yearned for the discussion that his powerfully written book was bound to set off.

A week after his appearance at Faculty House, Marable was hospitalized with pneumonia. His classes were cancelled. On March 31, as bookstores were unpacking their cartons of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for their window displays, Marable went into cardiac arrest. Those who read the New York Times on April 2 would have seen a photo of Marable on the front page, with the stunning headline: On Eve of a Revealing Work, Malcolm X Biographer Dies.

Manning Marable was 60 years old. Three days later, the biography was released. Manning Marable's 1983 study of political economy, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America, became a touchstone for a generation of black intellectuals.

He earned his PhD in history from the University of Maryland in 1976, taught at Cornell and Fisk, was founding director of Colgate University's Africana and Latin American Studies Program, and, after that, chair of the Black Studies Department at Ohio State University. Mr. Marable, was a prolific writer and impassioned polemicist who addressed issues of race and economic injustice in numerous works that established him as one of the most forceful and outspoken scholars of African- American history and race relations in the United States. His other books included "Race, Reform and Rebellion:

The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1982" (1984) and "The Great Wells of Democracy: The Meaning of Race in American Life" (2002), as well as two biographies published in 2005, "W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat" and "The Autobiography of Medgar Evers," which he edited with Myrlie Evers-Williams, Evers's widow. "Black Liberation in Conservative America" (1997) and "The Great Wells of Democracy" (2003), and in a political column, "Along the Color Line," which was syndicated in more than 100 newspapers. Kristen Clarke was glad to take a moment in her office to remember her friend and mentor.

"I was in law school," Clarke recalled, "but I was quickly drawn to IRAAS" - the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, which Marable founded in 1993 - "and was thrilled to learn that Dr. Marable was at the helm. Though I attended law classes, I spent most of my time at IRAAS, which I found to be a place that really fostered critical thinking." There, in Schermerhorn Extension, Clarke taught an introductory African American studies course, was a senior editor for Souls, the quarterly journal of black politics and culture that Marable established in 1999, organized conferences and symposia, and later co-edited, with Marable, a reader on the racial implications of the Hurricane Katrina crisis.

"Dr. Marable was one of the finest examples of the scholaractivist," Clarke said. "In 2000, for example, we convened a conference of hundreds of scholars from across the country on the prison-industrial complex, which looked at unfair sentencing, over-incarceration, and police brutality. People came away feeling empowered and motivated to work toward solutions. Under Dr. Marable's leadership, IRAAS quickly became one of the finest think tanks of scholarship for African American studies." Clarke would know, having majored in African American studies at Harvard in the 1990s under Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West. "Also, female African American scholars were very well represented at IRAAS, as they were in almost everything Dr. Marable did. It was always important to him that women had leadership roles, and it's unsurprising to me that when he stepped down as director of IRAAS in 2003, he passed the baton to a woman, Farah Jasmine Griffin."

A week after Barack Obama's visit to Lower Manhattan, one of the president's most forceful critics stood before several hundred people at the CUNY Graduate Center to discuss Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It was the eve of what would have been Manning Marable's 61st birthday, and the speaker, the Princeton philosopher Cornel West - dressed as usual in a black threepiece suit, white shirt, and silver pocket watch and chain - dug into his homily with a heavy heart.

"Manning Marable was my brother," West said devoutly. "And I loved my brother Manning Dearly." West recalled meeting Marable 31 years before, to get the older scholar's signature on his copy of From the Grassroots, one of Marable's earliest works. "As soon as I saw him, all I could do was give him a hug," West told the crowd in his funky, ecumenical style. "He embraced me. He gave me confidence. He gave me en-cour-age-ment. I felt enabled and ennobled in his presence." West, jazzman of ideas, syncopated his syllables, drew out sounds like a Selmer saxophone baptized in the river Jordan. "He had dedicated his life, and he did, he was faithful unto death in keeping alive the legacy of Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Sinclair Drake, E. Franklin Frazier, and yes, Marx, and Weber on a left-wing day - all of the great scholars who provided an analysis of the dynamics of power and structures and institutions but always connected the agency of those Sly Stone called Everyday People. To look at the world through the lens of those Frantz Fanon called 'the wretched of the earth' - that is, was, forever will be, the life and the legacy of my brother and your brother, Manning Marable." Russell Rickford, an assistant professor of history, also took a moment between student conferences to talk about his teacher, Manning Marable.

Rickford was getting used to this. One of Marable's star students, it was Rickford who served as editor of Beyond Boundaries, in addition to writing the eulogy in the program that was to be handed out at a May 26 public memorial for Marable at Columbia. "Marable came of age politically and intellectually in a moment of great social upheaval," Rickford said. "His concerns reflect that moment.

The black studies movement, the civil rights and blackpower movements, the blackarts movement, and anti-colonial movements deeply influenced his political consciousness and the kind of questions that he would ask for the rest of his life as a historian, as a political scientist, and as a social critic. "Many of the eulogies that have come out since his death place him in a lineage that includes W. E. B. Du Bois, who was his great hero, and probably the most important figure in Marable's own political development. A close second is C. L. R. James, the historian and Marxist theorist, and to a lesser extent, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist. But certainly, Du Bois reflects Marable's commitment to scholarship in the service of social change and the black liberation movement.

"Marable's political consciousness and his fundamental political militancy were also informed by Malcolm. He always considered himself a sort of left nationalist - a black nationalist who, as he reflected on the black struggle in the United States and internationally, came to see class as the fundamental social contradiction and the primary source of inequality and racial oppression. As he matured, he became what I call an unhyphenated democratic socialist - a proponent of a deeply democratic, deeply egalitarian, nonsectarian, anti-Stalinist vision of socialism.

"Dr. Marable has an insideroutsider relation to black studies and the black community. I can't think of anyone with a more encyclopaedic knowledge of the black experience. At the same time, he recognized that as a Marxist, he was representative of a minority constituency within the black community. He understood very clearly the ambivalence that the black working class had long felt toward the American Left. One of the main impulses of his scholarship and of his activism was to bridge that gap - not in a way that would impose upon black workers these sort of arcane, derived ideas of Leninism or any other current of Marxism, but that would help to develop class consciousness within American workers of all colors - stimulate an organic Marxism in the heart of corporate capitalism. So he had that sort of duality. You might almost call it a Du Boisian double consciousness.

"Intellectually, Dr. Marable represents a structural critique of our racial democracy in a time when the public discourse is increasingly shaped by ideas of a post racial world - the notion that the civil rights movement solved the basic problems of racial inequality, a narrative that really enabled abandonment of the efforts to acknowledge and correct the institutional racism of the past. So Dr. Marable was writing and pursuing activism at a time when his message, his fundamental understanding of the nature of society, was, in many ways, marginal."

After this glowing tribute, what else can I add without diluting the eloquently narrated life of this great Pan-Africanist? All I can say is Rest in Peace brother Marable, Africa and its sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora, we wholeheartedly thank you and will always remember you.

Allow me to conclude with the words of my favourite writer of all times, the African-American Nobel Prize of Literature, Ms Toni Morrison who wrote in her book 'Burn This Book' in a chapter under the heading 'Peril' that "Writers-journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights- who are unsettling, calling into question, taking another, deeper look, can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, and stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to. That the life and work of writers facing peril must be protected is urgent, but along with that urgency we should remind ourselves that their absence, the choking off of a writer's work, its cruel amputation, is of equal peril to us. The rescue we extend to them is a generosity to ourselves.

Writers are trouble for the ignorant bully, the sly racist, and the predators feeding off the world's resources. Those writers who construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured and protected because a writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.

Recent reports of people harassing Writers- journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights, including our politicians who write in newspapers, be they of the ruling party or the opposition- are disturbing and should not be allowed to happen in a democratic Namibia. Let us agree to disagree and build this nation.

Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer nor am I paid to write them.





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