Manning Marable, Historian and Social Critic, Dies at 60


Manning Marable, a leading scholar of black history and a leftist critic of American social institutions and race relations, whose long-awaited biography of Malcolm X, more than a decade in the writing, is scheduled to be published on Monday, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 60.

 

His wife, Leith Mullings, said that the cause was not known but that Mr. Marable, who lived in Manhattan, had entered the hospital with pneumonia in early March. In July 2010, he had undergone a double lung transplant.

 

Mr. Marable, a prolific writer and impassioned polemicist, 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.

 

He explored this territory in books like “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America” (1983), “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.

 

At nearly 600 pages, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” to be published by Viking, presents a hefty counterweight to the well-known account “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

 

The autobiography, long considered a classic of the 1960s civil rights struggle, was an “as told to” book written with Alex Haley and published in 1965.

 

Mr. Marable, drawing on new sources, archival material and government documents unavailable to Mr. Haley, developed a fuller account of Malcolm X’s politics, religious beliefs and personal life, as well as his role in the civil rights movement and the circumstances of his assassination.

 

He also offers a revisionist portrait of Malcolm X at odds with Mr. Haley’s presentation of him as an evolving integrationist.

 

“We need to look at the organic evolution of his mind and how he struggled to find different ways to empower people of African descent by any means necessary,” Mr. Marable said in a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program “Democracy Now.”

 

Mr. Marable’s political philosophy was often described as transformationist, as opposed to integrationist or separatist. That is, he urged black Americans to transform existing social structures and bring about a more egalitarian society by making common cause with other minorities and change-minded groups like environmentalists.

 

“By dismantling the narrow politics of racial identity and selective self-interest, by going beyond ‘black’ and ‘white,’ we may construct new values, new institutions and new visions of an America beyond traditional racial categories and racial oppression,” he wrote in the essay collection “Beyond Black and White: Transforming African-American Politics” (1995).

 

In a telephone interview on Friday, the scholar and author Cornel West called Mr. Marable “our grand radical democratic intellectual,” adding, “He kept alive the democratic socialist tradition in the black freedom movement, and I had great love and respect for him.”

 

William Manning Marable was born on May 13, 1950, in Dayton, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin before receiving his doctorate from the University of Marylandin 1976.

 

He directed ethnic studies programs at a number of colleges, notably the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University and the Africana and Latin American Studies program at Colgate University.

 

He was the chairman of the black studies department at Ohio State University in the late 1980s and also taught ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

 

At Columbia University, where he became a professor of public affairs, political science, history and African-American studies in 1993, he was the founding director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and the Center for the Study of Contemporary Black History.

 

In addition to his wife, who teaches anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and who co-edited several of his books, Mr. Marable is survived by three children, Joshua Manning Marable of Boulder; Malaika Marable Serrano of Silver Spring, Md.; and Sojourner Marable Grimmett of Atlanta; two stepchildren, Alia Tyner of Manhattan and Michael Tyner of Brooklyn; a sister, Madonna Marable of Dayton; and three grandchildren.

 

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. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat” and “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers,” which he edited with Myrlie Evers-Williams, Evers’s widow.

 

He was the general editor of “Freedom on My Mind: The Columbia Documentary History of the African American Experience” (2003).

 

In 1992 he published “On Malcolm X: His Message and Meaning,” [Open Magazine Pamphlet Series] a work that prefigured the consuming project of his later years. “Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader,” a selection of his writings, was published in January by Paradigm.

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