A candid, corrective look at the Nation of Islam leader and renegade—and a deeply informed investigation of the evolution of his thinking on race and revolution.
For decades, distinguished scholar Marable (African-American Affairs/Columbia Univ.; Living Black History: How Re-Imagining the African-American Past Can Remake America’s Racial Future, 2006, etc.) studied the life and work of Malcolm X (1925–1965), and this meticulous sifting of the fact from the fiction expertly places him within the civil-rights movement of the time and as catalyst for the emerging Black Power struggle. The author looks beyond the myth that “Malcolmites” have woven around their leader and returns to original sources, such as NOI members and former members; Malcolm’s widow and their children; African and Islamist chiefs Malcolm met on his extensive travels abroad; civil-rights activists, who were wary of his views on racial separatism; and files by the FBI and New York Police Department, who may have been complicit in his assassination by NOI operatives on Feb. 21, 1965. First and foremost, Marable deconstructs Alex Haley’s masterly Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), which he and Malcolm collaborated on for years before Malcolm’s death, but which exaggerates the exploits of Malcolm’s earlier manifestation as “Detroit Red,” probably in order to render more powerful the conversion to Islam of this hustler, pimp and thief incarcerated at the Norfolk Prison Colony. For years, Malcolm was NOI’s exalted evangelical front man and first minister, broadcasting the organization’s anti-white, anti-political doctrine before Malcolm’s recognition of the crucial work of the civil-rights activists and the need for global black political engagement prompted his break with the NOI to embrace what Marable terms Pan-Africanism. Moreover, Malcolm could not sanction Elijah Muhammad’s extramarital affairs and out-of-wedlock children, setting in motion a perilous countdown to NOI retribution. The Malcolm X revealed here was troublingly misogynist and occasionally precipitous in action and speech, but possessed a dauntless sincerity and intelligence that was only beginning to shape and clarify his message for humanity.
A bold, sure-footed, significant biography of enormous depth and feeling.