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More on Malcolm and Manning

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/13/2012, 4:45 p.m.

Each year since the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), there are usually events of commemoration and celebration on his birthday-he would have been 86 on Thursday, May 19. However, because of the late Dr. Manning Marable's controversial biography, this year there is an increased amount of activity-and debate.

A bit of this mounting discussion occurred without too much rancor Tuesday evening at Maysles Cinema, where a panel discussed the ramifications of Marable's book. After two young activists read from a section of the biography (and this is about as close as it came to Marable getting a good word), moderator Dequi Kioni-Sadiki asked the panelists about their personal relationship with the slain icon.

"I met with Malcolm a month before his assassination," said noted writer and activist Amiri Baraka. "We talked for about five or six hours."

Baraka didn't elucidate the content of that conversation, but he soundly dismissed Marable's book. "I have a lot of problems with it," he began. "What he fails to understand is that Black liberation has done the most to change America."

Like the other panelists, Imam Talib Abdur Rashid said he was too young to have known Malcolm; he was only 14 when he was killed. "But I was mentored by some of the men who were close to Malcolm," Rashid said.

At an earlier forum, the imam exhaustively delivered more of his reservations about the book. He repeated his concerns about Marable's "inconsistent methodology," as well as his reliance on a disreputable informant.

Kazembe Balagun said he was born in 1976, so what memories he had of Malcolm were gathered from his autobiography. The book was referred to him by a Jewish man and "I read it in two days," he said. After absorbing the book, he cited that it led him in rapid succession to gather more information about Malcolm via tapes, then moving on to such valuable community institutions as the now defunct Liberation Bookstore and the Schomburg Center.

Noted activist Omowale Clay said he hadn't read Marable's book and expressed no plans to do so. A trusted friend convinced him not to waste his money on the book. However, the title alone was enough to infuriate Clay. "I'm concerned about his use of the word 'reinvention,'" he observed. "He makes it sound like Malcolm was a careerist, reinventing himself whenever it was necessary. Malcolm was undergoing transformation, not reinvention."

"If Manning Marable has attempted to read Malcolm's thoughts, then it's fair game for us to read Manning's," charged Nellie Bailey, well known for her fight against gentrification. She keyed her rejection of the book to Marable's political background, particularly his role in the formation of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) and his appointment at Columbia University.

"They wanted to remove 'radical' from the organization," Bailey said about the ultimate collapse of the BRC, who was equally dismissive of Marable's connection to Columbia. "He viewed Columbia as the good guy when the university will displace 5,000 residents," she said, referring to the university's expansion in Manhattanville.

Most of the panelists agreed that the debate on the book was healthy and a needed one in the Obama era, though Baraka and Bailey had a lively exchange on the relevancy of a Black president. Bailey charged that Obama, in many ways, has been just as bad as Bush. "Well, you can always vote Republican," Baraka snapped in response.

Expect more discussion about Marable's book on Thursday, when the forum continues at Maysles with films and a panelist that will include Dr. Shaka-Zulu, Shaka Shakur, Cleo Silvers and Immortal Technique.

Doors open at 6 p.m. The cinema is located at 343 Malcolm X Blvd., between 127th and 128th streets. Visit www.mayslesinstitute.org for additional information.