Who was the most influential African American of the 20th Century? Behind the question simmers a a long-running debate over the nonviolent passion of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and the sometimes-violent revolutionary fury of Nation of Islam founder Malcolm X. As the world marks the anniversary of Dr. King’s death and the arrival of a new biography of Malcolm X, we explore what these men continue to stand for.

Guests

  • David Garrow Professor of History, University of Cambridge; author of numerous books including "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference"

Transcript

  • 13:36:50

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The Associated Press is reporting that former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced to his supporters online that he is running in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by democrat Jim Webb. There's been a great deal of speculation about whether or not former Gov. Kaine would run. Well, that speculation can be put to rest now. He has announced to his supporters that he will be in the race in 2012. People the world over, stopped yesterday to remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But Friday marked the passing of another notable figure in understanding the black experience in the United States. Manning Marable died on April 1. He was a giant in the academic world who helped pave the way for a generation of black intellectuals.

  • 13:37:34

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut Marable died just a few days before the release of what's considered to be his life's work, in some ways, a sprawling biography of the black nationalist leader, Malcolm X, a book that offers new theories about the circumstances and the consequences of Malcolm's assassination. Joining us to explore Marable's influence and this new book is David Garrow, who is a historian and author, his books including, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference," which won a Pulitzer Prize. He joins us by phone from Cambridge, England. David Garrow, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:38:09

    MR. DAVID GARROWIt's great to be with you again.

  • 13:38:10

    NNAMDIDavid, Manning Marable once said that his childhood ended when Martin Luther King was assassinated. But it was the assassination of a different civil rights leader -- Malcolm X -- that drove Marable's work as an adult until the day that he passed away, just a few days ago. What do you think it is about Malcolm X and the consequences of his killing that would drive a scholar like Manning Marable to make this story, in a way, his life's work?

  • 13:38:36

    GARROWI think Malcolm's death involved the loss of tremendous potential and an unrealized potential. At the time that Dr. King was killed in April of 1968, King had had a full 12 years on the national and international scene as a civil rights leader and was, frankly, as the people closest to him at the time knew all too well, Dr. King in April of '68 was very worn down and tired and despondent. Malcolm, in contrast, was killed, really, at the height of his powers, just a year after he had made a full break with Elijah Muhammad's nation of Islam and had converted to regular Islam by visiting Mecca.

  • 13:39:35

    GARROWAnd Malcolm, in that last year of his life, had undergone a set of evolutions -- of tremendous evolutions, not only in terms of his religious faith and commitment, but also in terms of his racial worldview and his political views about civic activism by the black community. And so, I think, it's utterly understandable that Manning Marable would commit himself in the way that he did to this truly landmark book, especially given the fact that we really -- for upwards of 30 years now -- have not had any comprehensive reliable book on Malcolm's life that one can point students or anyone else towards. Now, we have a book that will live for, literally, decades.

  • 13:40:37

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number here. If you have questions or comments and would like to call us, 800-433-8850. You can also send e-mail to kojo@wamu.org. One of the aspects of this book that is making the most news, David Garrow, has to do with Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, an assassination for which at least a couple of people were convicted, but apparently this -- the investigation of this assassination was not ever as thorough as it should have been, and apparently that becomes clear -- I have not yet read Manning Marable's book -- but apparently that becomes clear in this book.

  • 13:41:19

    GARROWWhite law enforcement in New York, the district attorney's office in Manhattan, the FBI at that time as well -- none of those law enforcement entities, frankly, took Malcolm's life seriously at all, either in the run up to his assassination or in the aftermath. And, unfortunately, for, you know, over 40 years now, what we've seen is a consistent pattern of white official disinterest in the importance of Malcolm's death.

  • 13:41:59

    GARROWAnyone who was reading even the New York Times in late 1964, early 1965 -- never mind the Nation of Islam's own newspaper -- could see, just obviously, that Malcolm's life was in great danger because the leadership of the nation was publically calling for violent retribution against Malcolm for having left the NLI and, especially as Marable stresses, because of Malcolm's calling out -- public calling out of Elijah Muhammad for serial sexual misconduct with young women who worked for the nation.

  • 13:42:49

    GARROWThere had been an attempt to burn out Malcolm's home in New York City a few weeks before his murder, and so this was no secret and no surprise. But, unfortunately, the white law enforcement attitude then, that this was just some internecine struggle between radical, irrelevant African Americans -- that devaluing of Malcolm's life and Malcolm's importance, unfortunately, still continues in officials circles.

  • 13:43:26

    NNAMDIFor those who don't know what we're talking about, we're discussing the story of Malcolm X who went from being an inmate in a correctional institution to becoming a follower of the founder of the Nation of Islam, the late Elijah Muhammad, and later broke with Elijah Muhammad, was first suspended from the Nation of Islam and then was, I guess, terminated from the Nation of Islam, completely turned to orthodox Islam, and it is during that period of time between 1964 and 1965, after he had criticized the founder -- the prophet Elijah Muhammad as he is known for having affairs and impregnating several women in the Nation of Islam in violation of his own rules for the nation, that Malcolm apparently became a target of the Nation of Islam.

  • 13:44:17

    NNAMDIAnd in the new book by Manning Marable, he identifies individuals who were never arrested, who he feels were a part of this conspiracy. Is this likely, David Garrow, to reopen any investigation into the assassination of Malcolm X?

  • 13:44:31

    GARROWManhattan in New York City now has a new and relatively fresh district attorney, Cyrus Vance. Previously, the Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau had been in that office for many, many, many years. And so there would be at least some potential for a fresh look if there's enough pressure brought to bear. Unfortunately, that may be one of the unfortunate consequences of Manning Marable's untimely passing. Because if Manning were alive this week and in the weeks ahead, I'm certain that Manning would be calling upon people to bring that pressure to bear with the sort of public attention that, unfortunately, can't occur with the author having passed away.

  • 13:45:28

    NNAMDIWe're talking with David Garrow. He's a historian and author, his books including, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference," which won a Pulitzer Prize. He joins us by phone from Cambridge, England. We're talking about the death of scholar Manning Marable and his new book about Malcolm X. Manning Marable had been suffering from sarcoidosis for many years, and just last year, I think it was, he had surgery for lung cancer and then more recently had complications of pneumonia. And at 60 years old, he died on April 1.

  • 13:46:00

    NNAMDIAnd a new generation, David Garrow, will probably find out about Malcolm X from Manning Marable's book. A previous generation probably found out from Spike Lee's movie, "Malcolm X," and a generation before that found out from Alex Haley's autobiography of Malcolm X. But Manning Marable says that Alex Haley's autobiography was, in a way, more Alex Haley's than Malcolm X's. What did he mean?

  • 13:46:25

    GARROWYou summarized that beautifully, Kojo. Marable's book does an excellent job of warning people about taking the autobiography of Malcolm X at 100 percent face value because the book was put together and edited in its final version, after Malcolm's murder, entirely by Haley. As some people close to the Malcolm story will have read for several years, a number of chapters that Malcolm had prepared didn't make it into the final book. And even the autobiographical narration of Malcolm's life itself omits some experiences Malcolm had while dramatically exaggerating some others. For example, the book makes Malcolm out to be a considerably more serious young criminal, Marable says, then was actually the case.

  • 13:47:34

    GARROWAnd it may be -- keeping in mind that Alex Haley, you know, long before he became famous for "Roots," was earning his living as a magazine writer and was interested in this book project with Malcolm in order to earn a living -- you know, Haley's motive may have been storytelling and dramatization, much more than getting the historical record straight. And that's what Marable has so superbly corrected.

  • 13:48:04

    NNAMDIYou've said that the book Marable ultimately released about Malcolm X is, quoting here, "a huge achievement." As a historian yourself, why do you feel that way?

  • 13:48:14

    GARROWI think one value that I would single out in particular is the tremendous honesty and courage that Marable exhibits in this book, and I'll give you two quick examples. Students of Malcolm's life have known for about 20 years -- since a book by Bruce Perry was published, a book that, in a number of particulars, I think is unreliable -- there was evidence that Malcolm, as a young hustler in Boston, had been -- to use the present day phrase -- gay for pay with an older white, wealthy businessman. Marable looks at that very carefully and says, yes, that was true. That did happen, and it actually was apparently a relationship of some feeling because, when Malcolm was imprisoned for a series of burglaries, that older white gentleman actually visited him in prison.

  • 13:49:19

    GARROWThen, secondly -- and one that, I think, will resonate with many of your listeners -- Marable conducted a very lengthy powerful interview with Louis Farrakahn in which Farrakhan essentially confesses and admits to Marable his moral complicity in Malcolm's assassination because of how Farrakhan had been publicly saying that Malcolm was worthy of death in the weeks right before the killing. So it's a very powerful, honest and supremely impressive work of scholarship.

  • 13:50:04

    NNAMDIIndeed, Manning Marable apparently conducted lengthy interviews with Louis Farrakhan. And one of the things that we discover in this book -- you and others probably knew it before this -- is that Malcolm, in fact, felt pretty close to Louis Farrakhan and at one point actually confided in him.

  • 13:50:21

    GARROWYes. Louis -- Minister Louis at that time was certainly the other minister within the Nation of Islam who Malcolm viewed as his closest confidante. And when Malcolm first learned about Elijah Muhammad's serial sexual misconduct with these young women, Malcolm was sort of astounded and horrified. And Farrakhan was one of the first people he sought to discuss it with. And Marable documents and relates how the first thing that Farrakhan does after that conversation is pass on to Elijah and Elijah's top aides in Chicago, how Malcolm is dangerously talking about this scandalous truth. So that's, you know, clearly sort of fanning the flames of internecine hatred.

  • 13:51:20

    NNAMDIThe Manning Marable book is called "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention." Manning Marable died on Friday. We're talking with David Garrow, historian and author, his books, among them, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference" which won a Pulitzer Prize. He joined us -- he joins us by phone from Cambridge, England. David, what concerns do you have about the potential for people to lose sight of the fact that men like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were in the end men? Cornell West likes to say that he worries about the Santa Clausification of Martin Luther King.

  • 13:51:56

    GARROWI think we see all around the globe, Kojo, the fact that even people of supreme greatness, like Malcolm, like Dr. King, like Mohandas Gandhi, don't necessarily have question-free or problem-free personal lives. You and some of your listeners may have seen news coverage the last two weeks. There's apparently a very good new biography of Mohandas Gandhi out...

  • 13:52:31

    NNAMDIYeah.

  • 13:52:31

    GARROW...written by Joseph Lelyveld, former editor of the New York Times, in which Lelyveld discusses the universally acknowledged evidence that Gandhi had an intimate -- very close, intimate relationship with another man. And we've got state governments in India trying to ban a book that they haven't seen.

  • 13:52:54

    NNAMDIAnd to make certain comments about Gandhi illegal.

  • 13:52:58

    GARROWAnd so it's -- there's a bigger pattern here. And scholars like Manning Marable need to be not just commended, but celebrated, for the honesty with which he's faced the tough challenges in a crucial biography such as this.

  • 13:53:22

    NNAMDIWell, you did the same thing yourself with, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference." We're talking with David Garrow. And, now, for the inevitable comparison, David Garrow, for those of us who were a part of the black power movement that emanated from the Civil Rights movements in the '60s and the 1970s, who tended to find ourselves at that point more inspired by the words of Malcolm X than we were at that point -- I have to emphasize -- than the words of Martin Luther King, one gets the impression that Manning Marable is in that tradition, and hence his interest in Malcolm X, especially after the death of Dr. King, is what promoted this.

  • 13:54:02

    NNAMDIAnd he seems to come down on the side in terms of talking about influence in the 20th century of Malcolm X. Is the comparison even fair?

  • 13:54:12

    GARROWYes. I think it's a very fair comparison, Kojo. And I -- I think you describe what -- what I take to be Manning Marable's view and position quite accurately. Malcolm, and -- you know, I say this, as you know someone who has written...

  • 13:54:26

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 13:54:27

    GARROW…a very well-known biography of Dr. King -- I think one can very persuasively argue that Malcolm was a more universal figure than Dr. King. One thing that Manning Marable does superbly is document how extensive a set of international travels and contacts Malcolm was undertaking in that last year of his life, and both in Africa and in the Middle East. And because of his conversion to orthodox Islam, Malcolm had the clear potential of building an international freedom movement that spanned not just races and continents, but faith as well.

  • 13:55:22

    GARROWAnd we all rightly celebrate what Malcolm might have represented to black America, had he lived, but I think it's equally important to think about the potential that Malcolm would have had in the U.S. and around the globe as a powerful black spokesman for international orthodox Islam.

  • 13:55:45

    NNAMDIAnd I get back to the point you made at the very beginning of this conversation, that the difference in lot of ways that by 1968 when he was 39 years old, Martin Luther King had accomplished a great deal, had experienced significant disappointment and was, in many respects, tired and, on the other hand, that Malcolm X in 1965 seemed on the verge of a major national and international breakthrough. So, in fact, what we are talking about when we look at Malcolm X is the extinguishing of potential.

  • 13:56:20

    GARROWExactly, Kojo. I concur absolutely with how you voiced that.

  • 13:56:26

    NNAMDIWell, we got an e-mail from David in Mt. Pleasant who says, "I live up the street from Malcolm X Park in Washington, D.C. I always found it disturbing that the landmark D.C. decided to put in his memory, until relatively recently, was an extremely dangerous place, a place where literally dead bodies could be found during the crack epidemic. The park is a much nicer place now. This book sounds like a more fitting way to remember him, too."

  • 13:56:50

    NNAMDIWe should also remember, David, that that park is not formally named Malcolm X Park. It's still Meridian Hill Park. But for those of us who have been around Washington for the past 40 years or so, it is still fondly referred to by a lot of people as Malcolm X Park. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. David Garrow, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:10

    GARROWCertainly, it's been a pleasure to be with you again.

  • 13:57:12

    NNAMDINice talking to you again, too. David Garrow is a historian and author, his books include, "Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference," which won a Pulitzer Prize. We were talking about the late Manning Marable's new book about Malcolm X. It's called "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention."

  • 13:57:30

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from A.C. Valdez, Kathy Goldgeier, and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. Our engineer today, Andrew Chadwick. Dorie Anisman has been on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, online archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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