I recently read about historian and scholar Manning Marable passing away, just days before the publication of his controversial book “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” Marable, a professor at Columbia University, was the author of several books on race in America.  He spent years researching and writing the Malcolm X biography using FBI and CIA documents, new interviews and recently discovered primary source material.  The book has ignited a firestorm of commentary, which is not surprising considering the subject.

All of the coverage took me back to when I was a teenager in New York in the 1960s when Malcolm was holding rallies on 7th Avenue and 125th Street in front of Micheaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore.  I remember Saturdays, when I worked in my father’s grocery store in New Rochelle, he would have the radio tuned to Malcolm’s rally. My one vivid recollection is of a broadcast in which Malcolm described Black separatism and how the Black man was like strong black coffee and when you add milk to coffee it weakens it.  My Dad respected Malcolm X and his call for self-determination and the self-sufficiency of the Black race. My father would buy Muhammad Speaks every Saturday and give the Muslim brothers a space in his store to sell their bean pies.  As a product of the South, my Dad understood the importance of not relying on anyone, except perhaps his family, to achieve his goals.

Malcolm’s Black nationalist rhetoric did not strike a chord with my teenaged self.  It made me uncomfortable, maybe because what he was saying was too close to some truths I was just beginning to take in.  I had dismissed him as a hot-headed radical who chided the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as being Uncle Toms because of their more measured approach to breaking down barriers. It, of course, was more complicated than that.  I hadn’t really embraced the civil rights strategy of passive resistance either.

As I matured and learned more about both approaches to our struggle for independence, I began to appreciate the Malcolms and the Martins. I also discovered that sometimes what you read is not necessarily how it really is. The media had set Malcolm and Martin against each other — the raving radical and the peaceful preacher.  It sold newspapers and increased Nielsen


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