Very few scholars merged grassroots activism and ivy tower academics with such consistency and unimpeachable integrity as well as Dr. Manning Marable. Dr. Marable, who was an intrepid teacher and intellectual, made his transition on April 1 after suffering a long illness of sarcoidosis, a lung disease and a month-long stay in the hospital with pneumonia. He was 60.
I knew of his battle against the lung ailment but wasn’t aware that he had a double lung transplant last summer. It’s amazing, given the physical challenges and health issues, that he was able to complete his biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which is scheduled to be released Monday, April 4.
Manning has been robbed of an opportunity to enjoy the publication, not the birth, of what may be his magnum opus, though he leaves behind a trove of important books, and none more important to me than How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America. That book was published in 1983, the same year I met him at a conference he was convening at Fisk University, just one of many stops on his academic trail, including at Columbia University, his final stop, where his remarkable vision created a renowned institute of Black Studies.
From the first embrace I recognized a genius, a drive and determination to excel, to make a mark in the world of scholarship. Only 27 or 28 then, he was well on his way to that pinnacle acclaim that will certainly be his as readers rush to purchase his last book, which, as of yesterday, was number 5 on Amazon.com.
After meeting him at Fisk, I followed his career with interest, bought his books without hesitation, and marveled at his ascendancy. We reunited in the mid-nineties as members of the Black Radical Congress, among several political formations that would benefit from his tireless advocacy for civil and human rights.
Several of his friends and colleagues have rightfully compared him to W.E.B. Du Bois, a man Manning admired and honored with an insightful biography, one of the best according to the eminent Du Bois authority, Dr. David Levering Lewis. Manning cast Du Bois as a radical Democrat, and that very well could have been a self-definition since, like Du Bois, he was restlessly in pursuit of a democracy that would abide his Marxist impulses.
Sometime before the week is out I’ll have my copy of his take on Malcolm, which, if the early reports are true, contains several controversial conclusions. None of them will surprise me because Manning was a courageous scholar who was not afraid to tell it like it is, warts and all. His departure leaves a gaping hole in the realm of Black public intellectual thought; he was a throw-back to that era of researchers and thinkers epitomized by J.A. Rogers, John Henrik Clarke, John Hope Franklin, and Walter Rodney. But he was also an inquiring modernist, never reluctant to tackle new concepts and theories, and this made him an exceptional American.