Myths about Malcolm X—his life, his beliefs and especially his death—continue to abound decades after his assassination at the age 39. Longtime Malcolm X scholar Manning Marable attempts to deconstruct the Black icon’s life and offers “explosive” new revelations into Malcolm’s death in his new book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
Marable will not experience what could be the highpoint of his career, however. On April 1, just days before his book’s launch on April 4, the scholar, writer, lecturer, and civil rights activist who founded the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, died at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City after a long illness. He was 60.
“As Malcolm X died shortly before the release of his autobiography, Marable died three days before the publication of his life’s work. And as Malcolm lived on through his best-selling autobiography, so will Marable, through his unmatched body of writing, his educational contributions, his illuminations on Malcolm X’s legacy and his devoted students,” said Maytha Alhassen, a doctoral student in American studies and ethnicity at University of Southern California who worked as a research assistant for Dr. Marable. Alhassen made those statements in a CNN.com commentary about her mentor.
Ten years in the making, A Life of Reinvention tells the “never-before-told true story of assassination,” according to publisher Viking Press. Based on years of research, including interviews, culled from his work with The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University, the book offers a controversial new interpretation of the Black leader’s death, naming five alleged conspirators, including the alleged triggerman, 72-year-old Al-Mustafa Shabazz, formerly William Bradley, of Newark, N.J.
The claim was first published in a blog almost a year ago by District of Columbia historian, Abdul-Rahman Muhammad, 48, who writes for the Association of African American Life and History. Marable credited Muhammad in his book for the lead, which was backed by others in the Muslim community.
“This book has finally settled the 46-year-old mystery of who really killed Malcolm X, or at least who fired the weapon that took his life,” Muhammad told the AFRO in an e-mail. “The historical significant of this revelation cannot be quantified. It is a stunning achievement which has written a new page in American history. Sad he couldn’t be here to receive his reward.”
Regarding his stunning assertion, Muhammad said Shabazz’ identity was “an open secret.”
“I relied heavily on the already existing scholarship, wherein a consensus had come to be formed around 1993 that someone named ‘William Bradley’ fired the shotgun, we just didn’t know what he looked like or what his name was today,” Muhammad said. “We did know, however, that he was living in Newark and using a Muslim name. With that information, I was able to use my contacts in the Muslim community to finally identify Shabazz as Bradley.”
A mug shot provided by East Orange Sgt. Andrew Di Elmo, confirms Bradley’s alias as Al-Mustafa Shabazz. Speaking to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Shabazz’s wife, Carolyn Kelley Shabazz, said she and her husband refute the allegations. “As God, Allah, is my witness, there’s no way my husband could have had a negative thought in his head about Malcolm X,” said Carolyn Shabazz. “My husband is no more guilty about what happened with Malcolm than you or I.”
The autobiography is already being hailed as the definitive account of Malcolm X’s life and will add to Marable’s already towering legacy.
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Marable earned his undergraduate degree at Earlham College in 1971, followed by a master’s degree in American history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Maryland.
Dr. Marable taught at Cornell University, Fisk University, Colgate University, Ohio State University and the University of Colorado before coming to Columbia. Additionally, Dr. Marable for many years has been a columnist widely published in Black newspapers throughout the country.
“Dr. Marable’s contributions to the struggle for freedom of African Americans will never be forgotten,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Dr. Marable brought one of the keenest intellects of our age to the contemporary conversation on race in America. As an academic he was never afraid to speak his mind, and as an activist his words carried the gravitas of a published author. His life was dedicated to the struggle, and he will be sorely missed.”
He is survived by his wife, Leith Mullings, two stepchildren and three grandchildren. A memorial service is tentatively set for May 27.