By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by G. Valmont Thomas
Driving to the office the other day, while waiting for a traffic light to change, a well-dressed youngish black man offers a newspaper titled “The Final Call” to anyone willing to make a donation to its publication. “The Final Call” is the official paper of the “Nation of Islam” (NOI) that covers news worthy events of black America and proffers the philosophy of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the NOI movement in the United States. “The Final Call” generates feelings of fear and hope. There is a white fear of widening the gap between blacks and other races in America. There is the hope that black Americans will embrace belief in their ability to equal or exceed accomplishments of any race, creed, or color in America.
After reading a couple of “The Final Call” papers, one can understand its appeal because it offers news about black experience in America. However, every edition has one page dedicated to the philosophy of the “Nation of Islam” as a religious movement. It states blacks and whites must have separate nations with their own governments; including dedicated land for Nation of Islam’ believers, qualified by the color of their skin.
“Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” is an educational tour de force of the growth of black nationalism and the NOI movement in the United States. The Nation of Islam has the same negative qualities of all organized religions; it claims divine authority for religious leaders that have the same failings of all human beings; i.e. lust and greed for money, power, and prestige. One can cast stones at Elijah Muhammad’s infidelity, Malcolm X’s incitement to riot, or Louis Farrakhan’s belief that a Black person can only be free in a Black nation but they, like all human beings, are fallible and can be seduced by human nature.
Who knows what further contribution Malcolm X may have made to black equality in America; then again, who knows what changes may come from Louis Farrakhan’s, or a future leader’s, re-invention of NOI?
Manning Marable, the author of this book, was (he died in April of 2011) a professor of African-American Studies at Columbia University. This American historian, with the help of Alex Haley (author of “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”) has written a book that educates the ignorant on the NOI movement in the United States. Though “Malcolm: A Life of Reinvention” is primarily about Malcolm Little’s (Malcolm X’s) life, it tells the history of the American’ Nation of Islam and reveals some information about its current leader, Louis Farrakhan Muhammad, Sr. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. Before his death, he had become a mentor for Louis Farrakhan
In the last years of his life, Malcolm X split from NOI because he grew to believe that a separate and equal black and white America was wrong; i.e. Malcolm X, in the last two years of his life, converted to a world based Muslim religion that believed all people were equal before God. He endeavored to make NOI a political; not just religion-based, black organization that would welcome all races in a fight for equal rights. This contradicts the basic tenants of the Nation of Islam leader’s teaching which insisted, particularly in Elijah Muhammed’s time, that NOI would not engage in politics because it is a religion, focused on black pride and independence; not a political participant or tool of a white American establishment. Malcolm X’s political use of Elijah Muhammed’s movement led to his exile from, and probable murder by, NOI.
NOI had hugely benefited from Malcolm X’s recruitment; with exile and Malcolm’s adoption of a competing and more broadly based Muslim’ belief, the die was cast for his assassination. Malcolm Little’s transition from uneducated hoodlum to Malcolm X, a self-educated political activist and religious leader, is a well told story in Marable’s book.
With the election of Barack Obama, one is inclined to believe Malcolm X was on the right trail (the political power trail) and Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam in the United States was mistaken. Elijah Muhammad relegated the black movement to an extreme form of religion; akin to nationalism that has the same social baggage carried by right wing propagandists like George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party leader of the early 60s.
Louis Farrakhan Muhammad continues Elijah Muhammad’s message by insisting on NOI’s adherence to religious, economic, and political separation of black and white people; Rockwell, Elijah Muhammad, and now, Farrakhan are allies in extremis. Louis Farrakhan has added Malcolm X’s political activism to the Nation of Islam which makes NOI something more but less than its founder’s creation; i.e. it is more because it adds political force to its movement but it is less because it focuses the religion’s goal of Black’ pride and independence on an unrealistic political objective; i.e. the creation of a separate Black Muslim American nation.
Malcolm X is not a saint in this biography. He is shown to be a political leader in transition that touches the nerves and lives of black and white America. Malcolm X lives and dies in American history’s faltering effort to become a true land of the free, with equality of opportunity for all.
Malcolm X’s life story kindles fear and hope in a world populated by “all too human” human beings. [contact-form-7 id=”1710″ title=”Contact form 1″]