By Farah Jasmine Griffin.
Scholar, Activist, Mentor, Teacher, Editor, Institution Builder, Manning Marable was one of those rare individuals who succeeded in a number of arenas. His intellectual and political vision and work can be described as nothing less than a calling, one he met with extraordinary drive and consistency and from which he never strayed. Never an academic in the narrowest sense of the word, Manning was an engaged scholar whose writing and research were always addressed to people both inside and outside of the academy.
Remarkably, his devotion to a public beyond the academy in no way detracted him from working tirelessly within it. Manning understood the academy to be an important site where transformative work occurred. He was a beloved and devoted teacher. He relished the classroom. He mentored generations of undergraduates, graduate students, and young professors.
In addition to IRAAS, he built during his career a number of programs in Ethnic and African American Studies. Beginning with his first leadership post in his early twenties, he worked tirelessly with administrators and colleagues to make the university a more equitable place. No, Manning did not choose between the academy and public. He simply saw no separation between the two: A viable research institution was a part of “the public” and had responsibilities to the community in which it resided. For this reason the Institute’s conferences took place both on campus and in Harlem institutions.
The opening of a conference on Reparations was held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture while the second day’s events took place at Columbia’s Law School. A conference on Education and the Prison Industrial Complex had plenary sessions at a high school. Manning brought the public to the academy, but he also brought the academy to the public. He spent tireless hours lecturing at colleges and universities but also at churches and community groups. This was simply a natural trajectory for him.
The dramatic circumstances that surround the release of his magnum opus Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention will yield a great deal of attention. This major work, representing over a decade of research and writing, deserves attention as it is sure to be a definitive interpretation of one of the most significant figures our nation has ever produced.
This book is not the only representation of Manning’s brilliance, however. Rather, it is a culmination of a lifetime of scholarship and activism, a larger project devoted to telling the stories of a people engaged in an epic, painful and beautiful struggle for freedom. That story had no better chronicler, that struggle no greater champion than Manning Marable.