A great African American warrior for the people, Dr. Manning Marable, passed away on April 1st, 2011. Dr. Marable died of complications associated with the dreadful disease sarcoidosis, an autoimmune illness that can destroy various organs, including the pulmonary system.
Manning was a good friend and stepfather to two of my children, Alia and Michael. He played an important role in helping them become the fine young adults they’ve grown to be.
I will always be grateful to Manning and his wife, Leith, my wife Lydia and the 7 children comprising our respective households for making our blended families work.
Manning was also a brother in the struggle. I worked with him in the Black Radical Congress for many years. The BRC did much good work, not least of which was helping to build a political architecture for principled left unity during an era of right-wing resurgence.
Manning had a truly brilliant mind. Over the years, what I liked most were the numerous social occasions when we all would get together, have a great meal, and just talk about the world and our struggle for freedom as a people.
Manning was up on everything. He knew sports, music and mass culture: he was always well informed. Professor Marable rose to the highest levels of his profession, ultimately founding and directing the prestigious Institute for African American Research at Columbia University.
He had a profoundly anti-sectarian attitude toward people and politics and spoke easily with leading public figures and the man and woman in the street. He knew all the leading hip hop artists and was up on the latest in popular culture and sports scores; he was absolutely unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit.
I’m going to miss my friend Manning.
To me the thing that was most impressive was how down to earth he was.
Dr. Marable was an extraordinary historian who in his lifetime produced numerous volumes of scholarly books, articles and political writings. All of his work was a contribution to creating a nation and world where working people, black, brown, white, red and yellow can live as free human beings without the chains of racism, poverty, exploitation, sexism, homophobia and war.
Manning was a supremely able Marxist. He fought to not only interpret society but, in the tradition of Karl Marx, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. and all great political figures, he creatively applied his incredible knowledge to changing it.
He creatively applied his grasp of theory and his vision of socialism to the liberation of his people and all exploited and oppressed. He was totally principled and uncompromising in that regard.
It is well know that Manning possessed enormous skills as a scholar and writer, but he was also a very capable political organizer.
In the mid-1990s, Manning, his wife Leith Mullings, Bill Fletcher, Abdul Akalimat and Barbara Ransby came up with the idea of uniting the black left, which ultimately led to the founding meeting of the Black Radical Congress in Chicago in 1998.
As a political leader, Manning was not just a wise adviser. He was a hands-on leader who, when he served as chairperson of the local New York BRC chapter, never missed an event, be it a march in the pouring rain, a rally or our annual holiday dance parties.
Manning was a public intellectual. He could talk on any subject For years he wrote a weekly column free of charge that appeared in over 400 newspapers across the country. He was also a popular speaker who drew large audiences. He often appeared on major media commenting on all kinds of issues and always bringing clarity, building unity and taking a principal position on the critical issues of the day.
Manning was also a lot of fun. He would always find lots of humor in day-to-day events in the news, the latest movies or on TV. He’d keep you laughing.
He was completely dedicated to the historic mission of his people here and on the continent of Africa. He saw both in harmony and as part of the struggle of working people for full emancipation.
Everyone who knew Manning knew he was a very courageous scholar. He was completely committed to honest scholarship and never hesitated to tell the whole story even when it was difficult and may have offended some.
The last time I sat down with him and Leith was after the lung transplant operation. He was back to his old self and started telling me about the Malcolm X book. He was so excited and animated, full of energy, enthusiasm and good humor.
He told me that his book is going to be big. “It has things in it that nobody else has uncovered up to now,” he explained, his face all the while beaming with that “Manning” smile.
I am so happy that he was able to finish the Malcolm X biography. It is sure to add much to his great legacy as a leader and scholar.
When I heard the sad news of Manning’s passing, Communist Party USA National Chair Sam Webb and I where having lunch with Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party.
My son Michael called sobbing away; “Dad”, he said, “Manning died.”
I couldn’t believe it. I too was near tears. I immediately tried to console Michael. When I told Sam and Blade, they were both saddened and shocked.
And I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Blade was quite aware of Manning’s work and recounted many of his books. We lifted our glasses in a toast to Manning like liberation fighters when they hear about a fellow fighter’s demise. “To Manning, may his spirit live on in the struggle.”
Manning used to end his speeches with the quote from Dr.. Martin Luther King Jr.
It was a statement of hope, optimism and confidence in the future, an answer to pessimists who thought demonstrating and protest meant nothing or that “we’ve gained what we can with protest and now we have to stop that “movement stuff” and work within the capitalist system”.
The quote is simply this: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Dr. Manning Marable was one of the finest arc benders our nation has produced. May his legacy of struggle live on.