Malcolm X’s mother

I caught an excerpt from a compelling new book on the radio this morning. Manning Marable’s ‘Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention’ can be listened to again here. My ears pricked up when the announcer said that the author had died shortly after it was completed. Well, it must have taken some writing then I thought, but the truth is he died of sarcoidosis in April this year.

The book is an attempt to rewrite the legend of Malcolm X and I understand it has attracted some criticism on that account, being described as an ‘abomination’ and containing ‘serious errors’. And this is where it becomes fascinating. Marable, a Professor at Columbia University, is writing what he believes to be true about his subject. This may not tally with his subject’s truth in his autobiography, or that of all the subsequent biographers, but the veracity, or otherwise, is not what especially interests me. It is what Marable believed happened and the differences between his view and that of others that is engaging in itself.

In the first episode for example, Marable writes about Malcolm X’s mother, Louise Little. The mother of 7 children with Earl Little, Malcom’s father (Malcom was the fourth child), Louise’s story was terrible to hear as Marable writes it.

After Earl is killed, officially in a streetcar accident although rumour persisted that it was at the hands of racists, Louise survives with her 7 children in penury. She becomes pregnant and, after giving birth to her eighth child, loses her mind and is committed to a mental institution for 24 years.

Marable paints a pitiful scene: before Christmas she is found barefoot in the street, wandering, clutching her illegitimate baby to her breast…

And, with a little further research the different truths tumble out. Malcolm was ashamed of his mother’s mental illness and rarely visited her, Malcom and his siblings strived to finally gain her freedom after 24 years, Louise treated Malcolm differently because his skin was paler than his siblings (Louise’s father was a white man who raped her mother), Malcolm felt his mother had betrayed his dead father by becoming pregnant by another man. There’s plenty of room for reinvention there alright.

I wonder what Louise Little’s book would have said about it.

Mr & Mrs X

Posted on June 6, 2011, in Radio, Words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. His mother was remarkable. Did you hear the section where, alone in the house with her children and pregnant, she confronted a KKK mob outside her house? They left after smashing all the windows – would probably have burnt the house to the ground if she’d not stood up to them. They moved, of course, only to have the new house and all their possessions burned in a god-fearing white neighbourhood. She, not Earl, was the one who went back into the blazing house to try and rescue a few possessions. Someone should write her biography.

    Louise probably had severe post-natal depression.

    • I did hear that, and I would like to write something about her. I suppose it would have to be part fictionalised if she spent 24 years in an institution…

      I was catching up with today’s episode and there was a link on the BBC site to a discussion about this, so I thought I’d like to know what other people are saying and clicked through. I only ended up here! WE are the discussion, so you’d better make it good. Well done on that front so far šŸ™‚

  2. If you’d like to read some more reviews and discussions of the book, see:

    It has links to dozens of reviews. From my reading of them, the mainstream press has been extremely positive about the book, whereas specialists have been far more negative. The reasons for the negativity include Marable’s prurient interest in Malcolm X’s sex life, the large number of unreferenced speculations in the text and Marable’s failure to engage with Malcolm X’s intellectual history.

    • Thank you for that Stereojet – I will have a look at it.

      Malcolm X’s life resonates strongly today. The allure of crime as a survival method, a belonging to a community where there is a void, and as a rite of passage is a path that many of our young men cannot altogether avoid taking today. It’s a life worth examining for many reasons.

      The tragedy of his parents is haunting.

      • I am actually finding the series unlistenable to for some reason. I keep replaying episodes thinking, right, I am going to concentrate but I keep getting lost.

  3. I would recommend reading Peter Goldman’s biography, The Death and Life of Malcolm X. It’s a far greater work than Marable’s in all respects. It’ll definitely hold your concentration! That said, nothing quite comes close to reading and listening to Malcolm X’s speeches, particularly those of the last year of his life. There are a few collections: Malcolm X Speaks and By Any Means Necessary are the best two, although many of the speeches can be found on the web.

  4. I have enjoyed the prgramme too, would like to know what the hip hop jazz music played was too !

  5. Vancouver Val

    I am less interested in re-written history in this case I think Malcolm’s words and actions speak for themselves. Many racists will play up anything to make him look very bad. Listen to his speaches. I find The Ballot and The Bullet remarkably accurate and inspiring for today. You may download it for free from iTunes Great Speeches in History.

    Critisizing Malcolm X after the fact w/o the context of the times is foolishness. It’s how we live and repent from our wrongs that really tell the tale of the man. Terribly oppressed in a very criminal envoronment with no reason other than to do his best he found his way from crime into as upright a life as any other lived in such a circumstance.

    He did his best and he fought fairly. I think his death was very sad and deprived many black Americans of strong leadership. That was the point. It was more than murder, it was the death of a dream.

    Please open your own hearts and re-think your assumptions. VV

  6. As a Caribbean/British woman, I came to life after reading Malcom X’s Biogrophy after finishing University as and adult. I found his teaching an upliftment to my womanhood and motherhood.
    I was disappointed when I attempted to re-listen to this story and it was no available. Malcom X is still relevant to many aspects of our lives today especially with our young black males unable to find sustainable employment.
    The health situation of his mother speaks volumes of black women’s struggle in bringing up children on their own.

    There are other Black men and women in the UK, Caribbean and US who are instrumental in shaping our lives that we should be informing others about. Bring them up to the front please.

    • Thank you for your comment Rose. I have one very important person to bring to the front later: watch this space…

Leave a Reply to Stereojet Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: