In Celebration of Black History Month.
Manning Marable was a prolific African American scholar, academic, writer and political organizer who made significant contributions to building the U.S. left and Black left from 1980 until his passing in 2011. He was the founding director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and the Center for the Study of Contemporary Black History at Columbia University.
Manning’s first book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (1983 & 2015), along with Race, Reform and Rebellion- The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006, ( 1983 & 2007), provide crucial political and social history of African American struggles while developing a Marxist tradition of scholarship and activism Let Nobody Turn Us Around (2000 and 2005 co-edited with Leith Mullings), which traced the history of “transformational” (left) politics in black political writing from the time of slavery to the present, became one of the most widely used textbooks in black studies. He wrote or edited more than twenty-two books throughout his extraordinary career. His final book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, 2011, a carefully researched, critical study of an extraordinary, political leader, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Marable’s scholarship and publications were superb and widely recognized within academia, and were read by activists throughout the world
In 1983, Dr. Marable was a professor of economics and history and the director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University. He went on to direct the Africana and Latin American Studies program at Colgate University, and then chaired the Department of Black Studies at Ohio State University. Marable also taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 1994, he joined the faculty at Colombia University, where he established the Institute for Research in African American Studies. During the 10 years he directed the Institute, he molded it to be not only a center of critical scholarship, but also to produce initiatives and work that was useful and accessible to the black community. He was also the founding editor of Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, where many currently well-known black scholars published their early work. He completed his academic career as a professor of public affairs, political science, history and political science at Columbia University where he directed the university’s Center for Contemporary Black History. until his death in 2011. In these programs Dr. Marable created pathways for graduate study for generations of African American scholars that are now teaching in universities throughout the nation.
In addition to his academic career, Manning was extraordinary for his lifelong commitment to his role as a public intellectual making his scholarship accessible to all. Beginning in 1976, his nationally syndicated column “Along the Color Line, “ was distributed free of charge to more than 100 newspapers and journals in the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and India.
Democratic Socialists of America
Dr. Marable played a significant role in creating left organizations and promoting left unity in the U.S. He was particularly interested in bringing a Marxist analysis to the project of creating a left built upon pursuing racial and gender justice. He was a leader in NAM ( New America Movement) and the National Black Independent Political Party and helped to negotiate the merger of NAM and DSOC (the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) in 1980-1982. The new organization became DSA. With his participation, the negotiated points of unity between NAM and DSOC were carefully drafted to reflect the strengths of each organization including the vision of creating a multiracial, feminist inspired, left- a major step forward for this time.
In the summer of 1983 Manning organized a conference of Third World Socialists (people of color ) at Fisk University, bringing together a diverse group of left academics and activists. At this conference DSA created new commissions each focused on self-determination: a Latino Commission, an African American Commission and an Anti-Racism Commission within DSA. These commissions went on to support the Jesse Jackson run for President in 1984, and then convinced the DSA itself to support the Jackson effort in 1988.
One of Manning’s many contributions to DSA was to develop a new journal, Third World Socialist, that brought together a widely diverse group of activists and scholars of color. In addition to writing columns in the African American press with the by- line Along the Color Line, he spoke at hundreds of college campuses promoting a multi -racial democratic socialist perspective among faculty and students.
Dr. Marable was both a Vice Chair of DSA and a member of the National Executive Committee ( later the National Political Committee) where he provided a strong Black voice for supporting the efforts of socialists in Third World struggles and for attracting a significantly multiracial membership to DSA.
As a result of his frustration that DSA’s anti-racists work did not grow significantly over time, Manning shifted some of his political activism to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism in 1995. Nevertheless, he remained a strong supporter of anti-racism efforts within DSA and was a frequent speaker at DSA Youth Section conferences.
Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
On December 6-8, 1991, some 900 plus members left the Communist Party and formed the Committees of Correspondence. The new Black led C of C was dedicated to” renewing the struggle for social progress and socialism, and putting an end to what they saw as the undemocratic practices that damaged the Marxists and Communist movement.” 1
Manning Marable joined the new CofC and made enormous contributions to the building for the new CoC’s national conference in July 1992 which brought together 1,300 diverse left individuals and organizations. He and others drafted the declaration of principles of the Committees of Correspondence – “Where We Stand”-- for the founding conference, reflecting the need to seek the broadest possible unity to achieve immediate goals.
Manning Marble was elected as one of the five co-Chairs and he served on the National Coordinating Committee. Within the CoC he guided the development of the People of Color committee and provided political guidance on left unity and anti-racism. Manning Marable enthusiastically undertook the organizational tasks of building a new organization (e.g. CoC), but always held firm to the idea of left unity and multi-racial action – that the unity of left forces was essential for building independent progressive political forms. (In 2000, the CofC changed the name to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.)
The Black Radical Congress
In 1995 Manning, along with 4 other prominent Black activists Barbara Ransby, Abdul Alkalimat, Bill Fletcher, and Leith Mullings, each from diverse political backgrounds met to plan a response to the deterioration of the lives of Black people in the nation and around the world. They were soon joined by some 35 prominent Black activists from diverse left organizations—socialist, communist, radical feminism, revolutionary nationalism from around the country to organize what became the Black Radical Congress.
They had not initially planned to form a new political organization but instead find ways to encourage coalition building and joint activities among existing groups.
However at the first conference, in June 1998, with over 3,000 in attendance, the energy and enthusiasm of assembled group convinced them to form a united front of Black progressive politics--a network that self-identified as anti-capitalist and rejected the class reductionism among the white left and the growing patriarchal trend in Black U.S. politics.
The National Council of the BRC adopted a mission statement on 26 September 1999 in East St. Louis, Illinois.
The opening paragraph states:
The purpose of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) is to promote dialogue among African American activists and scholars on the left; to discuss critical issues on the national and international scene that pertain to the Black community; to explore new strategies and directions for progressive political, social and cultural movements; and to renew the Black radical movement through increased unified action.
The BRC formed local chapters that worked on a range of issues including police brutality, incarceration, public education, labor rights and gender justice, promoting a Black left with the critical inclusion of Black feminist positions within the Black community , Black scholarship, and Black politics until 2008.
Several members attended the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Xenophobia sponsored by the United Nations and held in Durban South Africa in 2001. This conference, and the follow up reports from the conference highlighted the long tradition of including an internationalist perspective within the movements of the Black Left.
The struggle of Marable and the BRC attempted to address the longstanding tendency in much of the left-leaning social movements and scholarly literature to view black social movements with ambivalence, dismissing them as “identity politics” that compare unfavorably to social movements explicitly calling for revolutionary change.3
Noting that the black freedom struggle has always contested both race and class inequality, scholar and co-founder of the BRC Leith Mullings notes,
“If progressive forces are to move forward in the United States, it is essential that they deal honestly with the role of racism and recognize the coproduction of racism and capitalism rather than dismissing anti-racist struggles
as “identity politics.” 3.
Marable’s work and that of the others in the BRC:, as well as the National Rainbow Coalition; the successful electoral campaigns of Harold Washington for Chicago’s mayor in 1983 and 1987 and the tens of thousands of community-based organizations produced many activists connections to the exciting explosive growth of the current broad based Movement for Black Lives.
Black and Indigenous Resistance in the Americas : From Multiculturalism to Racist Backlash, edited by Juliet Hooker,
Lexington Books, 2020.
This tribute by:
Duane Campbell, retired professor Bilingual/Multicultural Education, California State University -Sacramento former chair of Anti Racism Commission of DSA (1983-2004) and currently a co-chair of DSA’s Immigrants’ Rights Working Group,
Carl Pinkston. Operation Director of Black Parallel School Board (Sacramento) and former member of Liberation Road and Institute for Social and Economic Studies.
This tribute written for the forthcoming, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN LEFT,