Are the stars of the Civil Rights firmament yesterday's news? In Living Black History scholar and activist Manning Marable offers a resounding “No!” with a fresh and personal look at the enduring legacy of such well-known figures as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers and W.E.B. Du Bois. Marable creates a “living history” that brings the past alive for a generation he sees as having historical amnesia. His activist passion and scholarly memory bring immediacy to the tribulations and triumphs of yesterday and reveal that history is something that happens everyday. Living Black History dismisses the detachment of the codified version of American history that we all grew up with. Marable's holistic understanding of history counts the story of the slave as much as that of the master; he highlights the flesh-and-blood courage of those figures who have been robbed of their visceral humanity as members of the historical cannon. As people comprehend this dynamic portrayal of history they will begin to understand that each day we-the average citizen-are “makers” of our own American history. Living Black History will empower readers with knowledge of their collective past and a greater understanding of their part in forming our future.
In this sharp, savvy collection, several pieces of which began as W.E.B. Du Bois lectures at Harvard in 2004, Columbia University scholar Marable (The Autobiography of Medgar Evers) declares that "being true to black history... means accepting and interpreting its totality." Living black history, Marable posits, requires "reconstruct America's memory about itself" through projects that give voice to the voiceless. Marable takes a historian's pleasure in reproaching those (like Kweisi Mfume and Henry Louis Gates Jr.) who discount Du Bois's commitment to radicalism. He similarly admonishes those, from the black middle class or hip-hop "Malcolmologists," who seize on Malcolm X's resistance without recognizing as Marable does in dissecting Alex Haley's unreliable Autobiography and criticizing the Shabazz family Malcolm X's unquenched, pan-Africanist voice. An essay on lawyer Robert Carter, who helped win Brown v. Board of Education, prompts the author's reflection on gains blacks have made in access to educational institutions, and also his lament that Brown has not helped the working class or the poor. But Marable offers no targeted solution for African-American uplift. Rather, given his socialist leanings less articulated here than in other works he supports cross-racial and class-based efforts to fight structural racism.