Two of Malcolm X’s daughters take issue with a recent biography of their father alleging that the marriage between Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz was strained, and that both partners may have been unfaithful. Black academicians are having coronaries about the book: “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” Compiled by renowned Black historian Manning Marable, the book is a hot-seller.
Marable worked on the book for 20 years and died just before its publication in April 2011. Among records Marable used were Malcolm’s personal papers and a letter to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad where he discusses his wife’s sexual frustrations and says she had threatened to “seek satisfaction elsewhere.” A major body of work, Marable’s “Malcolm X” includes interviews, source documents and theories long bantered about, but never fully denied or proved. Malcolm X’s death has long been shrouded by the dealings of that era: informants, infighting among Black militants, power struggles within the NOI and allegations of lackluster handling of the initial investigation. In making Malcolm just a man, Manning broached his private life saying Betty Shabazz was “Not as subservient as Malcolm may have wanted her to be.” Manning said he sought: “to pay tribute to the slain activist’s life and influence” and avoid portraying him as “a saint without the normal contradictions and blemishes.”
Few portrayals give credit due to the Nation of Islam and its role in the advancements of African Africans. Founded in 1930, the Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and social group often referred to as “a militant” African-American organization. Frequently called “anti-Semitic,” “racist” and “sexist”; NOI supporters say they have been involved in programs toward the betterment of African Americans for more than 70 years. In the beginning, the NOI was led by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad, whom NOI members consider “a prophet.” Fard Muhammad’s agenda was to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of Blacks. When Wallace D. Fard Muhammad disappeared in 1934, Elijah Muhammad took over and led the NOI into prominence up to 1975. Using practices preached by Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad proved to be “a great teacher” as he established NOI businesses, large real estate holdings, armed forces and schools.
The NOI practice of separatism incorporated into a do-for-self philosophy resulted in the NOI owning and operating hundreds of businesses and employing thousands of people nationwide during the 1950s and 60s. The “mentor” of Malcolm and Farrakhan, Elijah Muhammad led the NOI to purchase and operate food-industry services, bakeries and restaurants. They owned a large amount of Georgia farmland. Many NOI members still own and operate hair-care shops and businesses. Over the years, some of NOI business ventures have been success stories; others have been criticized as Amway-style marketing schemes. The official beliefs of the Nation of Islam have been outlined in books, documents and articles, but through the years the NOI has preached that the entire American political structure and economy is based on white supremacy.
Few can match Elijah Muhammad’s and the NOI’s urban successes. Malcolm X is an example of the NOI’s record in cleaning up drug addicts, reforming prostitutes and keeping Black youth out of gangs. In 1963, James Baldwin said: “Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do: heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, convert people who have come out of prison and to keep them out, make men chaste and women virtuous, and invest both the male and the female with pride and a serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light. He has done things our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do.”
During Louis Farrakhan’s reign, society has struck back at the NOI. In the 1980s when crack cocaine became very common, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development employed NOI-run private firms to provide security in housing projects in Black neighborhoods; but the Anti-Defamation League successfully lobbied Congress to sever the HUD contracts.