I've been struggling all weekend to write something worthwhile about Manning Marable. On Saturday, I had the good fortune of receiving a note from Georgia State historian, and former Marable grad assistant, John McMillan, seeking a place to publish his own tribute. I hastily offered this page and McMillan was kind enough to offer his memories. They are as follows:
In hindsight, this is embarrassing to admit, but here
goes.When I first met Manning Marable
in 1996, at age 26, I was nervous.Partly I was on edge because I was trying to make a big decision: Should
I pursue a Ph.D. in African-American history at either Rutgers or Michigan,
where I'd been offered full funding?Or,
should I go to Columbia (my first choice), with no money upfront, but with some
vague possibility of securing a teaching fellowship down the line?
Months before, Manning had already written me to say that if
I were admitted to Columbia, he'd be keen to take me on as one of his graduate
students.(That was a thrill unto
itself!)Nevertheless, I couldn't help
but wonder (and this is the embarrassing part): did he know I was white?And if so, would he have any doubts about my
commitment to Black Studies, or my intellectual authority to work in the field?
Keep in mind, by then I'd read virtually all of Manning's
major works, including the earlier, more polemical stuff, like How Capitalism
Underdeveloped Black America, where he declared, "Progressive white Americans
must succeed in overturning their own racism."
No problem there, I chuckled.I'd long made a point of challenging racism
in others, and I've always tried (to the best of my ability) never to tolerate
it in myself.But then, he added this:
"Nothing short of a commitment to racial equality and Black
freedom such as that exhibited by the militant white abolitionist John Brown
will be sufficient."
There was only one way to gauge Manning's attitude, and that
was to show up at his office.I made the
haul all the way from mid-Michigan to New York City in my Chevy pick-up
truck.At that point in my life, I'd
never been anywhere near an Ivy League campus.My first memory of the area around Columbia comes from driving up and
down Broadway, Amsterdam Ave., and perhaps a dozen cross streets in-between,
again and again and again, screaming and pounding on my dashboard over my
inability to find a parking space.
As soon as I met Manning, though, all of my anxiety melted
away. As anyone who knew him would agree, one of his most striking qualities
was his affability.And although I
probably would not have said this in print while he was still alive, the plain
fact is, he really did look a lot like a teddy bear.
One thing I remember from that day is how vigorously he
stressed the fact that he saw himself as both a scholar, and an activist.For him, the two vocations were
inseparable.What's more, he wanted me
to know that when he became the founding director of the Institute for Research
in African American Studies (IRAAS) a few years earlier, he'd envisioned it as
fundamentally a community resource.And
by "community," he pointed out, "I don't mean just Columbia, or even
Morningside Heights."He gestured toward
the window of his 6th floor office, which afforded views to the north and the
east."We're not in Morningside
Heights!We're in Harlem!"
To this end, he had a remarkable capacity for making time for virtually anyone who wanted something from him, even including the conspiratorial-minded guy with the rusty stains on his shirt (or was it blood?) who would occasionally show up unannounced at Manning's door, asking to bend his ear.Then there was this other fellow: he was never around, except for on the periodic occasions when the Institute would lay out a very nice buffet in honor of some distinguished guest speaker, in which case he would always be there, first in line, testing the capacity of his Styrofoam plates with enormous mounds of chicken wings, mini quiches, cocktail shrimp, and whatever else.(Okay, I'll confess: I once watched as Manning quietly observed this guy from the corner of the room, sighed heavily, and rolled his eyes.)
Manning was also one of the hardest workers in all of academia.In the mid-to-late 1990s, you might recall, a whole corps of "black public intellectuals" was suddenly gaining more exposure than they'd probably ever dreamed of.After a long period during which black scholars were more likely to toil away in obscurity, with their contributions being slighted or overlooked, now at least a few of them - through a combination of intelligence, charisma, and moxie - seemed to be everywhere.And while some celebrated the new visibility of people like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson, others sensed a certain entrepreneurialism in their approach.Sure, they could all talk a very good game, people used to grouse.Hell, put them in range of a microphone, and they'll talk about anything!But when it came to scholarship, what did they actually do?
That was never quite my own view, but regardless: nobody ever credibly said such a thing about Manning.Sure, he made TV appearances and gave paid lectures (oh, how he must have loved Black History Month).But he was also an author of god-knows-how-many books and articles, the great bulk of which showcased his deep immersion in fields as diverse as history, sociology, political science, economics, and even literature.His new, nearly 600 page opus, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, is already being celebrated as an exhaustively researched tome, one that will completely upend our understanding of that fabled leader.
What an incredible exercise in self-restraint it must have been to keep plugging away on that biography for fifteen-odd years, all the while sitting on so many explosive revelations.I remember him excitedly making a few vague allusions to the discoveries he was making, way back in the day.Now we all know just what he was onto.
At the moment, I'm awfully sad that I didn't stay in better touch with Manning in recent years, though I can take some solace from the fact that about six weeks ago, I sent him a warmly inscribed copy of my first monograph.I have so many fond memories of our conversations from the three-year period that I worked for him, but I'll always treasure that first meeting the best.After listening to my concerns, putting me at ease, and making me laugh out loud, he said something I did not expect: "I might be able to help you out."
Five months later, I'd relocated to Manhattan, and I was meeting a considerable portion of my grad school expenses by working as his research assistant.(We collaborated on two books.) Without him, I'm not sure I'd have mustered the courage to go to Columbia, something that later turned out - without question - to be one of the great blessings of my life.And yet whenever I tried to thank Manning for anything - whether for helping to pay for my education, or for buying me a sandwich (as he sometimes did), I always got the same response.He'd shrug, smile impishly, and say, "Hey, what do you expect?I'm a socialist!"
John McMillian is Assistant Professor of history at Georgia State University. His most recent book is Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America (Oxford, 2011).
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Nervous Democrats are looking for alternatives as Hillary Clinton falters. But is the VP the right person for the job?
“I think panic is the operative mode for the Democratic Party,” David Axelrod, who has been on the receiving end of panic mode many times over the years, told me this week. I had asked Obama’s political guru how bad the current panic was for Hillary Clinton—bad enough for the party to seek an alternative? Bad enough, perhaps, to create an opening for Joe Biden?
Axelrod didn’t think so. “I think it’s indisputable she’s had a rocky few months,” he said. “But if you look at her support among Democrats, and the resources she brings, she’s still very strong—I think she’s going to be the nominee.”
Not everyone is so sure. Public opinion has turned starkly negative on Clinton in recent months, as she has struggled to put the scandal over her use of email as secretary of state to rest. In a poll released this week, the word most commonly summoned when people were asked about her was “liar.”
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album embodied the lost ‘70s—the tense, political, working-class rejection of an increasingly unequal society.
Forty years ago, on the eve of its official release, “Born to Run”—the song that propelled Bruce Springsteen into the rock-and-roll stratosphere—had already attracted a small cult following in the American rust belt.
At the time, Springsteen desperately needed a break. Despite vigorous promotion by Columbia Records, his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, had been commercial flops. Though his band spent virtually every waking hour either in the recording studio or on tour, their road earnings were barely enough to live on.
Sensing the need for a smash, in late 1974 Mike Appel, Bruce’s manager, distributed a rough cut of “Born to Run” to select disc jockeys. Within weeks, it became an underground hit. Young people flooded record stores seeking copies of the new single, which didn’t yet exist, and radio stations that hadn’t been on Appel’s small distribution list bombarded him with requests for the new album, which also didn’t exist. In Philadelphia, demand for the title track was so strong that WFIL, the city’s top-40 AM station, aired it multiple times each day. In working-class Cleveland, the DJ Kid Leo played the song religiously at 5:55 p.m. each Friday afternoon on WMMS, to “officially launch the weekend.” Set against the E Street Band’s energetic blend of horns, keyboards, guitars, and percussion, “Born to Run” was a rollicking ballad of escape, packed full of cultural references that working-class listeners recognized immediately.
The billionaire’s campaign is alienating the fastest-growing demographic in American politics—and the talk-radio right treats damage control as heresy.
With Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush running for president, many Republicans hoped 2016 would be the year when the GOP won its biggest ever share of the Hispanic vote. Now Donald Trump is the frontrunner. And if he hangs on to win the nomination, the GOP will almost certainly do worse among Hispanic voters than ever before. Earlier this week, Gallup released an extraordinary poll about how Hispanics view the Republican candidates. Jeb Bush is easily the most popular. Ted Cruz is least popular among the traditional choices. Nearly everyone else fits in between them in a range so narrow that the 5 percent margin of error could scramble their order.
But not Trump, who is wildly, staggeringly unpopular among Hispanics: