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).
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
This lack of discussion of civil-rights issues at the hearing was glaring, but it may be in line with DeVos’s advocacy of school vouchers and other school-choice programs in her home state of Michigan. As Kimberly Quick, a policy associate at the Century Foundation, notes, “Both historically and currently, voucher programs have served as a means for wealthier and white families to flee an increasingly diverse public school system, moving into largely unaccountable private schools that can exclude students based on a number of factors.”
William Jennings Bryan, the populist presidential hopeful, warned of an “epidemic of fake news” in his day.
Fake news is everywhere. The power of the press is said to be waning. And because the nation’s most famous populist—the man with his sights on the presidency—can’t trust the lying media, he says, he has no option but to be a publisher himself.
Oh yeah, and the year is 1896.
The would-be president in question is William Jennings Bryan. In an era before the internet, television, or radio, the best way to reach the masses is with newsprint. So, without the option of tweeting his grievances after losing the election to William McKinley, what does Bryan do? He starts his own newspaper. And he uses it to rail against “fake news.”
I don’t need to tell you a lot of this sounds weirdly familiar.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fake news from the city of Lincoln, [Nebraska], and it all comes from Mr. Bryan’s ‘friends’—names not given,” Bryan’s newspaper, The Commoner,wrote in 1907. “It would seem unnecessary to deny reports sent out to which no name was attached, and yet it has been necessary to send a number of telegrams to notify other papers that the report was unauthorized … As Mr. Bryan has a paper—The Commoner—through which he speaks every week, and as he is speaking often and giving out interviews frequently, a newspaper ought to view with suspicion any report sent out from Lincoln or anywhere else purporting to state what Mr. Bryan thinks or intends to do.” (In this case, the issue at hand was Bryan’s stance against a third term for Teddy Roosevelt, which some papers had apparently questioned.)
A mix of patriotic balladeers and apolitical acts will take the stage on Thursday and Friday.
It is not true, as a lot of commentary would have it, that Donald Trump’s inauguration will feature “no stars.” Some of the entertainers who have signed on to play have, in fact, built their success on entertaining millions of people. But it is true that what’s considered “the A-list” will be conspicuously absent, as will be acts from other lists: The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute group, backed out from an unofficial inaugural party after outcry; Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday reneged from the main concert event.
The mix of entertainers lined up for Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” on the National Mall and Friday’s swearing-in ceremony represents a hodgepodge of ideology and expediency. In a savvy MTV essay about Trump’s national-anthem singer Jackie Evancho, Doreen St. Félix argued that booking the 16-year-old America’s Got Talent runner up was “a matter of scavenging, and then gilding over the spoils”—a description that could apply across the lineup given the many headlines about Trump’s team getting turned down by celebrities then saying that not having famous people is a good thing. But in its relative lack of glitz, and in its coalition of performers well familiar to state-fair stages, this week’s bill may inadvertently achieve the stated inaugural goal of projecting an image not of Trump but of the people who elected him.
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
Unlike past presidents-elect, Donald Trump hasn’t expanded his support since the election. His belligerent attitude toward his critics may be one reason why.
Donald Trump always seems most grounded in chaos. He thrives on contradicting his aides, surprising his allies, disparaging his opponents. He revels in the tempest.
This combustible approach has touched a chord with his base of primarily non-college-educated and non-urban white voters who have felt eclipsed both economically and culturally and slighted by the nation’s leadership. But he will arrive at his inaugural Friday facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly elected president in the history of polling, and with lingering clouds over his legitimacy—symbolized by the surprisingly widespread House Democratic boycott of the ceremony. Trump’s agenda is polarizing enough, but the intensity of that opposition appears rooted even more in his relentless belligerence toward any critical voice or institution.
The president-elect filled out his Cabinet on Thursday by nominating former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary.
Updated on January 19, 2017
A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump has filled out his Cabinet.
Trump on Thursday morning announced the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, completing a search that took the duration of his presidential transition.
Perdue, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, grew up on a farm in Georgia and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. “Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture,” Trump said in a statement. “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
Without any of his key appointees confirmed by the Senate, the incoming president has turned to existing officials to help smooth the transition.
Donald Rumsfeld is not joining the Trump administration, but one of his most famous rules is: “You go to war with the Army you have—not the Army you might wish you have.” Or the secretary of the Army, as the case might be.
With the process of vetting and appointing, to say nothing of confirming, executive-branch officials well behind the optimal pace, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing on Thursday that “over 50” members of the Obama administration will temporarily remain in their posts to help smooth the transition to the Trump administration.
Spicer did not name all of the officials, nor did he indicate whether others had been asked and declined to stay on. A message to the Trump transition team, asking for a full list, has not been answered. Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that some individuals on a list, dated Tuesday, of appointees being asked to stay on had declined to do so, including the principal deputy director of national intelligence, an undersecretary of state, and an assistant secretary of state.
How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office
When I boarded Air Force Two for Vice President Joe Biden’s final overseas mission, he had four days left in office. His leverage was diminishing by the hour, with every new question at a Trump nominee confirmation hearing, with every new @RealDonaldTrump tweet.
There was no chance of a miracle at that point, a few days away from Vice President-elect Mike Pence getting Biden’s keys to Air Force Two—to somehow rid Ukraine of its debilitating corruption, pull off a Cyprus deal, or stand between Kosovo and Serbia and neutralize the tension between them for good. It’s hard to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin or to inspire him to spiff up his behavior if the president-elect seems to accept Putin just as he is. And of course, there’s Iraq.