Saturday, May 7, 2011

Liar, Liar: Marable’s Misuse of FBI Files and Archival Records Raise Damning Issues About His Veracity, Malcolm X Biography

What red devil of mendacity
Grips your soul with such tenacity?
Will one you cruelly shower with lies
Put a pistol ball between your eyes?
  “The Liar” (1810) by William Blake.


In his undeservedly praised and best-selling biography of Malcolm X, the late Manning Marable deliberately misinterprets declassified FBI documents and archival records to malign Malcolm X and dozens of people close to the slain revolutionary.
  One of the individuals defamed in Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is Alfred Balk who, like Marable, died shortly before the book was published.

 Were he alive today, I feel certain that he would have considered suing Marable and the whole lot connected to this debacle of a book for defamation.
    I hope that his children will learn about this posting and demand a written and public apology from Viking Press, Marable’s publisher, on behalf of their father. African Americans owe Balk a great debt, not the type of scorn that Marable dumps on him.
  A highly respected journalist, Balk achieved national attention in July 1962 after the Saturday Evening Post published his exposé  of a scheme by Chicago real estate agents to exploit African Americans through the age-old practice of “blockbusting.”
  The scam essentially involved causing wholesale evacuations of white neighborhoods in Chicago by starting rumors of a black “invasion.” Once the first house sold to a black, other white homeowners would sell for next to nothing. The new black owner was outlandishly overcharged, leading to as much as a 73 percent profit on some home sales. Before long, the entire neighborhood went from white to black.
   Balk was able to expose the nefarious fraud by feigning sympathy with the speculators, and in doing so, gaining their confidence. They fell for it, and he nailed them. His methodology is brilliantly described by Beryl Satter in Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America. Satter’s father helped Balk to expose the illegal scheme (see page 113).

   Since Balk had used the “confidence man” technique to great effect in the real estate exposé , he employed a similar "I understand you guys" approach for an investigative piece he was working on with Alex Haley, a young African American writer who had been studying the Nation of Islam for years. Marable interprets this as evidence that Balk was an FBI informant.
   In 2005, when Marable was publicizing his upcoming book Living Black History,  he appeared on “Democracy Now!” with Amy Goodman.
    During an interview on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, Marable accused both Haley and Balk of being informants.

MANNING MARABLE: Okay. The—most people who read the autobiography [of Malcolm X] perceive the narrative as a story that now millions of people know, and it was—it’s a story of human transformation, the powerful epiphany . . .  Well, that’s the story everybody knows. But there’s a hidden history. You see, Malcolm and Haley collaborated to produce a magnificent narrative about the life of Malcolm X, but the two men had very different motives in coming together.
  Malcolm did—what Malcolm did not know is that back in 1962, a collaborator of Alex Haley, fellow named—a journalist named Alfred Balk had approached the FBI regarding an article that he and Haley were writing together for The Saturday Evening Post. . . So consequently, a deal was struck between Balk, Haley and the FBI. that the FBI provided information to Balk and Haley in the construction of their article.

 Goodman seemed suspicious of Marable’s allegation, so she pressed him on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Did Alex Haley know about this relationship?
MANNING MARABLE: There is no direct evidence that Haley sat down with the FBI Nevertheless, since Balk was the co-author of the piece and it was Balk who talked directly with the FBI—
AMY GOODMAN: Did Haley know
MANNING MARABLE: One can assume that Haley was involved in it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did Haley at least talk to Balk about—did he know about Balk’s relationship with the FBI?
MANNING MARABLE: One can assume that Haley did because Haley and Balk co-authored the piece, traveled throughout the United States together and collected material together to form an article that they co-authored. It would be highly unlikely that Haley did not know.
[parenthetical selections were made by this author]

   That’s akin to saying that a man always knows when his wife is cheating on him because he’s married to her.   
I was unaware of the interview until Canadian author Malcolm Azania contacted me for comment in May 2005. I knew instantly that Marable was prevaricating because I had obtained Haley’s FBI file in 1982 under the Freedom of Information Act. My response then was the same as it is today: Marable’s claim was a lie and he knew it.

   Karl Evanzz, a leading Malcolm X scholar and the author of The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X and The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad, is far less forgiving than [A. Peter] Bailey.  . . “It’s the old guilt-by-association attack.
 He’s basically saying that if one writer had been compromised, then both had been, which I think is pretty far-fetched. It reminds me of McCarthyism.... It’s a really a cheap shot to say that Alex Haley was an informant based upon the fact that a co-writer was feeding information to the FBI, even if that’s true.... [Marable] found nothing to say that Haley was freely exchanging information about Malcolm with the FBI.”

   When Marable appeared on the same program exactly two years later, he got the dates of this alleged conspiracy between Haley, Balk and the FBI all wrong. He also escalated his lies.

  AMY GOODMAN: What about the missing three chapters? We’ve talked about it on this broadcast before. But talk more about Alex Haley, and talk about the FBI.
MANNING MARABLE: In late 1961, Alex Haley and white journalist Alfred Balk were approached by the Chicago office of the FBI to funnel misinformation that was critical of the Nation of Islam into a magazine article that would be read nationwide. They did so. It was called "The Black Merchants of Hate," published in the Saturday Evening Post in late February 1962. In effect, Haley played the role of a misinformation agent of the FBI. Ironically, since the article said the Nation of Islam hates white people, they think they’re devils, and they don’t want anything to do with integration, Elijah Muhammad loved the article. He thought it was great. And so, that helped to create that bridge that led several months later to Malcolm and Haley negotiating an agreement where they would write an autobiography together.
     His confusion about the date is curious since his book mentioning Balk’s approaching the FBI had been out for less than a year. What is most disturbing, however, is how he went from speculating that Haley was an informant in 2005 to out rightly declaring him as such two years later.

    I donated nearly all of the declassified files that I received from the FBI to the Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University nearly a decade ago. I retained copies of some documents, however, two of which just happen to focus on Haley’s problems with the FBI.
   The Bureau tried to compromise Haley repeatedly in the late 1950s and even beyond the assassination of Malcolm X. The FBI files on Haley not only contradict Marable’s claim that Haley was compromised, but in fact show just the opposite.
   Haley had become so enamored of Malcolm X and black nationalism that he was actually offering Elijah Muhammad suggestions on how the group could improve its nation-building efforts by converting more college-educated African Americans.
   In one of the so-called “reference” files on Alex Haley, there is a document from the Phoenix file on the Nation of Islam. The document describes a wiretapped conversation between Elijah Muhammad and an unidentified individual
    It offers proof of something Haley would say later, that his conversations with Malcolm X and Muhammad were the reason he ended up writing Roots.
    The conversation was recorded on January 22, 1963, when a Muslim called to get Muhammad’s reaction to the just published Saturday Evening Post issue of January 26 containing “Black Merchants of Hate” by Balk and Haley.
   The caller asked Muhammad whether he has seen the Haley/Balk piece.


   “Yes I did. It was by this man who wrote once before . . . They write –   and he says – he is kind of with us himself – and he says that the FBI put  that charge on our savior. . .


     One could argue, of course, that perhaps Muhammad is under the impression that Haley admires the Nation of Islam. Similarly, one might argue that Haley was pretending to admire the NOI in order to seduce information from Muhammad.
   But Haley’s own words about the influence of the NOI on his decision to trace his heritage belie these suggestions.
   Moreover, other wiretapped conversations show that Haley was indeed interested in offering constructive ideas to Muhammad. In fact, Haley had begun introducing Muhammad to gifted African Americans who might help Muhammad achieve his goal of black self-sufficiency in the United States.
     This is buttressed by a document in the FBI’s ELSUR (electronic surveillance) file on Alex Haley. The following synopsis is based on a recorded conversation between Muhammad and Haley on June 1, 1963.
   Haley had called to discuss the progress on the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Muhammad is called Eli in the transcript, but I am changing it to Elijah for clarity.


   Elijah then stated that his followers included men of every field of vocations. He added that they have a shortage of certain fields of work but believed in time this would be overcome. Haley then mentioned a Negro who is in charge of Douglas Aircraft designing [a] new  jet in Long Beach, California. Elijah commented  that this man’s ability was being used by the white. Haley mentioned a man named [redacted] who he wants Elijah to meet.
  Haley [seems to be] gaining Elijah’s confidence as they leave front room and walk toward the car.”

  Haley routinely offered Muhammad advice on how to fortify the NOI.
  After showing Muhammad the proposed book contract for the autobiography ( Malcolm X had told him that doing the book depended upon Muhammad’s approval), Haley points out how valuable his national spokesman is to promoting the Nation of Islam's programs.
    As Muhammad reads it, Haley notes that the book is having a profound impact upon him personally, and that he strongly believes it will have enormous impact on well-educated African Americans.

  He [Haley] points out that if Malcolm had not been efficient in his work . . . that Elijah’s movement would not have “gotten off the ground.”   Haley mentioned that this is the first piece of work he has completed in which he has poured his inner self, his personal feelings, and he is confident that he can reach not only the intellectual Negroes but also the whites.


    As Haley predicted, the Autobiography of Malcolm X has influenced generations of African Americans and even whites. Scores of young blacks (including this writer) decided to pursue law not so much because they were keenly interested but because Malcolm X had his dream of becoming a lawyer deferred by a white racist teacher.
    They chose similar fields with the idea of one day using their skills to make a black nation. A prime example of that is Minister Abdul Alim Muhammad, an NOI member who is also a physician working in the poorest part of Washington.

   Marable’s allegations about Haley were scurrilous when he made them in 2005. He knew they were not true, but the mainstream media never challenged him. Since he got away with sham scholarship then, he figured he could get away with sham scholarship about Malcolm X.
     He should have known better. The mainstream media may embrace his wretched mess of a biography, but the people who admire Malcolm X and who respect black history will never mistake such shoddy merchandise as the “real McCoy” (who was black, by the way).
    One might be forgiving were this the sole instance where Marable mangles the truth in Reinvention. Unfortunately, it is one of a multitude.
   Marable also implies that Malcolm X used pseudonyms in the Autobiography in order to conceal an alleged homosexual encounter and other misdeeds.
 But here is what Marable himself wrote in the Winter 2005 edition of Souls, a journal he founded in 1999


    Doubleday’s corporate papers are now housed there. This collection includes the papers of Doubleday’s then–executive editor, Kenneth cCormick, who had worked closely with Haley for several years as the Autobiography had been constructed. . .  These Haley letters of marginalia contained some crucial, never previously published intimate details about Malcolm’s personal life. They also revealed how several  attorneys retained by Doubleday closely monitored and vetted entire sections of the controversial text in 1964, demanding numerous name changes, the reworking and deletion of blocks of paragraphs, and so forth.

                [author’s emphasis)


So who, really, is the liar? Marable is, that’s who.
  He imputed sinister motives to Malcolm X where none existed. He did the same to Haley, Balk, and many others in what reads like a fancy cut-and-paste job.
  No publisher in its right mind – Marable’s publisher being the exception – would print defamatory material about a living individual unless they wanted a libel lawsuit against them.
   This is what Viking has done. It accuses at least two people of committing adultery, yet it offers no documentation to back it up. It calls a man a “murderer” (a legal term) even though the man has never been accused, let alone convicted, of homicide.
   I have said it once and I say it again: if a publisher printed those kinds of lies about me, I would sue them for every penny that the book earns.
 This kind of irresponsible scholarship deserves to be punished, and a whopping expensive lawsuit is the best prophylactic that comes to mind.

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