Manning Marable was a legendary freedom fighter, public intellectual, and Democratic Socialist activist. He followed in the tradition of Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Michael Harrington. His passing leaves a great void in the Left community.

I first met Manning Marable in 1980, four years after he had received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He was then teaching at Cornell University. I was a member of a small Democratic Socialist caucus in the Michigan Democratic Party headed by the irrepressible Zolton Ferency.

I met Manning when he a Zoltan did a program together at Wayne State University when I was working on my Master’s degree. Marable suggested that I work with the New America Movement (NAM) people, which he was a part of, and advocated that we reunite the Left by joining the NAM with Harrington’s Democratic Socialists Organizing Committee (DSOC) and our Michigan caucus.

In 1982 at DSOC’s Philadelphia convention, Marable attended and led the pro-merger forces to victory. The next year the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) emerged from the splinters of various leftwing organizations to create the largest Democratic Socialist organization since the 1930s.

One of the things I remember about working with Marable, was when it was clear we had won after contentious debate in Philadelphia, instead of going out to celebrate he told me that he had to go back to his room and write. That he had deadlines. He told he that if I was going to have any impact with my ideas and aspirations as a political theorist, I needed to write and speak as much as possible.

Between 1987-89, when Marable became of the Chair of the Department of Black Studies at Ohio State University, I once again got to work closely with him. I took a fulltime job at Columbus State Community College as a Political Scientist, and the first person in the city that I met with was Marable. He invited me to the Faculty Club and we had the following discussion:

I asked “Where’s the Left and progressive movement in Columbus?”

Marable replied, “You’re it, if you volunteer.”

I countered, “If I volunteer, what should I do?

Marable said, “There’s a small community newspaper that comes out once a month, the Columbus Free Press. You could probably take it over and make it a voice for the people.”

As soon as I finished my dissertation in 1990, I began to write for the Free Press and became an associate editor. By 1992, I was the co-publisher and editor. Marable, even though he moved on to the University of Colorado, contributed his ground-breaking column “Along the Color Line” to the Columbus Free Press. He ended up being syndicated in more than 100 newspapers and was cited as the most syndicated black columnist in America.

Part of Marable’s approach to scholarship, as early on he moved from university to university, was to bring the local black history to life. He was the first scholar who told me about the sit-ins by the Congress of Racial Equality and a local Columbus group to integrate major downtown theaters in the late 40s.

Marable’s work had a profound impact on my own thinking, particularly his first work How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (1983). I used to see Marable regularly throughout the 1990s and the early part of the 21st century at national conferences and activist events in New York.

One project that was always on his mind was his biography of Malcolm X. The fact that he finished the biography and it is to be released April 4, 2011, on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., no doubt will be the last great achievement of his intellectual legacy.

But, equally important was the Manning I knew – thoughtful, interesting, friendly, engaging, funny, with time for the legions of undergraduate students who always sought his advice. The writing that I continue to do today at the Columbus Free Press and is a direct result of the advice he shared with me.


Bob Fitrakis is the editor of