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Honoring the Life of Manning Marable, 1930-2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Association of American Colleges and Universities mourns the death of Manning Marable—a public intellectual, prolific scholar, and democracy activist whose title suggests the breadth of his expertise and areas of investigation: M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Council Professor of African American Studies, History, International and Public Affairs, and Political Science at Columbia University.

Marable helped redefine the boundaries of scholarly inquiry, reshaping the contours of the academy and challenging the public and scholars to work together to address the pressing problems of our age. AAC&U member institutions across the country were transformed by his presence on their faculties: Cornell University, Fisk University, Colgate University, Ohio State University, University of Colorado at Boulder, and finally Columbia University where he arrived in 1993 and founded the Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

The Institute represents the emergence of a new institutional face of higher education that links scholarship, teaching, and public life and is in the words of its mission "a site of critical engagement for social transformation." Its range of projects suggests the way Dr. Marable nurtured bold, engaged scholarship that used the finest intellectual tools to investigate public issues and record or inspire organized citizen action. IRAAS sponsors projects on Amistad Digital Resources, Religions of Harlem, The Africana Criminal Justice Project, and significantly, the Malcolm X Project from which Marable's life work of the last ten years evolved into Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, scheduled for release to the public just days after his death.

In 1997, he captured the essence of his own philosophy and life when he said,
". ..the most lasting and rewarding educational experiences come not from specific information provided in classroom lectures or assigned textbooks, but from the values obtained in active engagement in meaningful issues. We achieve for ourselves only as we appreciate the problems and concerns of others—and only as we see our own lives as part of a much greater social purpose."

When AAC&U launched its national initiative, American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning, in the nineties, Marable was one of the scholars with whom we consulted as we assisted hundreds of colleges and universities with redesigning their curricula and campus environments for diversity and learning in light of the explosive and compelling new scholarship on these issues. These institutions were also addressing the implications of the first consequential waves of multiracial students enrolling in these institutions following centuries of segregation in so much of the U.S. higher education system. The American Commitments initiative addressed these dramatic changes in the context of fierce and longstanding debates about expanding access to meaningful democratic participation and opportunity. Marable was one of the few scholars in the country who always forcefully connected issues of diversity with our country's democratic principles and practices. Illuminating historic social movements for democratic justice as a necessary part of curricular and scholarly study, Marable mapped expanded academic frameworks for colleges and universities in his powerful plenary speeches at AAC&U's summer institutes and annual meeting.

In fact, Marable stands out as one of the academy's most significant intellectuals who had been writing about those twin questions of democracy and diversity since he had been a graduate student. "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line" W.E.B. Du Bois famously said, and, as a Du Bois biographer, Marable honored that earlier intellectual giant and social activist by calling his own political commentary series, Along the Color Line. Manning also authored, among hundreds of other titles, The Great Wells of Democracy: The Meaning of Race in American Life.

In addition to his own influential scholarship, Manning Marable was noted for the generous way in which he mentored a new generation of scholars and activists, his boundless intellectual energy and reach, and his deep conviction that informed collective action can transform the future. It seems fitting therefore to close by honoring him with the words of W.E.B. Du Bois. "I have loved my work, I have loved people and my play, but always I have been uplifted by the thought that what I have done well will live long and justify my life, and what I have done ill or never finished can now be handed on to others for endless days to be finished, perhaps better than I could have done."