Manning Marable, an influential historian whose forthcoming Malcolm X biography could revise perceptions of the slain civil rights leader, died Friday, just days before the book described as his life's work was to be released. He was 60.
His wife, Leith Mullings, said Marable, who was a professor of history and political science at Columbia University, died from complications of pneumonia at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. She said he had suffered for 24 years from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease, and had undergone a double lung transplant in July.
"I think his legacy is that he was both a scholar and an activist," she said. "He believed that history could be used to inform the present and the future."
She said Marable's latest book, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," will be released tomorrow.
Two decades in the making, the nearly 600-page biography is described as a re-evaluation of Malcolm X's life, bringing fresh insight to subjects including his autobiography, which is still assigned in many college courses, to his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan on Feb. 21, 1965.
The book is based on exhaustive research, including thousands of pages of FBI files and records from the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department. Marable also conducted interviews with the slain civil rights leader's confidants and security team, as well as witnesses to his assassination.
Blair Kelley, a history professor at North Carolina State University, called Marable's death a "devastating" loss for black historians.
"I can't believe he died before the book came out. He really deserved the opportunity to be celebrated for his groundbreaking scholarship," Kelley wrote on Twitter.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement that Marable's "contributions to the struggle for freedom of African Americans will never be forgotten."
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Marable wrote in his book "Speaking Truth to Power" that he was born into the era that witnessed the emergence of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as nonviolent movements in the South struggling to break the back of white supremacy.
But he was the child of middle-class black Americans, he wrote, his father a teacher and businessman, his mother an educator and college professor.
He watched from afar as blacks in the South rebelled against segregation and racial inequality, and as a teenager found his emergent political voice writing columns for a neighborhood newspaper.
He wrote that his mother encouraged him to attend King's funeral "to witness a significant event in our people's history."
He served as the local black newspaper's correspondent, he wrote, and marched along with thousands of others during the funeral procession.
"With Martin's death, my childhood abruptly ended," he wrote. "My understanding of political change began a trajectory from reform to radicalism."