Thursday, June 25, 2015

Marvin X interviewed by Ishmael Reed for The Complete Muhammad Ali book

Marvin X at his Academy of da Corner, 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland
photo Adam Turner
If you want motivation and inspiration, don't spend all that money going to workshops and seminars, just go stand at 14th and Broadway, downtown Oakland and watch Marvin X at work. He's Plato teaching on the streets of Oakland.... His play One Day in the Life is the most powerful drama I've seen.--Ishmael Reed


Chapter 28
Ishmael Reed interviews Marvin X on  Ali As A Black Nationalist
San Francisco, January 2004 Black Liberation Book Fair

Some of the pioneers of the 1960s Black Nationalist movement are gathered at a book fair organized by Marvin X, a writer who is much venerated in Black Nationalist circles. Some of those gathered are die heart Maclolmites who are cool to Ali and attribute mainstream acceptance of Ali as the white public gloating over the fact that the man once called “ The Louisville Lip,” has been muzzled by a disability.
Though still regarded with respect, some black nationalists will never forgive Muhammad Ali, their one time hero, for turning his back on Malcolm X, their idol. Some of those who dismissed Joe Frazier as an Uncle Tom are giving Frazier a second look. He is no longer regarded as the usurper who deprived the exiled champion of his glorious comeback. As an example of Joe Frazier’s lack of sophistication was his mistaking “Uncle Tom,” for “Peeping Tom.”
“Malcolm gave me political consciousness. He stood up against America. Ali on the other hand is now speaking on behalf of America.”—Marvin X
Marvin X provides further evidence of the influence that the Nation of Islam had on Muhammad Ali’s decision to forfeit his duty to serve in the armed forces. He provided a biography, which gives a historical background to the presence of African-American Muslims in this country.
Marvin X
“I would like to delineate my lineage. As a spiritual descendant of West African Muslims, I begin my literary biography in the Mali Empire, among those scholar/poet/social activists of Timbuktu: Ahmed Baba, Muhammad El-Mrili, Ahmed Ibn Said, Muhammad Al Wangari, and the later Sufi poet/warriors of Senegal and Hausal and, Ahmedu Bamba and Uthman dan Fodio.
“In America, this literary tradition continued under the wretched conditions of slavery with the English/Arabic narratives of Ayub Suleimon Diallo, Ibrahima Abdulrahman Jallo, Bilali Mohammad, Salih Bilali, Umar Ibn Said. (Note:There is some suggestion that David Walker, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Banneker may have  been descendants of Muslims.) In 1913,Noble Drew Ali,established his Moorish Science Temple in Newark, New Jersey, later Chicago, and created his Seven Circle Koran, a synthesis of Qur’anic, Masonic, mystical and esoteric writings. 
  “And most importantly, Master Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, 1930, to deliver his Supreme Wisdom, mythological Sufi teachings, to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, later summarized in Elijah's primers of mystical Islamic theology and Black Nationalism, Message To The Black Man and The Theology of Time
“The next major work is Malcolm X's Autobiography, with the assistance of Alex Haley. This neo-slave narrative bridged ancient and modern Islamic literature in America. Let us also include Louis Farrakhan’s Off-Broadway drama “Organa” and his classic song “A White Man’s Heaven is The Black Man’s Hell,” anthem of the Black revolution of the 60s. Amiri Baraka utilized the Muslim myth of Yacub in his play ‘A Black Mass,’ one of his most powerful works, an examination of the cloning of the white man. Askia Muhammad Toure must be credited for his Islamic writings, along with poetess Sonia Sanchez (Laila Mannan) who served a brief tenure in the Nation of Islam. Yusef Rahman and Yusef Iman created powerful Islamic poetry as well.
Marvin X continued (Black Liberation Book Fair, January 31, 2004)
“Well, you know we both had the draft problem as Muslims. Ali followed Elijah Muhammad’s directive to go to prison instead of going into exile like I did. I went to Canada. I was there about six months. Well because I got tired of Canada. There is an expression, ‘Racism is as Canadian as Hockey.’ First I went to Chicago and linked up with the group around Black World, which was edited by Hoyt Fuller, Haki Madhubuti and others. I was in Chicago when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. After I left Chicago, I went to Harlem. This is now ‘68. I went to New York to work with Ed Bullins at the New Lafayette.
“I went to Montreal for a visit. I had met a girl from Montreal. At the same time there was a struggle at Sir George Williams University. Bobby Seale was up there and a brother from Dominique, I think it was Dominique, Rosy Douglas. There was a student struggle going on; I got busted coming back from Montreal. Coming across the border without papers. And so I [was] put in jail in Plattsburg, New York, and then released on OR [Own Recognizance] and then they gave me a trial date, a court date in San Francisco, for the draft. I was invited to lecture at Fresno State in the Black Studies Department. Richard Keyes was the chair. So actually I was going to two trials. One with Reagan at Fresno Superior Court and one in San Francisco at the Federal Court.
“In 1967, I had met Eldridge Cleaver upon his release from Soledad Prison, who was then working for Ramparts magazine. He was supposed to interview Muhammad Ali, but he couldn’t go because he was under house arrest,  so he arranged for me to do the interview. I went to Chicago to wait around for the interview. Muhammad Ali was in Detroit. He finally came back to Chicago. We were at Elijah Muhammad’s house.  I saw Elijah Muhammad’s wife, Clara, and Muhammad Ali, but I didn’t see Elijah. Before we got ready to do the interview, Elijah Muhammad called him into a room, and when he came out he said, ‘Elijah Muhammad said not to do the interview.’ That he had said enough about the draft. This was like ’67. Well, we were probably in the house for about an hour. He said that Elijah was ‘the man I am willing to die for so I do what he says.’ Well that’s how most Muslims felt. 
Both Black Panther and NOI attitudes about the draft influenced me. That’s why I was in Canada. What I’m saying is that Elijah said, ‘Resist the draft.’ The Panthers said, ‘Resist arrest.’ So I resisted the draft and I resisted arrest. That’s where I was coming from.
“Ali asked me if I needed any money, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ He gave me a hundred dollars. Why did he? I don’t know. I guess maybe it was his personality. 
I was at Merritt College with Huey [Newton] and Bobby [Seale] from 1962 to ’64 and we identified with Malcolm X and so I didn’t join the Nation until ’67. I think I was looking for something more than what the Panthers were offering, because I could have easily gone to the Panther Party because they were my friends. It was a spiritual dimension that I was looking for. But I also got some Marxist material from the Panthers. But, you know their Ten Point Program was just a rehashing of the Muslim Program and put into  Marxist language.
“Malcolm gave me political consciousness. He stood up against America. Ali on the other hand is now speaking on behalf of America. That’s not really strange for him to do that and I think I say that about him in my review of the movie ‘Ali’ in my book In The Crazy House Called America. He became a follower of Wallace Deen and Wallace Deen has an American flag on his newspaper. So Wallace accepted his American identity and I guess his followers follow that. Wallace left his father before Malcolm. He never came back. Ali said he followed Wallace after Elijah made his transition, because as far as he was concerned, Wallace came with the true Islam, the spiritual Islam, after the Nation had become corrupted. And then Norman Brown told me last night that as far as he was concerned Wallace just bought into Arab Nationalism and Arab racism and turned Negroes into Arabs.”
In his book, In The Crazy House Called America, Marvin X is far more critical of Ali’s move to the right. He blames it on the champion following the teachings of  the late Wallace Muhammad. In the book he writes,
“We understand that he [Ali] has been requested to make public service announcements supporting America’s war on terrorism. Would this be a more dramatic ending: the people’s champ who fought against oppression, finally broken down to a servant of the oppressor… the tragic truth is that Ali is a member of Warith Din Muhammad’s sect that was known for flag waving before 9/11. Warith had rejected the teachings of his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, in favor of orthodox Islam, dismissing the Black Nationalism of Elijah for Americanism, so it is not whack for President Bush to call upon Ali to be the ‘voice of America’ to the Muslim world, nor for Ali to accept. If indeed, our hero has been co-opted, let us be mature enough to realize humans are not made of stone and we know in real life people change, not always for the good—thus the danger of hero worship and thus the Islamic dictum: nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”
In 1998 I received a three-year grant from the Lila Wallace Foundation, which required me to accompany adults, who were learning English at Oakland’s Second Start Literacy Program, to the theater. In the course of three years, I saw a number of plays and musicals, many of which were overrated, and quite a number of which were insulting to minorities, like “Ms. Saigon” and “Rent” and the most reprehensible of all, “Stonewall’s House,” a play that tried to clean up the Confederate insurgents’ reputation and which argued that blacks were better off in slavery, and that because of political correctness, white male playwrights were oppressed. In other words, plays by blacks dominate the Great White Way. The play that I found the most compelling was produced by the Black Repertory Theater in Oakland. It was called “A Day In The Life,” and it was written by Marvin X. Like some of the other black revolutionaries of that period, Marvin X turned to drugs after the disillusionment set in, and the revolution was busted, partially due to a sinister COINTELPRO operation (Counter Intelligence Program). Some of the more vibrant, charismatic and militant of the activists were permitted to morph into non-threatening positions as college professors, where they still engage in correcting those whom they feel are not revolutionary enough. All one has to do is contrast the swell-headed boastful play, “Big Time Buck White” in which Muhammad Ali starred, with “A Day In The Life” to determine the corrosion of the sixties optimism and the pessimism of the current political climate. Black Nationalists and those on the black left have been among President Obama’s harshest critics, while black support for the president has remained in the ninety percent range. Cornel West, whom white progressives were agitating for a run in a primary against the president, referred to the president as “a black mascot for Wall Street,” which makes you wonder why Wall Street backed his opponent, Mitt Romney. Marvin X has called the president “a black hangman.” The Marvin X play includes a scene in which the late Black Panther leader Huey Newton with whom I appeared on an 1988 ABC TV show ( v=VHL7glIcP4o&feature=share) a year before his assassination over a drug deal gone wrong. In Marvin X’s play he shares a crack pipe with the man who would later assassinate him.
Inspired by the Harlem Book Fair, Marvin X decided to organize his own. Thus the Black Liberation Book Fair was held in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, San Francisco’s Skid Row, on January 31, 2004. This event included a veritable Who’s Who of Black Nationalist personalities. With the tendency of the segregated media to tokenize every aspect of African-American life, some of these people are unknown to the general public, but connoisseurs of black politics and culture know about them and recognize their important contribution to the modern slave revolt of the 1960s. If anyone would give an unsparing portrait of Muhammad Ali, it would be they. For the 1960s, Muhammad Ali was their leader, but some, like Haki Madhubuti still resent the champion’s betrayal of Malcolm X, who, among black nationalists, is regarded as a deity.
 The book fair was held in the basement of Saint John’s Church. While the media of the 1960s made a few Civil Rights and Black Power personalities famous, some of those who had worked behind the scenes, those who did the intellectual heavy lifting, were present at this book fair. Poet AskiĆ” Toure, my 1960s roommate, Nathan Hare,the late Sam Greenlee, whose film version of The Spook Who Sat By The Door, about an armed uprising against the government drew the attention of the FBI, and the late Reginald Major, the author of The Black Panther Is A Black Cat, which remains one of the best books on that group’s career.

The Complete Muhammad Ali

“…it will become the truly definitive book on Muhammad Ali.” Professor Sam Hamod, PhD

twelve solid rounds of writing… stands above its competition.” Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch

More than a biography and ‘bigger than boxing’, The Complete Muhammad Ali is a fascinating portrait of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Ishmael Reed calls it The Complete Muhammad Ali because most of the hundred odd books about the Champion are “either too adoring or make excessively negative assertions.” They also omit many voices that deserve to be heard.

Ishmael Reed charts Muhammad Ali’s evolution from Black Nationalism to universalism, but gives due credit to the Nation’s of Islam’s and Black Nationalism’s important influence on Ali’s intellectual development. People who led these organizations are given a chance to speak up. Sam X, who introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam, said that without his mentor Elijah Muhammad, nobody would ever have heard of Ali. That remark cannot be ignored.

Reed, an accomplished poet, novelist, essayist and playwright, casts his inquisitive eye on a man who came to represent the aspirations of so many people worldwide and so many causes. He also brings to bear his own experience as an African American public figure, born in the South in the same period, as well as an encyclopaedic grasp of American history.

People interviewed include Marvin X, Harry Belafonte, Hugh Masakela, Jack Newfield, Ed Hughes, Emmanuel Steward, Amiri Baraka, Agieb Bilal, Emil Guillermo, Khalilah Ali, Quincy Troupe, Rahaman Ali, Melvin Van Peebles, Ray Robinson, Jr., Ed Hughes, Jesse Jackson, Martin Wyatt, Bennett Johnson, Stanley Crouch, Bobby Seale, and many more.

Reed also places the Muhammad Ali phenomenon in the history of boxing and boxers from before the times of Jack Johnson, through Joe Louis and Archie Moore to Floyd Mayweather. He also includes Canadian fights and fighters like Tommy Burns, George Chuvalo and Yvon Durelle.
The Heavyweight Championship of the World,” wrote Reed in a 1976 Village Voice headline article shortly after third Ali-Norton fight, “is a sex show, a fashion show, scene of intrigue between different religions, politics, classes; a gathering of stars, ex-stars, their hangers-on, and hangers-on assistants.

The author of the much cited Writin’ is Fightin’ has now produced what will likely be known not only as The Complete Muhammad Ali but also “the definitive Muhammad Ali.”

great book, a lot of hard work, and I know that it will become the truly definitive book on Muhammad Ali.” Professor Sam Hamod, PhD; Former Director of The Islamic Center, Washington, DC

ishmael reed photo kathy sloane low res 

Ishmael Reed is a prize-winning essayist, novelist, poet and playwright. He taught at the University of California-Berkeley for thirty-five years, as well as at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. Author of more than twenty-five books, he is a member of Harvard’s Signet Society and Yale’s Calhoun Society. He lives in Oakland, California.

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