The exact circumstances of the civil rights leader Malcolm X's death – and even the names of all the people involved and implicated in his murder – remain the subject of controversy, 46 years on.
In a new book, the life's work of one of New York's foremost African-American scholars, it is claimed that one of Malcolm X's killers remains alive, unpunished and free. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable, aims to paint the definitive portrait of what happened that day and revise and re-examine the life story of one of the icons of black America. As well as naming his killer, Professor Marable reveals Malcolm X as a bisexual who had an affair with a white businessman and exaggerated his early life of crime.
While the revisionist tome was getting some of the headlines in the United States that are to be expected from a high-profile book launch, there were none of the interviews on the morning TV shows or with the major newspapers that Professor Marable had lined up in advance of yesterday's publication. The illness that he had fought for 24 years, and which had confined him to breathing with an oxygen tank while he was writing the final drafts of the book, claimed his life last Friday.
Professor Marable, 60, was a professor of public affairs, history and African-American studies at Columbia University, a Marxist historian who had also worked as an activist in the community, urging hip-hop to embrace positive messages and promoting social democracy. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention is his 592-page opus, crafted from interviews with the civil rights leader's inner circle and using CIA records, State Department papers and 6,000 pages of FBI files collected through Freedom of Information requests.
Its central argument: that neither the death nor the life of Malcolm X has ever been fully understood.
Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, he was a thief and hustler who did time in prison before converting to Islam. Like other Americans who joined the black separatist group Nation of Islam in the Sixties, he took the letter X as an expression of black identity, a replacement for his "slave name". By arguing for self-defence "by any means necessary" he stands apart from the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr as a more controversial historical figure, though for many black Americans he is a hero for preaching self-esteem.
It was his split from the Nation of Islam in the last year of his life that led to his assassination. Three members of the group were convicted in the killing. Two of the men, paroled in the 1980s, maintained their innocence. Talmadge X Hayer, also known as Thomas Hagan, who was released on parole last year, was apprehended at the Audubon Ballroom by Malcolm X's supporters. He declared the two other convicted men innocent, and named four accomplices, who have never been tried.