Timothy Patrick McCarthy remembers Manning Marable

Historians in the News

I first met Manning Marable in a moment of desperation. It was my first year at Columbia—his, too—and I had no money. Word was he had some additional funding for graduate students. It wasn’t a long meeting, but I left the office that day with a new job and a new mentor. Without it—without him—I never would have made it.

As it turns out, Manning’s act of generosity would change my life—not just because it helped me pay for graduate school but, more crucially, because it provided me with the kind of home I needed as I struggled to figure out how to live, think and act in this world. Manning’s treatment of others—embodied in the sweet invitation to “just call me Manning”—is still the model by which I treat my own students. At the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, his “baby” at Columbia, we became part of a vibrant community of scholar-activists who took Marx’s challenge—to transform rather than merely understand and interpret the world—very seriously. But like Du Bois before him, Manning’s vision also drew deeply, even primarily, from the intellectual and political wellsprings of the black radical tradition. His Institute was a black space and a multicultural one, at once democratic and radical, scholarly and activist, critical and welcoming, privileged and public—and these were never contradictions. In this setting, with this charge, Manning taught us the most profound lesson of all: that it was as important to be in Harlem as it was to be at Columbia. In fact, from the Institute’s windows, which deliberately faced uptown, he would frequently look out to Harlem, with a longing smile, a felt sense of responsibility to what he often referred to as “the world’s most famous black neighborhood.

Manning meant for his students to bridge the gap between the seminar room and the street, between theory and practice, between big ideas and the brutal realities of our present world. But he also saw beauty in the world beyond the academy, in the people whose lives and struggles and dreams he understood in his bones, and in the history and politics he sought to chronicle throughout his distinguished and tenacious career. Echoing Du Bois, he insisted that all of us were “co-workers in the kingdom of culture.” In Manning’s presence, you felt like this was the highest calling of all....

I still remember the day he invited me to join him for lunch at Columbia’s Faculty Club with Angela Davis, Herbert Aptheker and Eric Foner—probably the most radical gathering that dining room had ever seen! He helped to advise my dissertation and blurbed my first book. He challenged us to be our best as young scholars and teachers, and he had our back as we endeavored to speak truth to power. Perhaps most importantly, he also picked us up and brushed us off whenever we were broken or had lost our bearings. He was the first person to hug me and call me “Dr. McCarthy” when I finally earned my PhD in history. He was proud of his students, and we could feel it. In many ways, we were a family, and Manning was like a father to us. He always will be....

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