Frank Marshall Davis

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Frank Marshall Davis


Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987) was a journalist, poet and Communist Party USA activist in Chicago and Hawaii. In Hawaii he was a mentor to a young Barack Obama.

The FBI file on Davis, consisting of 601 pages and covering the years 1944-1963, means that Davis was under investigation or surveillance for at least 19 years. One document refers to Davis having Communist Party USA affiliations dating back to 1931. He was included in the FBI's security index, meaning that he could be arrested or detained in the event of a national emergency.

Angelo Herndon case

In the early 1930s, while working in Atlanta, Georgia, Frank Marshall Davis had contact with white activists at Emory University who had formed a committee to support jailed Young Communist League USA leader Angelo Herndon.[1]

Deceiving the FBI

While working for the Associated Negro Press Davis was sometimes quizzed by the FBI on the character of applicants for jobs in Washington DC. In a 1987 interview with Chris Conybeare and Kathryn Takara, he revealed how he would deliberately deceive the FBI.[1]

Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I've had the FBI but uh I, I often had the FBI contacting me in uh at the Associated Negro Press. They were going, they wanted to find out whether such and such a person who had applied for a job in Washington was uh a good risk, so I had determined that uh if this brother who applied for this job in Washington was uh an Uncle Tom. Then I would uh tell the FBI that this person was no, was a risk, and he was no good, and so I, I used to work this in the reverse, and if a person had uh was officially militant, I would praise them the highest. I would say he is completely in favor of the Constitution of the uh he supports the uh entire Constitution and so forth, so it would have just things. I hoped it would have just the opposite effect on the FBI.

Chicago

Frank Marshall Davis, poet, journalist, and educator, lived in Chicago from 1924-1928 and again from 1934-1948. He served as Executive Editor of Claude Barnett's Associated Negro Press from 1935-1947. A prolific journalist and arts critic, Davis was also the author of three major volumes of poetry, Black Man's Verse (1935), I Am the American Negro (1937), and 47th Street (1948).

Active in all arenas of Chicago's bourgeoning Black cultural scene, Davis was one of the founding members of the late-1930s South Side Writers' Group associated with Richard Wright, as well as a prominent participant in events organized by the South Side Community Art Center and the Abraham Lincoln School throughout the 1940s. Davis frequently gave public lectures on subjects ranging from the political and social status of African Americans to the history of jazz[2].

American Youth for Democracy

In the late 1940s, American Youth for Democracy was the youth wing of Communist Party USA.

In 1944 Frank Marshall Davis was a national sponsor of American Youth for Democracy.[3]

Communist Party activism, Chicago

Information from Davis' 601 page FBI file reveals that Davis (born 1905) became interested in the Communist Party USA as far back as 1931.

In June of 1950, a person Frank Marshall Davis was trying to recruit into the Communist Party revealed to the FBI, that his interest in the Party went back to 1931 with the Scottsboro and Angelo Herndon cases.

Certainly from the mid/late '30s to the early '40s Davis was involved in several Communist Party fronts including the the National Negro Congress, the League of American Writers, the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties and the Civil Rights Congress.

The FBI first began tracking Davis in 1944 when they identified him as member of the Communist Party's Dorie Miller Club in Chicago-card number 47544.

As he was elected to the Communist Party convention that year and had to be a member for at least one year prior to that to be elected, he had been a member at least since 1943. The May 1944 convention changed the name of the Communist Party to Communist Political Association. Earl Browder, the Party leader, would later be accused of "dissolving" the Communist Party by changing its name. In June 1945, another convention was held, Browder was removed from leadership and the Communist Party USA name was restored. In early 1945. Davis was reported by the FBI to be a member of the Carver Second Ward West of the Communist Political Association, and by 1946 a member of the Carver Club of the Communist Party.

Davis' wife, Helen Canfield Davis, was a member of the Paul Robeson Club of the Communist Party of Chicago and her 1947 Communist Party card number was 62109.

Davis taught courses at the party controlled Abraham Lincoln School in Chicago and attended meetings of the party's Cultural Club until he left for Hawaii in 1948.

One of Frank Marshall Davis's last public acts[4]in Chicago, before leaving for Hawaii, was to MC a symposium "Problems of the progressive writer" October 27 1948 at the Ingleside Inferno, 6346 South Ingleside, for Students for Wallace-the University of Chicago youth wing of the communist dominated Progressive Party.

Font work

As a Communist Party USA member, Davis did his duty to the Party by being active in many Communist fronts.

The Daily Worker" of August 12, 1936 (page 3) listed Frank M. Davis as contributing editor of "The Spokesman," official organ of the Youth Section, of the National Negro Congress. Mr. Walter S. Steele testified before the Committee in public hearings on July 21, 1947, as follows "According to Communist reports, police raided the meeting of the labor division of the (National Negro) Congress at the (Tenth) Convention, arresting 37 of its members. Listed among those it claims were taken to jail were Frank M. Davis[5].

Davis was was active in the League of American Writers. In 1938, he supported the leftist government in Spain.

In 1941 Frank Marshal], Davis signed a press release of the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties dated December 26, opposing the use of injunctions in labor disputes and also signed a statement of the organization hailing the War Department's order on commissions for Communists, as reported in the Daily Worker[6].

Frank Marshall Davis was one of the sponsors of a National Conference on American Policy in China and the Far East, as shown on the "Call" to the Conference held in New York City, January 23 to 25, 1948. He was identified in this source as Assistant Editor, Chicago Star. The National Conference on American Policy was cited as Communist and "a conference called by the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy.[7]

The "Daily Worker" of July 23, 1948 (page 11) reported that Frank Marshall Davis attacked the arrest of Communist Party leaders) he was identified,in this source as Executive Editor, Associated Negro Press, Chicago, Ill.

In November 1948 the Rev. Hewlett Johnson, the Dean of Canterbury, spoke in Chicago. Called the "Red Dean" Johnson echoed the Communist Party line. Another sponsor of his speech, Dean John B. Thompson of the University of Chicago, provided a list of sponsors which included Davis

Davis was also vice chairman of the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee.[1]

Abraham Lincoln School

The Abraham Lincoln School for Social Sciences was a Chicago institution of the 1930s and 1940s, run by the Communist Party USA.

Faculty members were Morris Backall, Michael Baker, Frank Marshall Davis, Horace Davis, David Englestein, Morton Goldsholl, Pat Hoverder, Alfonso Iannelli, Leon Katzen, Ludwig Kruhe, Herschel Meyer, Henry Noyes, William L. Patterson, Fred Ptashne, Eleanore Redwin, Boris M. Revsine, Frank Sokolik, William Rose, Herman Schendel, Bernice Targ and Morris Topchevsky.

A South Side annex to the school was is located at 4448 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago. Dr. Walter S. Neff was director. Instructors included Albert George, Charlie Mitchell, Lester Fox, Geraldyne Lightfoot, Ishmael Flory, David Englestein, Irving Herman, Earl Durham, Claude Lightfoot and Walter Miller.[8]

Relationship to Vernon Jarrett

In early 1948 Davis served on the publicity committee of the Citizens' Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers with Vernon Jarrett.

Click image for high-resolution enlargement
Click image for high-resolution enlargement

The committee was "organized to support the united packing-House workers of America C.I.O. now on strike"

Officials of the committee included Oscar C. Brown (Treasurer) and Louise T. Patterson (Assistant Treasurer), Frank Marshall Davis and Vernon Jarrett.

Oscar C. Brown-later a famous jazz musician under the name Oscar Brown, Jr. was also at the time a Communist Party USA member. He joined in 1946 and was expelled around 1954.

Louise Thompson Patterson was the wife of Illinois Communist Party USA vice-chairman and attorney William L. Patterson and was a prominent Party member in her own right. Louise Patterson was still a leader of the Illinois Communist Party USA well into the 1970s.

Further down the page was a list of the organization's "Food and groceries committee". Named among them was Ishmael Flory, a leader of the Illinois Communist Party USA from the late 1930s until his death in 2004.

Vernon Jarrett was later to become the father-in-law to Valerie Jarrett, now a senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Citizens' Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers

On April 12, 1948, Frank Marshall Davis was listed as a member of the Communist Party USA dominated Citizens' Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers which was based in Chicago, Illinois.[9]

Helen Canfield

Davis and Canfield with first child, Hawaii

Davis' wife, Helen Canfield Davis was from Libertyville Illinois. She was white and 18 years younger than Davis. It was money from her trust fund, which came to her in the fall of 1948, which enabled the couple to move Hawaii.[1]

The couple married in 1946 and divorced in 1970.

Davis' first wife had been an African American work colleague, Thelma Boyd.

Move to Hawaii

In 1948, Davis and his wife moved to Hawaii. According to Davis's autobiography, he was recommended by secret Communist Party USA members Paul Robeson and Harry Bridges of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Bridges, who Davis met at the Abraham Lincoln School, recommended that he contact Koji Ariyoshi, editor of the Honolulu Record.[10] Robeson had been in Hawaii the previous year for a concert organized by the communist controlled ILWU.[1]

Ariyoshi was one of the leaders of the Communist Party USA in Hawaii. His newspaper was subsidized by Bridges' ILWU. In 1949, ILWU was expelled from the CIO because of its communist domination. The FBI files reveal that the first contact Davis made in Hawaii was not Ariyoshi but Jack Hall, the ILWU regional director, also an official of the Communist Party of Hawaii.

An FBI confidential informant reported that on July 18, 1948, the California State Convention of the Communist Party USA heard a report from Dwight James Freeman, who was being sent by the Party on the mainland to take over the Communist Party of Hawaii.

Honolulu Record

Freeman reported that the Communist Party in Hawaii planned to publish a new weekly newspaper. The first issue of the Honolulu Record was published on August 8, 1948 with Koji Ariyoshi as Editor. Davis, soon after his arrival, became a columnist for the paper.

When Davis became a columnist for the Honolulu Record, the newspaper was just beginning to document the imminent strike of the ILWU and the subsequent breaking up of the monopolistic power of the Big Five over the various immigrant labor groups, including the Japanese--who were the most powerful and radical-- Chinese, Filipinos, and Portuguese.

Or in his own words, "Not long after arriving in Hawaii, I began writing a regular weekly column for the Honolulu Record, supported mainly by the ILWU membership, and was openly friendly with its leadership."

This was not a career move, since "The Record, of course, was not financially able to add me to its payroll." But Davis felt an affinity with Koji Ariyoshi and Ed Rohrbough, "who were its editorial mainstays", and "since the Record was created to provide an alternative perspective to the news, Davis found it to be the medium through which he could critique the socio-political structure of the Territory of Hawai'i and keep in touch with the common people. When Ariyoshi offered him a column, which became known as "Frankly Speaking," therefore, Davis couldn't resist".[11]

Defending friends

Davis also used his column in the Honolulu Record to defend various communists in trouble. This included Gerhardt Eisler, who had been the Communist International representative to the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and had been indicted for refusing to testify before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. While under FBI surveillance, Eisler "slipped his tail" and boarded the Polish ship Batory, which took him back to East Germany where he was appointed to head the communist government's radio and television.

Davis also defended his friend, the secret Communist Party USA member, Paul Robeson, who had made a treasonous statement in a speech in Paris. Davis claimed that Robeson was "taken out of context". However, Robeson on his return to the United States again repeated his statement.

Unity the ethnic groups

In Hawaii, Davis worked to unify ethnic groups in order to challenge the existing power structure, just as he had done in Chicago.

He was active in the Hawaii branch of the communist controlled Civil Rights Congress.[1]

For instance I was uh trying to get uh union of uh of all the various ethnic groups and uh I would have to point out that uh this was something that had uh developed on the mainland that we had uh worked, we blacks had worked together with other groups to get things done and how essential it was in order to do that. Among the first uh well let see at that, at that time uh there were, there were many places downtown on uh where blacks were not welcome and uh there were efforts made to break this color barrier. We had, incidentally, before I forget it, I was vice chairman of the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee and uh so uh the Civil Rights Congress was in existance when I came over here and uh we were uh the local chapter, the local civils right group. It was affiliated with the Civil Rights Congress and uh we uh wh‐ which was another thing that uh did not uh sit well with the powers that were.

Going "underground"

In 1950, the Hawaiian Communist Party, like much of the Party on the mainland, went underground. According to Robert M. Kempa, an FBI informant who had joined the Communist Party in San Francisco in 1946 and transferred to the Communist Party of Hawaii in 1947;

"In 1950 after the Communist Party had conducted a series of control interviews Dwight James Freeman known to me as a Communist Party Organizer, told me that the Party was being reorganized and was going underground. Freeman explained to me that the Party was being broken down into 'Groups of 3's' and that I was being made chairman of Group #6 and in addition given the assignment of being contact man for my own group and four other groups. Freeman advised me that Chairman of Group #10 was Frank Marshall Davis and I was to contact him at Davis' office, then maintained in a building of the Drown Transfer Company in the Damon Tract near the Airport.
"Late in the fall of 1950, I started contacting Frank Marshall Davis in connection with Communist Party matters, and relaying to him information received from my superior contact in the Communist Party, either James Freeman or [Blanked out].
"During a portion of 1950, 1951 and part of 1952, I continued contacting Frank Marshall Davis and also transmitted dues for the Communist Party received from him to my contact above. During the period of my contacts with Frank Marshall Davis, he advised me that his wife, Helen was a member of Group #10. I was never advised of the identity of a third of that group, or the fact that there was a third member in the group. During a portion of 1951 [Blanked out] took over contacts with the Davis group but I resumed contacting Davis in 1952 and continued meeting him on Communist Party matters until I left the Party in June of that year."

"Haole hater"

An FBI source, who was close to Davis in 1959, reported that he had been having a problem with his comrades of the ILWU and the newspaper they supported, because Davis was "haole (Caucasian) hater".

Although his anti-white attitude, antagonized his comrades, Davis continued to be a true believer and complained that "he had been warned on the Mainland prior to his departure to reside in Hawaii that he would get in a state of lethargy. Davis commented that he guessed that the people were right inasmuch as he believed all the individuals in Hawaii who were formerly connected with the progressive movement were in such a state."

Democratic Party infiltration

Through its control of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) the Hawaiian Communist Party had considerable influence on the local Democratic Party.

At the time that the Communist Party of Hawaii went underground, it also carried out a program of infiltration of the Democratic Party and other noncommunist organizations.

The FBI reported in 1950 that "Confidential Informant [Blanked out] advised in April of 1950, that it appeared that members of the subversive element in Honolulu were concentrating their efforts on infiltration of the Democratic Party through control of Precinct Clubs and organizations. He said they were spending considerable time urging support for their candidates in these Precinct Club elections.

In this regard, he noted on April 6, 1950, that Davis had been elected Assistant Secretary and Delegate to the Territorial Democratic Convention in his Precinct Club, which is the Third Precinct of the Fifth District. The attendance of Davis at the Territorial Democratic Convention was verified by Confidential Informant [Blanked out]. This convention took place on April 30 at Kalakana Intermediate School."

The communists were a very tiny minority among Hawaii's Democratic Party members. But, by doing the "grunt" work, contributing money, and doing other things that the ordinary members wouldn't do, they could expand their influence far beyond their meager numbers.

According to the FBI, "[Blanked out] advised that on May 10, 1950, Davis issued a check drawn on the Bishop National Bank in the amount of $60.00 to [Blanked out]. The purpose of the check, as noted on the face of it, was "Loan to Democratic Precinct Club."

Possible espionage

Before going underground in 1950, the Hawaiian Communist Party was one of the most dynamic in the U.S. at the time. The mainland put huge resources into the Hawaiian Party because the Soviets wanted the U.S. military presence on the islands shut down. The Hawaiian communists were charged with agitating against the U.S. military bases at every opportunity.

FBI documents refer to information that Davis "was observed photographing large sections of the [Hawaii] coastline with a camera containing a telescopic lens." The FBI information states:

"Informant stated that DAVIS spent much of his time in this activity. He said this was the third different occasion DAVIS had been observed photographing shorelines and beachfronts. Informant advised that it did not appear he was photographing any particular objects."

The FBI continued to monitor Davis into the 1960s and he was marked down for immediate arrest should war break out between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Interviewed by the FBI

In a 1987 interview with Chris Conybeare and Kathryn Takara, Davis revealed a 1960s meeting with the Hawaii FBI.[1]

Well you know I had an FBI agent who uh I learned had been my personal agent until in the uh I think it was around the, around the early sixties. So, this particular fellow one day, I was coming out of a customer's place of business and I noticed this fellow hanging around my car and so when I came out he produced his credentials and said that he was from the FBI and wanted to talk with me. He uh I said well I don't think we have anything to say to each other. He said uh next day or a couple of days when you take your lunch at Kapiolani Park, at that time I used to go to a stand there and buy food uh I will uh see you there I think I'll, I think we can get together. So uh he uh came out. He was accompanied by another fella with a briefcase. I'm pretty certain the briefcase had a tape recorder in it and uh the uh fella who was uh who had originally asked me to see him uh told me that uh I, I noticed you uh used to be a Communist, but what made you change your mind? Why did you leave the party? And I said, "Wait a minute, if I say I had left the party that would indicate that I had been a member of the Communist party, and I have never told anybody that." So uh the uh we went on and he was asking me something about my high school and college, and the fellow who was with him cut in and told him all the what I had done and where and what time and so finally I said, "If you want to know anything just ask your buddy here. He knows more about my life than I do."

Davis and the Committee for Protection of Foreign Born

One of the longest lived Communist Party USA fronts was the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born . Active from 1935 until 1980, the ACFPFB was charged with preventing foreign born communists such Davis's friend ILWU leader Harry Bridges from deportation.

Davis was a long time supporter of the ACFPFB, apparently at least until 1973, three years after meeting the young Barack Obama.

In the late 1960s Frank Marshall Davis was listed as a Sponsor of American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born[12].

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Known Communist Party USA members listed on the above letterhead include fellow Hawaii activist and labor lawyer Harriet Bouslog, civil rights activists Carl Braden and Anne Braden, Dirk Struik, Hugh DeLacy (a secret party member who became a Democratic Party Congressman for Washington State), Stanley Faulkner, James Dombrowski and three prominent Chicago cadre, Richard Criley, Frank Wilkinson and Abe Feinglass.

Sex Rebel: Black

Sex Rebel: Black

In an article by Toby Harnden published in the Telegraph on August 22, 2008, Communist Frank Marshall Davis's influence on the young Barack Obama was uncovered. It was shown that Davis, under the pseudonym Bob Greene had authored a hard-core pornographic autobiography published in San Diego in 1968 by Greenleaf Classics. In a surviving portion of an autobiographical manuscript, Davis confirmed that he was the author of Sex Rebel: Black after a reader had noticed the “similarities in style and phraseology” between the pornographic work and his poetry. He stated:

"I could not then truthfully deny that this book, which came out in 1968 as a Greenleaf Classic, was mine."

He further established his authorship, stating that, although he had...

"changed names and identities... all incidents I have described have been taken from actual experiences."

One chapter in the book concerns the seduction by Davis and his first wife of a 13-year-old girl called Anne. Davis wrote that it was the girl who had suggested he had sex with her, stating:

"I’m not one to go in for Lolitas. Usually I’d rather not bed a babe under 20. But there are exceptions. I didn’t want to disappoint the trusting child. At her still-impressionistic age, a rejection might be traumatic, could even cripple her sexually for life... Anne came up many times the next several weeks, her aunt thinking she was in good hands. Actually she was."[13]

Davis left behind after his death an uncompleted manuscript, "The Incredible Waikiki Jungle," which describes how Davis "specialized in sex" during the period 1969-1976. Davis also wrote another unpublished manuscript called "Mixed Sex Salad."

Freedom Newspaper

Freedom was founded by Paul Robeson with assistance from Louis Burnham. Much like SNYC's Cavalcade, it was a radical Left political publication with a strong interest in culture, featuring the work of, among others, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, playwright and fiction writer Alice Childress, novelists Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, John O. Killens and poet Frank Marshall Davis.[14]

Mentoring Obama

Frank Marshall Davis, 1980s

Frank Marshall Davis knew Barack Obama from as early as 9 or 10, until he left Hawaii for Occidental College in 1978 at the age of 18.

Some accounts say that Obama returned to Hawaii in 1971 . But British journalist Toby Harnden says that the Punahou School, the coeducational college preparatory day school in Honolulu that Obama attended from 1971 to 1979, was adamant that Obama took his entrance examine in autumn 1970. "It's possible he briefly went back to Indonesia before actually starting at the school," he said. But whether it was 1970 or 1971 ,Some accounts say that Obama returned to Hawaii in 1971 . This adds several years to the amount of time that Davis was exercising influence over Obama.

Barack Obama’s 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father, included several examples of Obama receiving advice from Frank Marshall Davis:

  • Obama’s grandmother (Toot) and Gramps have an argument over whether Gramps should give Toot a ride to work after she had been threatened at a bus stop by a black panhandler. Obama looks to Frank to sort it out in his mind. (p. 89-91)
  • When Toot is having difficulty convincing the drug-abusing young Obama to apply for college, it is again Frank who is able to convince Obama that college is necessary. (p. 96-98)
  • Frank tells the young Obama “…you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.” (p. 97)

Davis told Obama that black people "have a reason to hate [white people)" (Dreams from My Father, p. 91). He also advised the college-bound Obama to "keep your eyes open" and "Stay awake" otherwise he would be "trained" against his own interests. (p. 97) Obama explained how he carried out Davis's advice. "To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets." (p. 100).

Drugs

Harnden also reported that Frank Marshall Davis and Stanley Armour Dunham smoked marijuana together. A friend of Davis' Dawna Weatherly-Williams said that "Frank never really did drugs, though he and Stan would smoke pot together,"

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Interview with Frank Marshall Davis, conducted by Chris Conybeare and Kathryn Takara, May, 1987
  2. http://mts.lib.uchicago.edu/artifacts/davisartifacts.html
  3. Spotlight, April, 1944
  4. The Chicago Maroon October 22 1948
  5. Special Committee on Un-American Activities Public Hearings, page 94
  6. DW March l8, 1945 (page 2)
  7. U. S. Attorney General press release of July 25, 1949
  8. "Testimony of Walter S. Steele regarding Communist activities in the United States. Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress, first session, on H. R. 1884 and H. R. 2122, bills to curb or outlaw the Communist Party in the United States. Public law 601 (section 121, subsection Q (2) July 21, 1947" pages 52-53
  9. Citizens' Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers letter to committee members from Sidney Jones, April 12, 1948
  10. "Livin'the Blues", by Frank Marshall Davis, p. 311
  11. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~takara/frank_marshall_davis.htm
  12. ACFPFB Letterhead, undated Hugh DeLacy paper Acc 3915,Box 3 Folder 20
  13. The Telegraph: Frank Marshall Davis, alleged Communist, was early influence on Barack Obama, August 22, 2008
  14. Reconstruction website: SNYC, Freedomways, and the Influence of the Popular Front in the South on the Black Arts Movement, by James Smethurst, 8 Jan. 2008