Frank Marshall Davis, Communist party member and Senator Barack Obama’s childhood “mentor” has caused a bit of a stir on the Senator’s official campaign website. Obama was in Hawaii from 1971-1979, where, at some point in time, he developed a close relationship, almost like a son, with Davis, listening to his “poetry” and getting advice on his career path. But Obama, in his book, Dreams From My Father, refers to him repeatedly as just “Frank.”
Red Faces Over Obama’s Red Mentor By Cliff Kincaid Monday, July 28, 2008
In a strange development, supporters of Barack Obama’s childhood mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, are openly debating the nature and depth of Davis’s commitment to the Communist Party and his relationship with the Democratic candidate. The debate has gotten heated. This unusual debate, which is taking place on Obama’s official website, raises the question once again as to why Obama has not been asked by the major media about this relationship. Davis was identified as a Communist Party member by various investigative committees and acknowledged his party membership in a private letter obtained by John Edgar Tidwell, who was sympathetic to Davis and edited his books. On one side of this debate is somebody claiming to be the son of Davis. On the other side is Alan Maki, a political activist and union organizer with a long history of involvement in left-wing causes. Indeed, Maki confirms that he has been a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and was a communist decades ago when he was in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Although he doesn’t support Obama because of his ties to Big Business, Maki wrote a blog on the Obama website stating that he was grateful to Obama for bringing Davis to his attention, and that he, Maki, regarded Davis as his mentor, too. Maki announced establishment of a “Frank Marshall Davis Roundtable for Change” and invited Obama supporters to join it. Maki did his homework, which is more than most of our own media have done, and he obtained Davis’s books. It is absolutely clear, Maki stated, that Davis was a communist. In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Obama cites “Frank” as someone who gave him advice on various matters, including race, American values, and college, and read poems to him during his high-school years in Hawaii. One of Davis’s poems was a tribute to the Soviet Red Army. Another mocked the work of Christian missionaries. New Zealand blogger Trevor Loudon was the first to alert people to the fact that “Frank” was identified as Frank Marshall Davis, a controversial black writer and poet, by Gerald Horne, a writer for a CPUSA publication. Davis’s influence over Obama could help explain why the candidate associated with communists, socialists and anti-American figures through college and his political life in Chicago. Maki says his intention is to use Davis’s writings “to advance the unity of working people to be a voice to be reckoned with by the Obama Administration, which to me, at this point, looks like will be an overwhelming landslide victory over the Republicans.”
Into the picture comes the person claiming to be the son of Frank Marshall Davis, who posted some comments on the Obama website in which he expresses the view that Maki and I are somehow in cahoots because Maki agreed to talk to me about his views on communism and Obama. While Maki doesn’t personally like my conservative views, he was honest and forthright about his own political beliefs. Maki posts his telephone number, is easy to reach, and doesn’t hide his political affiliation. And since I reported the results of these conversations, the person calling himself Mark Davis says Maki and I have become “strange bedfellows” and involved in some kind of alliance against Obama. This would be amusing were it not for the fact that this Mark Davis figure seems determined to obscure the truth and tries to publish this information on various Internet sites. Mark Davis has even posted comments on the misnamed “Intellectual Conservative” website, after somebody named Bob Stapler claimed it was a “delusion” on my part to think that a communist named Frank Marshall Davis had any impact on Obama. Stapler, who claims to be a conservative, refused to correct the record after several requests and appeals for him to examine the factual evidence in the Davis matter. Sounding authoritative, this Mark Davis character has declared that Frank Marshall Davis “was not a communist,” was not Obama’s “mentor,” and that his influence over Obama has been “exaggerated.” However, he does contend that Obama did have “respect for Davis’s social insight” and showed “good will” toward him. Coming from someone claiming to be Davis’s son, these assertions might appear to hold some weight. It is important to note that there is no denial that “Frank” was Frank Marshall Davis. The main question, it seems, is how much influence he exerted over Obama, and how much of a card-carrying communist he actually was. Lately, this same “Mark” has gone further, appearing to embrace suggestions that it is somehow “defamation” to accuse Davis of being a communist, even though reports from various committees and investigations identified him as such and Davis admitted it in the private letter cited by Tidwell. This is apparently a tactic to try to prevent people from delving too deeply into the Obama-Davis relationship. More investigations must and will be done, not only in regard to Davis but also those in Hawaii and elsewhere who continue to cover up for him. Indeed, the attacks on AIM for publicizing the Obama-Davis link appear designed to protect associates of Davis from scrutiny. If this is the intention, the tactic has backfired. AIM is vowing to publish more information about Davis and his supporters.
Tell the Truth
Clearly, there is an effort underway to sanitize or play down the Obama-Davis relationship and try to intimidate the major media into not covering it. But it is unusual, to say the least, that some of this effort is occurring on the official Obama website. The reaction, which makes the controversy even more newsworthy and significant, suggests that the truth is seeping out through other means, mostly in the alternative media, and increasing the pressure at least on Obama’s supporters to deal with the matter. In another strange twist, Mark Davis claims some of his comments have been taken off the Obama website, but some freely remain (see comment 37) on the AIM website, which is open to a variety of views in the form of comments on posted columns. Some Davis comments were apparently deleted from the Obama website on the ground that they were “part of a racist, anti-Semitic hate campaign” against Maki. Davis insists they were not of that nature. Eventually, if this controversy about Frank Marshall Davis continues to build, Obama could be personally forced by the media to respond, in the same way that former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro had to hold a full-blown press conference to answer questions about her husband’s alleged Mob connections. Maki thinks it admirable that Davis was a communist, but the odds are that few Americans would agree with him. It is a problem not only for Obama and his campaign, but for those who associated with and covered up for Davis. If Mark Davis is truly Davis’s son, one would think he would know the truth and have inside information about his father. His thin “profile” on the Obama website claims he is an Obama supporter but not registered to vote. It’s difficult, of course, to determine a true identity based on the limited information available about this person on the Internet. But it is Obama’s website and should be taken somewhat seriously. Maki has reported that he got a telephone call from the “real” Mark Davis, suggesting the one posting comments supposedly in defense of Davis is somebody else. In any case, Maki is rightly perplexed by the claims that Davis was not a communist, noting that Davis’s own books frankly explore his communist views. “Let me get this straight,” Maki told Davis, “you are disowning everything Frank Marshall Davis wrote. Who cares about the use of the term ‘mentor?’ Look in any dictionary, you are quibbling about terms that mean the same no matter who uses them…How come you haven’t taken issue with the editor of the books, John Edgar Tidwell and the Publishers, University of Wisconsin Press and University Press of Mississippi. I think you should contact the editor and publishers and have them either stand behind what has been written or disown it…as you are fully aware, IF YOU HAVE EVER READ either of the two books, the only thing I have done is quote the books and say the same thing the editor has stated.” Maki was referring to Livin’ the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, as well as The Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice Of the Black Press. Tidwell, the editor referred to by Maki, has to be taken seriously. In fact, in Livin’ the Blues, Davis charges black writer Richard Wright with “treason” for leaving and exposing the CPUSA. This is the mark of a hard-core communist. “Out of curiosity,” says Maki to Mark Davis, “do you think Karl Marx was a Communist?”
Red and Proud
Maki declared that “If there is one thing Frank Marshall Davis makes clear is that he had the utmost respect for Communists because of the way Communists fight for the rights of working people and against racism. Frank Marshall Davis was entitled to his political views―there is no doubt he joined the ranks of members of the Communist Party USA along with his very good friends Benjamin Davis and Paul Robeson…for you to deny this is cowardly, shameful and disgusting.” Maki also reported, “After calling the publishers [of Davis’s books], they said they never heard from anyone in the family upset with anything in the books; nor is the family contesting anything in the books.” In the introduction to another Frank Marshall Davis book, Black Moods, Tidwell quotes an undated private letter written by Davis in which he confesses that “I have recently joined the Communist party.” The letter was an effort to recruit the prominent writer and poet Irma Wassall to the CPUSA. Tidwell says that Davis was a “closet” member of the CPUSA and issued “public denials of his activities.” The FBI engaged in surveillance of Davis and maintained a file on him, he says. All Mark Davis had to do was read the books. Perhaps he didn’t like what he saw. Or perhaps he’s not really the son of Frank Marshall Davis. Perhaps he should post his birth certificate, like his candidate claims to have done. But that would not in any way dispute what we know about Frank Marshall Davis.
Davis’s CPUSA Membership
Beyond this controversy, there are some legitimate questions about Davis’s party membership. Tidwell notes that it is not clear how long Davis stayed with the party. It is also not clear when he joined the party. However, the same letter cited by Tidwell quotes Davis as saying that “I have had leanings in that direction [i.e. Marxism] since I was in college.” Ultimately, Frank Marshall Davis is to blame for any questions about the timing and duration of his party membership because he publicly refused to talk about it. This is a void that a real son of Frank Marshall Davis should be expected to fill with facts and figures, not denials of documented reality. Tidwell confirms that Davis was “actively involved” in the League of American Writers as early as 1938, and that Davis came to realize that the organization was a CPUSA front. Even earlier, in 1936, Tidwell notes, Davis was associated with the National Negro Congress, whose executive committee officers “were either party members or fellow travelers.” As I noted in a recent column, thanks to the work of researcher Herbert Romerstein, we have evidence of Davis signing a statement by the League of American Writers in June 1941 opposing war against Nazi Germany at a time of the Hitler-Stalin pact. This was a reflection of the CPUSA line. Earlier, in November 1940, we find the name of Frank Marshall Davis on a list of endorsers of a National Negro Congress event that included a statement objecting to “war hysteria” and being “engaged in another war.” Romerstein, who also uncovered this information, points out, “This was of course consistent with the line of the Communist Party during the Soviet Nazi alliance against national defense.”
The Red Record
Official congressional hearings and investigations confirm Davis’s history of membership and involvement with the CPUSA and its fronts, and his activities as a Stalinist. As late as 1956, Davis was appearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and refusing to deny his CPUSA membership. He also refused to deny that he was a member of the faculty of the communist Abraham Lincoln School in Chicago. This is significant because, as Romerstein describes it in the 44-page report, “Communism in Hawaii and the Obama Connection,” the Commission on Subversive Activities of the Legislature of the Territory of Hawaii reported on February 28, 1955, that “About November 1950, the communist party in Hawaii was reorganized on an underground basis…In the new organization, party groups were to consist of not more than three members. Groups were identified by numbers (1-10) rather than by names, as formerly.” Among those identified as having been members of the underground groups were Frank Marshall Davis and his wife Helen C. Davis.
Lawyer for the Accused
What’s also interesting about the Davis appearance before the Senate is the fact that his lawyer was Harriet Bouslog, identified as a CPUSA member in the 1959 House Committee on Un-American Activities report, “Communist Legal Subversion. The Role of the Communist Lawyer.” Bouslog was identified as a CPUSA member by two witnesses, both former communists. Bouslong, it turns out, was the star of a 2004 public television program in Hawaii that completely ignored her documented CPUSA membership and described her as a “true advocate and defender of American democratic values.” It noted that her long-time friend and “mentor” was Harry Bridges, president of the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union (ILWU), but didn’t mention that Bridges was a secret CPUSA member. One whose name shows up in the credits as a contributor of some sort is Chris Conybeare, who also served as the producer/writer of a 1988 program about Davis that ignored his CPUSA membership and activities. The video was released by the Center for Labor Education & Research, University of Hawaii – West Oahu (CLEAR) and Hawaii Public Television. So it is not surprising that Conybeare, who also functions as the “secretary general” of the World Association of Press Councils, has attached his name to a press release from the “Honolulu Media Council” denouncing Accuracy in Media and Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for bringing to light the facts about Davis being a communist and Obama’s mentor. “We find that there is no substance to these claims,” this group of would-be censors declares. Ignoring all of the evidence against Davis, including his service on behalf of the CPUSA and its manipulation of black Americans for the communist and Stalinist cause, it announced that Davis was a true “advocate for civil rights in the US.” This media council questions Steigerwald’s statement that Davis was a “lifelong” Communist, when the length of time of his CPUSA membership is a question that only Davis probably could have resolved. There is no question, however, that he was involved with the CPUSA and/or its front organizations before, during and after World War II. The term “mentor,” as applied to his relationship with Obama, is accurate, even based on the limited information that Obama himself provides in his own book about “Frank.” But there was one truthful bit of information in the Honolulu Media Council release. Davis “had many friends, including Barack Obama’s grandfather,” it noted. BINGO. And that grandfather, Stanley Dunham, is the person who picked Davis as Obama’s mentor. Gerald Horne originally identified “Frank” as Frank Marshall Davis and Dr. Kathyrn Takara of the University of Hawaii confirmed this. She also told me that Obama had been introduced to Davis by his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who considered Davis a “strong black male figure” and thought he exerted a “positive” influence over the young man in his high-school years. “His grandfather was one of Frank’s closest friends,” she said. “They played chess or cards together.” However, Takara disputes the overwhelming evidence that Davis was a communist. Not surprisingly, she was the associate producer of that 1988 Conybeare program which whitewashed Davis. The evidence shows that Davis, who died in 1987, became Obama’s black mentor during the years 1975-1979, primarily because Obama’s black father had deserted the family. Dunham made a bad decision. It’s too bad Obama didn’t describe it as such in Dreams From My Father. He might have avoided a scandal if he had directly confronted the problem of his mentor’s communist beliefs. But that wouldn’t have gotten him off the hook for associating with communist terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in Chicago and going to Jeremiah Wright’s church.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Which brings us back to square one: When will the media ask Obama about the Obama/Davis relationship? And why did he conceal the complete identity of “Frank” in his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father? I think we are beginning to understand the reasons for this cover-up. Not only would the identification of “Frank” as Frank Marshall Davis expose communist influence on a young Obama, it might also expose those who collaborated with him and tried to whitewash his communist activities. Davis, it should be noted, was just one member of a communist network which also included secret CPUSA members Paul Robeson and labor leader Harry Bridges, who was so deep in CPUSA activities that Moscow accepted and designated him as a member of the CPUSA Central Committee. Davis was friends with both of them. If the son of Frank Marshall Davis is really out there, it would be advisable for him to come completely clean and set the record straight. Better yet, as Maki says in one of the exchanges, “I would suggest that you take up your concerns with Barack Obama, who first brought Frank Marshall Davis to our attention.”