As the Sentinel reported on February 1, the Legends Outlets Kansas City chose to honor Frank Marshal Davis as one of its Kansas legends, apparently unaware that Davis was a member of the Communist Party, a pornographer, a pedophile, and young Barack Obama’s most influential mentor.
Although the Legends did not respond to the Sentinel’s request for an explanation, it did respond to at least one person who brought much of the above information to the Legends’ attention.
“We are not sure where you are getting your information, but that is all speculation, not fact. Here is a link to Frank Marshall Davis’s biography, which is also available on our website.” This is the same biography that provoked the individual to contact the Legends in the first place.
This short biography appears to have been written uniquely for the Legends. Its author claims that Davis was being watched by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee “because of his willingness to speak out against Jim Crow laws and in support of free political expression.” This half-truth is pure left wing propaganda. Davis was, in fact, a character of genuine note. In sanitizing his life, the Legends biography does the man an historical injustice.
It is likely that not one person in the media out of one hundred could identify Davis by name and not one out of a thousand has read his memoir, Livin’ the Blues. This is unfortunate on any number of levels. For one, his book captures the ebb and flow of twentieth century black American life as well as any ever written.
For another, no one individual influenced the young Obama more than Davis has. This combination should have made him a staple of the multicultural canon and a pin-up in every reporter’s cubicle, but it did neither.
Like Boo Radley, Davis remains in the shadows for one reason: the media who know the real Davis fear what the light would do to him. For all of Davis’s gifts, and they are many, his lifelong flirtation with darkness makes him a little too creepy for his own display case in the Barack Obama presidential library.
Although he campaigned for Republican presidential candidates Alf Landon and Wendell Willkie, Davis veered hard to the left. By 1948, he was publicly trashing Democrat Harry Truman, whose devious Marshall Plan, Davis argued, was “aimed directly at the Soviets.”
Davis jokes that he “launched his invasion of Hawaii” by leaving Chicago on December 7, 1948, the seventh anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He arrived with a massive International Longshoreman Workers Union (ILWU) strike imminent. Within months of his arrival, the union virtually shut Hawaii down.
“The 178-day strike gnawed at the island’s lifelines,” observed the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on the occasion of the strike’s 50th anniversary, “forcing small businesses into bankruptcy, causing food shortages and in the end, making the ILWU one of the Territory’s major powers.” Davis cheered on the strikers through a weekly column in the progressive, ILWU-funded newspaper, the Honolulu Record, a post he had gotten through union head and Soviet hardliner Harry Bridges.
In Chicago and in Hawaii, the FBI kept a 19-year watch on Davis and amassed a file that runs 600 pages as posted on line. At least one cooperating informant met with Davis “on Communist Party matters” for a period of several years and collected Davis’s Party dues.
“Here are the facts and they are indisputable,” writes historian Paul Kengor. “Davis was a pro-Soviet, pro-Red China, card-carrying member of Communist Party (CPUSA). His Communist Party card number was 47544.”
Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half-sister, would describe Davis as her brother’s “point of connection, a bridge . . . to the larger African-American experience.” Obama’s treatment of Davis in his memoir Dreams from My Father testifies to his importance in the boy’s life.
On nine separate occasions in Dreams, Obama refers to “Frank.” Obama wanted black Chicago to know his connectedness, but he was savvy enough to omit Davis’s last name, as well as any reference to his politics. Had Obama written this book with the presidency in mind, he would likely have eliminated all references to Davis.
For whatever reason, Obama introduced “Frank” to the world, and he deserves his day in court. The failure of Legends to provide it is less a crime than the major media’s refusal to do the same.