Written by Cliff Kincaid
April 8, 2008
By Cliff Kincaid
The “Red Army” poem goes beyond hoping for the communists to beat the Nazis in World War II and hails the Soviet revolution. It says:
“Show the marveling multitudes
Americans, British, all your allied brothers
How strong you are
How great you are
How your young tree of new unity
Planted twenty-five years ago
Bears today the golden fruit of victory!”
One Davis poem, “Christ is a Dixie Nigger,” dismisses Christ as “another New White Hope” and declares:
“Remember this, you wise guys
Your tales about Jesus of Nazareth are no-go with me
I’ve got a dozen Christs in Dixie all bloody and black…”
The revelations about Davis’ poetry will add to the controversy over what kind of role Davis played in shaping Obama’s political views. Davis (1905-1987) seems to have had the same kind of anti-American outlook that animated Obama’s longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In fact, Davis was pro-Soviet, not just anti-American.
The controversial poems are included in the book, Black Moods, a collection edited by John Edgar Tidwell, a professor at the University of Kansas and expert on Davis’s writings and career. He confirms that Davis joined the Communist Party but that he publicly tried to deny his communist affiliations.
Davis’ poem, “To the Red Army,” says that “rich industrialists” in Washington and London wanted Hitler to win and “wipe Communism from the globe.”
One Davis poem, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” mocks the Christian hymn by the same name. It talks of Africans being killed with a “Christian gun” instead of a spear by the missionaries following “the religion of Sweet Jesus.” Another Davis poem refers to Christians “who buy righteousness like groceries.”
Davis’ writings have become an issue because he became a father-figure to Obama, who is the leading Democratic candidate for president of the U.S., during their time in Hawaii. Obama acknowledges in his book, Dreams From My Father, that he knew and accepted advice from a black poet named “Frank” but doesn’t identify “Frank” by his full name. However, several sources, including Professor Gerald Horne and Dr. Kathryn Takara, have confirmed that “Frank” was in fact Frank Marshall Davis. Trevor Loudon, a New Zealand-based libertarian activist, researcher and blogger, first noted evidence that “Frank” was Frank Marshall Davis in a posting in March of 2007.
In remarks at a reception of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) archives at the Tamiment Library at New York University, Horne, a contributing editor of the Communist Party journal Political Affairs, asserted that Davis had come into contact with Obama and his family in Hawaii and became the young man’s mentor, influencing his sense of identity and career path.
Obama writes in Dreams From My Father that he saw “Frank” only a few days before he left Hawaii for college. He said that Davis called college an “advanced degree in compromise,” warned Obama not to forget his “people,” and not to “start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit.”
As we noted in a previous article, the record shows that Obama was in Hawaii from 1971-1979, where he developed his close relationship, almost like a son, with Davis, and listened to his “poetry” and views.
But in the same way that he fails to identify “Frank” as Frank Marshall Davis, Obama says nothing about the nature of this “poetry.” However, Tidwell says that several Davis’ poems were viewed as “subversive” by the FBI and that they help explain why it monitored his activities. Tidwell says that the FBI maintained a file on Davis.
One Davis poem, “Peace Quiz for America,” includes the lines:
“Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam
Why did you send me against Axis foes
In the death-kissed foxholes
Of New Guinea and Europe
Without shielding my back
From the sniping Dixie lynchers
In the jungles of Texas and Florida?”
Tidwell asserts that Davis was a “closet” member of the CPUSA and that it’s not clear how long he stayed in the party.
The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) reprinted the 1953 and 1954 Reports of the Commission on Subversive Activities of the Territory of Hawaii, which refer to Davis as “an identified member of the Communist Party” who was affiliated with a number of Communist fronts and circulated “inflammatory racial propaganda.” Davis also wrote columns for the Honolulu Record, a Communist paper. These were described as “unrelenting and unmitigated complaints of racial discrimination in the United States.” Davis was labeled “a bitter opponent of capitalism” and “staunch defender” of communists and communist sympathizers.
Max Friedman, a longtime writer and researcher on internal security affairs, discovered that Davis testified in 1956 before the SISS and took the Fifth Amendment on his Communist Party membership.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) took testimony in 1950 from a member of the Honolulu branch of the NAACP, Edward Berman, who said that Davis had showed up to “propagandize” its membership about alleged “racial problems.” Berman referred to “Comrade Davis” as someone who “sneaked” into the NAACP meetings “with the avowed intent and purpose of converting it into a front for the Stalinist line.”
Tidwell says that Davis “felt betrayed” when Soviet dictator Stalin signed the 1939 nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, which triggered World War II, but that Stalin’s eventual decision to join the U.S. and its allies in a war on the Axis powers “restored a measure of Davis’ confidence in the USSR.”
Another book, The New Red Negro, by James Edward Smethurst, says that while Davis had said he was disturbed by the Hitler-Stalin pact, he did not leave the CPUSA in protest over it.
Tidwell maintains that Davis moved to Hawaii from Chicago, Illinois, in 1948 under “the governmental pressure of McCarthyism,” a reference to anti-communist Senator Joe McCarthy. However, the SISS and the HCUA had nothing to do with McCarthy’s committee, which was the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee of the Senate’s Government Operations Committee.
In fact, McCarthy didn’t emerge as a figure in the anti-communist movement until 1950.
The SISS hearings were held for the purpose of determining the “Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States.”
William Rusher, who served as associate counsel to the SISS in 1956-1957, has written that “It is hard for most people to imagine the influence that even a relatively small number of dedicated people can have, but the CPUSA exerted significant power in its heyday—a heyday, be it remembered, in which the Soviet Union impressed many people as the wave of the future, destined to overwhelm a weak and fading West, including the United States.”
This pro-Communist view appears to have been the mindset of Frank Marshall Davis, who spent many hours advising and reading poetry to a young Barack Obama.