In his exceptional new book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, the Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor,” historian Paul Kengor finally gives Davis the credit the media have denied him for his role in shaping the destiny of the future president.
Like Boo Radley, Davis has remained in the shadows for one reason: The media fear what the light would do to him. For all of Davis’ 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.
The purge began early. Researcher James McElroy compared the written text of Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” with the audio version and discovered that all references to “Frank,” as Davis is called in “Dreams,” were stricken from the audio book.
This wasn’t easy. As Kengor notes, Davis “surfaces repeatedly [in "Dreams"] from start to finish, from Hawaii to Los Angeles to Chicago to Germany to Kenya … from the 1970s to the 1980s to the 1990s.”
Davis had some avocations that all but hard-core Democrats might find disturbing. For one, he was a member of Communist Party USA. Both in Chicago and in Hawaii, Davis did his damnedest on the propaganda front to advance the Soviet cause in the Cold War. Kengor proves this beyond all doubt.
For another, Davis was a pornographer well before pornography was mainstreamed. He chronicled his sexual adventures, real and imagined, in a book titled, “Sex Rebel: Black,” under the pseudonym “Bob Greene.”
As Kengor makes clear, there is no doubt Davis wrote the book. In his memoir, “Livin’ the Blues,” Davis writes coyly, “I could not then truthfully deny that this book, which came out in 1968 as a Greenleaf Classic, was mine.”
Davis was also a semi-skilled photographer with a keen interest in nudes. The one area that I wish Kengor had explored was his possible relationship with Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham.
A series of nude photos has emerged of a young woman who looks all the world like Dunham. In his documentary, “Dreams from My Real Father,” Joel Gilbert makes a strong case that these are indeed photos of Dunham and that Davis was the photographer.
Not surprisingly, Snopes gave the Dunham-as-nude model rumor a big, fat “false.” Although conceding that the photos are genuine and not retouched, they dismiss them as “pictures of late 1950s pin-up model Marcy Moore, who just happened to bear a vague facial resemblance to a young Ann Dunham.”
This is bunkum. On facial features alone, Snopes should have ruled out the much prettier Moore, but it is not the face that betrays intent. Moore’s all-pro body has useful mass in places the perky amateur body of the Dunham lookalike does not.
The Snopes people had to see the difference. Their site provides a photo of Moore. This wasn’t misinformation. This was disinformation. The conscious dissembling argues for the photos being of Dunham, by Davis.
If Davis knew Dunham in 1960, casually or in the biblical sense, Obama biographers would have a lot of revising to do. I understand why Kengor avoided this subject. I just wish he hadn’t.
Kengor does, however, explore the literary relationship between Davis and the young Obama, especially as evidenced in the poem “Pop” that Obama submitted as a 19 year old to the Occidental College literary magazine.
“Far and away,” writes Kengor, “the one subject who uniquely matches ‘Pop’ is Frank Marshall Davis, a further reflection of his significant, lasting impact on Barack Obama.”
Until the time I made this case publicly in my 2011 book, “Deconstructing Obama,” all mainstream reviewers insisted the poem was about “Gramps,” Obama’s grandfather Stan Dunham. It was transparently not.
What may be Kengor’s most valuable long-term contribution to the literature of communism, a subject he has explored in previous books, was the careful work he did tracking the life of an ordinary Soviet subversive.
Although a useful tool, both because he was black and because he was a gifted writer and propagandist, Davis did not play a starring role in the communist infiltration of the United States.
Still, he mattered enough to be dispatched from Chicago, which he loved, to Hawaii, which he tolerated, to advance the cause of the communist-infiltrated International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, or ILWU.
Davis did as ordered. He just never told the truth about it, not even in his own memoir. In fact, Davis, like all CPUSA members, lied constantly. He and the others – Alger Hiss, the Hollywood Ten, the Rosenbergs, Lillian Hellman, Paul Robeson – lied to make it easier for a left-leaning media to avoid the truth.
In the liberal retelling, Davis, like all American communists, was a victim of a peril more frightening than communism, namely anti-communism, especially as personified by Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy.
As Kengor makes clear, however, it was the Truman administration that Davis most savagely attacked, and it was a Democratic-controlled Senate that brought Davis in for questioning.
Of the few mainstream media people who have mentioned Davis at all, not a one acknowledges that Obama’s most influential mentor was an honest-to-God card-carrying commie, No. 47544.
Davis’ goal, like those of his comrades, was to submit America, the glavni vrag, the “main enemy,” to the Soviet yoke then under the thumb of that era’s most brutal and lethal despot, Josef Stalin. One would think that this allegiance would color the media’s take on Davis. Not so.
Kengor singles out David Remnick, New Yorker editor and Obama biographer, for his “outrageous” treatment of Davis. Writes Kengor in his 2010 Obama biography, “The Bridge,” “Remnick did not ignore Frank; he simply ignored all the negatives. His treatment is scandalous in its omissions.” David Maraniss does scarcely better in his biography, “Barack Obama: The Story.”
“A lie told often enough becomes the truth,” said Russian communist Vladimir Lenin.
Davis understood this, and it seems apparent that his protégé does, too.