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.
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).