The Communist Mentor: Frank Marshall Davis

Were it not for the collective willful amnesia on the part of academia and the media regarding communist subversion in the United States, would Barack Obama be in the White House today?


The question comes to mind when reading Paul Kengor’s intriguing political mystery tale about “Frank,” Obama’s much-admired mentor in Dreams from My Father. His identity has been established as Frank Marshall Davis (by biographers sympathetic to Obama). In The Communist, Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor, Kengor presents a gripping narrative about a man who represents an ignored part of American history: the exploitation of African Americans by the Soviet Union for subversive purposes.

The communists’ campaign began in the 1920s. Then, the Comintern was preparing to bring a dozen black Americans to Moscow for training in propaganda and agitation for a separate “Negro Republic” in the South (that would then join a workers’ uprising in the North). Among the dupes: Paul Robeson, who went on to fame and fortune as a result; Richard Wright, who went on to repudiate communism; and Lovett Fort-Whiteman, who was among the dozen who moved to the USSR in 1930 and who perished in the gulag after daring to object to being kept from returning to the United States.

The other ignored history is that of Barack Obama, who before he even held elective office provided an autobiography with the mystery man “Frank.” When Frank Marshall Davis’s FBI file was obtained and posted online by investigative journalist Cliff Kincaid, the mainstream media ignored it. In May 2008, when Kincaid held a press conference releasing a report on Davis coauthored with Herb Romerstein, they were mocked by Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank. As the 2008 campaign season geared up, reporters for AP, the Washington Post, and Newsweek ignored the evidence about Davis’s communism, even as they wrote profiles of the mentor.


But we need go back only one generation to see the influence of card-carrying Communists spread wide. Davis’s close associates included the father-in-law of Valerie Jarrett, and the father of David Axelrod’s mentor. After Davis moved to Chicago in 1934 and began writing for the Associated Negro Press, he met Robert Taylor, maternal grandfather of Valerie Jarrett. (Davis officially joined the Communist Party USA during World War II.) In 1948, he worked with Valerie’s future father-in-law, someone who had been involved in communist activities since at least his election to the Illinois CPUSA youth wing. Davis and Vernon Jarrett worked together on the Packing-House Committee, a communist group.

Also involved in the Packing-House Committee was the Canter family, whose patriarch Harry Canter served as secretary of the Boston Communist Party and ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1930 on the Communist Party ticket. Harry was the father of David Canter, who pleaded the Fifth before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. David Canter became mentor to David Axelrod.

Kengor untangles the web:

Frank [Marshall Davis] mentored Obama. The Canter family mentored David Axelrod, who helped get Barack Obama elected president [and who is now his Communications Director for his reelection campaign]. Vernon Jarrett’s daughter-in-law is Valerie Jarrett. Robert R. Taylor, Frank’s “anti-war” and “civil liberties” pal, was Jarrett’s grandfather. Valerie Jarrett and Axelrod became Obama’s top two presidential advisors.


To uncover Davis’s views, Kengor investigates Davis’s FBI file, the Congressional record, and Davis’s autobiographical and newspaper writing, including the nearly lost columns Davis wrote for the Atlanta Daily World from 1931 until 1934 (uncovered by Kengor’s intrepid researcher Spyridon Mitsotakis). In Chicago, Davis wrote for the Associated Negro Press, and then for the Communist Chicago Star. He moved to Hawaii in 1948 when the Honolulu Record, his last employer, was launched by the Communist Party of Hawaii. Kengor describes Davis’s columns as in “lockstep with Moscow,” and proves it with extensive quotations. He called himself a “progressive” and mocked anti-communists, but Davis was working as a propagandist to overthrow the United States government.

This could be dismissed as circumstantial in regards to Obama, except that Obama has never repudiated the Davis worldview which he treats sympathetically in his autobiography. Nor did he repudiate the doctrinaire Marxist ideology which he clung to as a student at Occidental College (recounted by Occidental alum and acquaintance John Drew). As Obama describes in Dreams, he sought out Marxists and like-minded ideologues of the left.

But Kengor leaves the analysis of Obama’s ideology to the reader, stating that his objective is not to prove or disprove Obama a communist — which is only prudent. But by the same token, it would be extremely dishonest to deny this aspect that dominated the life of the mentor of our president. Today, the mentee of a communist subversive implements many of the policies for which his mentor agitated — nationalizing the much-vilified General Motors and health care, as two of many examples. Cold War history is relevant.


There are many other things about Davis’s personal life that Kengor, wisely, does not delve into. They are salacious, and are available from Davis’s own writings, some online.

The communist influence rightfully is the focus. The book is meticulously researched, reasonably argued, and compellingly told, without a hint of sensationalism. The tone is more than sympathetic in terms of placing Davis’ turn to the false god of communism in the historical context of racial discrimination.

Now, with the publication of The Communist, to continue to ignore the evidence would only confirm the willfulness of the blindness.

Mainstream journalists still may ignore or dismiss the evidence presented here. But spread the word about this important book: it contains not only a corrective to the journalistic malpractice we saw in the vetting of candidate Obama, but also a compelling narrative about an important part of our nation’s history. While Obama’s writings (including passages from Dreams) will no doubt continue to be taught uncritically in our nation’s classrooms, students should now have access to Professor Kengor’s exposé. This may be the most captivating and educational book of the election season.


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