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Frank Marshall Davis

As the birthplace of Barack Obama, the first African American US president, Hawai‘i will always have a special place in the observance of Black History Month. President Obama notes in his book, Dreams from My Father, that Hawaiʻi became the home of poet, author and journalist Frank Marshall Davis. Frank was a drinking buddy of Obama’s white grandfather, and Obama often accompanied him when he met with Frank.


Before moving to Hawaiʻi, Frank enjoyed success as a poet, publishing several volumes that were critically acclaimed. He also was editor of several Black-owned newspapers, like the Atlanta World and the Chicago Evening Bulletin. He was the director of the Associated Negro Press, a news agency for the black newspapers, similar to the Associated Press. He and his wife, Helen, moved from Chicago to Hawaiʻi in early 1949, seeking an environment that was more accepting of a mixed-race marriage.


Frank spent much of his life waging a never-ending struggle against racism. During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was a right wing smear campaign naming Davis as Obama’s “Marxist mentor.” While Davis may have at one time worked with the Communist Party, he also was employed by the Republican Party to work on the 1940 presidential campaign of Wendell Willke.


Davis explains this apparent contradiction: “I do not like being kicked around, nor do I like to see other people get kicked around. For 30 years as a working newspaperman. I have fought for civil rights. In this battle for my rights as a Negro American, I have accepted the aid and support of any man of good will who is willing to fight beside me. I do not care about his color, religion, or politics. When the octopus of prejudice crushes me with his tentacles, I will welcome the help of the devil himself in order to get loose.”In an interview from our archives, AQ tells us about Frank, his coming to Hawaiʻi and his contributions as a columnist for the labor-oriented newspaper, the Honolulu Record.


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