The Obama Watch

Obama’s Surrogate Anti-Colonial Father

Frank Marshall Davis was a pro-Soviet mentor to young Barack.

By 10.14.10

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My friend and colleague, Dinesh D'Souza, has advanced an intriguing thesis regarding the roots of Barack Obama, arguing, in short, that to understand Obama, we must understand the anti-colonialism of his African father. Predictably, D'Souza's thoughts have brought the wrath of the liberal choir.

I'm not going to dissect D'Souza's argument. But I would like to add some important information: If Obama is indeed motivated by anti-colonialism, the source may be Frank Marshall Davis as much as, if not more than, Obama's father.

I come to this via a different route from D'Souza. My new book -- released the same day as D'Souza's, coincidentally -- examined the communist movement in the 20th century, and specifically how communists duped progressives and liberals. I determined, definitively, that Frank Marshall Davis was not a duped liberal but a duping communist. I show this at length, quoting Davis's weekly columns from the CPUSA organ, the Honolulu Record, and reprinting pages from Congressional investigations and from Davis's declassified FBI file, including a document that lists his Communist Party number: 47544.

As to their relationship, Davis was introduced to a teenage Obama in the 1970s by Obama's leftist grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who sought a father figure for Obama. Of all people to pick, Dunham chose someone summoned before the Senate in 1956 to testify to Communist Party associations.

In Dreams from My Father, Obama recalled fondly how Davis advised him on women, on race, on college, on life. He shared with Obama his "hard-earned knowledge." Numerous biographical accounts (from the left, and highly sympathetic) describe Davis as a "mentor," a "father" figure, and an "important influence" on Obama.

Those accounts avoid like the plague the fact that Davis was blatantly pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin. This is painfully evident in Davis's Honolulu Record columns. So shocking are those columns that they generated the longest chapter in my book. Davis, befitting CPUSA's disgusting position at the time, demonized the Democratic administration of Harry Truman. Davis took that position because it was Moscow's. As George Kennan described American communists, they "obeyed" the "master's voice" in the Kremlin.

That brings me back to D'Souza's thesis. I did not address Obama's father's anti-colonialism, but I can attest to its dominance in Davis's writings.

Consider a May 19, 1949 column, "How Our Democracy Looks To Oppressed Peoples," where Davis excoriated the Marshall Plan. Yes, the Marshall Plan.

"For a nation that calls itself the champion of democracy, our stupendous stupidity is equaled only by our mountainous ego," Davis complained. "Our actions at home and abroad are making American democracy synonymous with oppression." He added: "I have watched with growing shame for my America as our leaders have used our golden riches to re-enslave the yellow and brown and black peoples of the world."

Davis characterized the Marshall Plan as a "device" to maintain "white imperialism." This nefarious "oppression of non-white peoples everywhere" was purchased via Secretary of State George Marshall's "billions of U.S. dollars … to bolster the tottering empires of England, France, Belgium, Holland and the other western exploiters of teeming millions of humans."

In another column a few weeks later, on August 18, Davis stepped up the communist attack on "the double-talking Truman administration with its program for World War III." "The Truman doctrine in Greece and Turkey and then the Marshall Plan," were, claimed Davis, "based upon the continuation of colonial slavery by the ruling classes of Western Europe."

In his next column, Davis protested: "I shall not help England and France keep millions of my colored brothers in Africa and Asia in colonial slavery. Yet that is what our dividend diplomats ask of you and me when they demand our support of the bi-partisan Marshall plan."

Bad as this was, it's the tip of the iceberg.

Yet, there's a more sinister element, as suggested by a July 1935 document held in Comintern Archives in Moscow. That document ordered American comrades (like Davis, who, at that point, lived in Chicago), to go to Hawaii to agitate against Hawaii becoming part of the United States. The Soviets wanted the territory as a base of operations. What would be the party line? The document ordered American communists to claim there was a "growing discontent of the masses of the population in the Hawaiian Islands," resulting from "the regime of colonial oppression and the exploitation of American imperialism with its policy of militarisation of the Hawaiian Islands."

That was precisely Davis's position when he relocated to Hawaii, whether by orders, by personal beliefs, or both. And it isn't unreasonable to expect he might have shared such thinking with a bright teenager named Barack Obama. Bear in mind, Obama admitted to learning from Davis, including college advice -- his very next step. Obama describes his first days at college as hanging out with "Marxist professors," attending "socialist conferences," and "discuss[ing] neocolonialism."

Rather than heralding the American exceptionalism that sought freedom for the people of the USSR and Eastern Europe, Davis would have passed to Obama a very different narrative about America's place in the world, beginning with its alleged imperial-colonial sins.

This was the wrong side of history, but it was the side of Frank Marshall Davis. The remaining question is to what extent this affected Obama, then and still today. 

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.