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Washington University Film & Media Archive

Frank Marshall Davis

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Washington University Film and Media Archive and the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) at the University of Hawai'i - West O'ahu have partnered to preserve and digitize an interview with notable African-American poet and journalist Frank Marshall Davis. "Frank" is mentioned in Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, as a drinking buddy of his grandfather and an African American that made an impression on the now President as a young man growing up in Hawai'i.

Davis published several acclaimed books of poetry in the 1930's and 1940's and, despite being based in Chicago and the Midwest, was considered to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance movement along with prominent authors such as Langston Hughes. In addition to being an accomplished poet, Davis was a pioneering journalist and headed the influential American Negro Press. He moved to Hawai'i from Chicago in 1949, in part to seek racial tolerance because his wife was white. In Hawai'i, Davis continued writing as a weekly columnist ("Frankly Speaking") in the labor-oriented Honolulu Record newspaper.

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The interview was conducted in 1987 as part of a planned long form documentary about the life Frank Marshall Davis. However, Davis died before the program was completed. A shorter 30 minute program was created as a tribute to Davis for the Rice and Roses series produced by CLEAR. The program aired on Hawai'i Public Television.

The original interview tapes were stored in CLEAR's media library, along with poetry readings by Davis. During the course of their interviews with Davis, the makers of the documentary shot video of photographs and news clippings from the author's personal collection. All the video created by those filmmakers is now housed in the Frank Marshall Davis Collection at Washington University. They can be searched online in the Film and Media catalog.

A resurgence of interest in Davis emerged during the 2008 presidential election campaign when Frank Marshall Davis was called "Obama's Communist Mentor" by conservatives. The association was an attempt at an "old-fashioned red-baiting campaign" notes Conybeare who was contacted on many occasions by many right-wing groups looking to access to the interview he conducted. CLEAR does not have the resources or expertise to preserve and digitize the materials and approached the Film and Media Archive about preserving and putting the collection online for all to access.

The complete transcript of Interview with Frank Marshall Davis
conducted by Chris Conybeare and Joy Chong is now available. The interview was gathered by the University of Hawaii's Center for Labor Education & Research for the series Rice & Roses. A portion of the digitized interview is available to view on the Film and Media Archive's YouTube channel.