Now that it has been established that a candidate’s teenage years help define the man to come, it might be time to take a new look at the adolescent Obama and his then-mentor, the late Frank Marshall Davis.
I would guess that not one Obama voter out of one hundred could identify Davis by name, and I doubt if one media person out of a thousand has read his memoir, Livin’ the Blues. This is unfortunate on any number of levels. For one, Davis’s book captures the ebb and flow of 20th-century black American life as well as any ever written.
For another, no one individual influenced the young Obama more than Davis has. This combination should have made Davis a staple of the multicultural canon and a pin-up in every reporter’s cubicle, but it did neither. Like Boo Radley, Davis remains in the shadows for one reason: the media fear what the light would do to him. For all of Davis’s gifts, and they are many, his lifelong flirtation with darkness makes him a little too creepy for his own display case in the Barack Obama presidential library.
The light is beginning to shine. David Maraniss is sure to address the Davis legacy in his much-discussed book due out in June, Barack Obama: The Story. Davis is the title character of Paul Kengor’s new book, due out in July, The Communist. And producer Joel Gilbert has made Davis the centerpiece of his provocative and highly entertaining new documentary, Dreams from My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception.