What Barack Obama learned from the Communist Party
But there is another story to be told about loyalties and about Obama's education. A story told by Gerald Horne, contributing editor of Political Affairs, a magazine published by the Communist Party, USA. Speaking March 28, 2007 at the dedication of the Communist Party, USA archive at New York University Tamiment Library, Horne traces the downward spiral of fortune for Communists in the latter half of the twentieth century. But in the closing paragraphs of his speech, Horne suddenly becomes hopeful, pointing to the arrival of what Obama might describe as "the ones we have been waiting for."
"...in Hawaii was an African-American poet and journalist by the name of Frank Marshall Davis, who was certainly in the orbit of the CP (Communist Party) -- if not a member -- and who was born in Kansas and spent a good deal of his adult life in Chicago, before decamping to Honolulu in 1948 at the suggestion of his good friend (and Communist Party member) Paul Robeson. Eventually, he befriended another family -- a Euro-American family -- that had migrated to Honolulu from Kansas and a young woman from this family eventually had a child with a young student from Kenya East Africa who goes by the name of Barack Obama, who retracing the steps of Davis eventually decamped to Chicago. In his best selling memoir ‘Dreams of my Father', the author speaks warmly of an older black poet, he identifies simply as "Frank" as being a decisive influence in helping him to find his present identity as an African-American...."
"I (Berman) was at one of the election meetings at which one Frank Marshall Davis, formerly of Chicago (and formerly editor of the Chicago Communist paper, the Star) suddenly appeared on the scene to propagandize the membership about our ‘racial problems' in Hawaii. He had jut sneaked in here on a boat, and presto, was an ‘expert' on racial problems in Hawaii. Comrade Davis was supported by others who had recently ‘sneaked' into the organization with the avowed intent and purpose of converting it into a front for the Stalinist line....
...Already, scores of Negro members were frightened away from these meetings because of the influx of this element. Only by a reorganization with a policy that will check this infiltration, can we hope to get former members back into a local NAACP branch. We are going to have to have that authority over here-otherwise you'll have a branch exclusively composed of yelping Stalinists and their dupes-characters who are more concerned about the speedy assassination of Tito (Yugoslav communist dictator who had just broken with the USSR) than they are about the advancement of the colored people of these United States."
Smash on, victory-eating Red warriors!Show the marveling multitudesAmericans, British, all your allied brothersHow strong you areHow great you areHow your young tree of new unityPlanted twenty-five years agoBears today the golden fruit of victory!Drive on, oh mighty people's juggernaut!Hear in your winning earsShadow songs of your departed comradesTelling you, "Be avengers and kill our killersAnd when you have struck the last foe to the groundThen drop their fascist dreams below hell!"
Obama's grandparents, Stanley Armour Dunham and his wife Madelyn are another piece of the puzzle. Key details come from interviews in The Chicago Tribune and Seattle Times.
"In 1955, the chairman of the Mercer Island school board, John Stenhouse, testified before the House Un-American Activities Subcommittee that he had been a member of the Communist Party."
One respite (from Americans Stanley Ann Dunham looked down on) was found in a wing of Mercer Island High called "anarchy alley." Jim Wichterman taught a wide-open philosophy course that included Karl Marx. Next door, Val Foubert taught a rigorous dose of literature, including Margaret Mead's writings on homosexuality.
"As much as a high-school student can, she'd question anything: What's so good about democracy? What's so good about capitalism? What's wrong with communism? What's good about communism?" Wichterman said. "She had what I call an inquiring mind."
"In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation...."
"It's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Dunham gravitated toward an intellectual clique. According to former classmate Chip Wall, she caught foreign films at Seattle's only art-house theater, the Ridgemont, and trekked to University District coffee shops like the Encore to talk about jazz, the value of learning from other cultures and the "very dull Eisenhower-ness of our parents.
"We were critiquing America in those days in the same way we are today: The press is dumbed down, education is dumbed down, people don't know anything about geography or the rest of the world," said Wall, who later taught at Mercer Island High and is now retired in Seattle.
"She was not a standard-issue girl...."
"She touted herself as an atheist, and it was something she'd read about and could argue," said Maxine Box, who was Dunham's best friend in high school. "She was always challenging and arguing and comparing. She was already thinking about things that the rest of us hadn't.
"If you were concerned about something going wrong in the world, Stanley would know about it first," said Chip Wall, who described her as "a fellow traveler. . . ."
"The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics."
"I suspect that I sound incredibly naïve, wedded to lost hopes, like those Communists who peddle their newspapers on the fringes of various college towns." (Dreams pg xv)
"Political discussions, the kind that at Occidental had once seemed so intense and purposeful, came to take on the flavor of the socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union or the African cultural fairs...." (Dreams p122)
"the various ways that foreign donors and international development organizations like the one she was working for bred dependence in the Third World."
"Barry's okay, isn't he? I mean, I hope he doesn't lose his cool and become one of those freaks you see on the streets around here." (Dreams p123)
"My mother's confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn't possess, a faith that she would refuse to describe as religious; that in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny." (pg 50)
"I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse images of Conrad's dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different. I turned away embarrassed for her...."
"...it was this desire of his to obliterate the past, this confidence in the possibility of remaking the world from whole cloth, that proved to be his most lasting patrimony....
"In the back of his mind he had come to consider himself as something of a freethinker -- bohemian, even. He wrote poetry on occasion, listened to jazz, counted a number of Jews he had met in the furniture business as his closest friends. In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation....
"Gramps might listen to his new son in law sound off about politics or the economy, about far-off places like Whitehall or the Kremlin, and imagine himself seeing into the future. He would begin to read the newspapers more carefully, finding early reports of America's newfound integrationist creed, and decide in his mind that the world was shrinking, sympathies changing; that the family from Wichita had in fact moved to the forefront of Kennedy's New Frontier and Dr. King's magnificent dream."
"Is that want you're worried about? That I'll end up (a loafer, a good time Charlie) like Gramps?" Grandma shakes her head: "You're already much better educated than your grandfather." (p95-96)
"Smith Act trials ... swept the nation from New York City in 1949 when the entire CPUSA leadership was placed on trial, then jailed, to Honolulu where a similar trial occurred in 1952....the response in Honolulu when tens of thousands of workers went on strike when labor and CP leaders were convicted of Smith Act violations in 1953 -- a response totally unlike the response on the mainland."
"I believe the actual reason for his departure for Hawai`i is rooted in his capitulation to the government pressure of McCarthyism. Davis's move should not be misconstrued as either a retreat from the struggle for social justice and racial equality or an abrogation of social responsibility; he merely changed the venue, the site of conflict."
"Davis's initial contacts with Hawai`i all had extremely strong ILWU ties. Paul Robson's own Hawai`i acquaintances, which he passed on to Davis, insured that "when I came over, one of the first things that I got involved with -- well, I met all the ILWU brass, Jack Hall and all of them, and I went -- they had both of us over to various functions for them -- Harriet Bouslog (ILWU lawyer recruited by Bridges who defended the Smith Act case) was also a good friend" (Davis 1986a, 5:29-30). Davis soon realized that he had arrived at a very important moment in Hawai`i labor history. The huge International Longshoreman's Workers Union (ILWU) strike was imminent, pitting labor against the Big Five. For Davis, this was the kind of political ferment and struggle between the powerful and powerless that he thrived upon...."
"Davis himself recalls that even before he left for Hawai'i, "(Paul Robeson) and (Harry) Bridges who was head of the ILWU and the CIO in the Pacific Region, suggested that I should get in touch with the Honolulu Record and see if I could do something for them."
For Stanley Ann, her new relationship with Barack Obama and weekend discussions seemed to be, in part, a logical extension of long coffeehouse sessions in Seattle and the teachings of Wichterman and Foubert. The forum now involved graduate students from the University of Hawai`i. They spent weekends listening to jazz, drinking beer and debating politics and world affairs.
The self-assured and opinionated Obama spoke with a voice so deep that "he made James Earl Jones seem like a tenor," said Neil Abercrombie, a Democratic congressman from Hawai`i who was part of those regular gatherings.
While Obama was impatient and energized, Stanley Ann, whom Abercrombie described as "the original feminist," was endlessly patient but quietly passionate in her arguments. She was the only woman in the group.
"You've got to go. I'm just telling you to keep your eyes open. Stay awake."
"Leaving your race at the door. Leaving your people behind....You're not going to college to get educated. You're going to get trained....They'll train you to forget what you already know. They'll train you so good, you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit."
"You may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you're a nigger just the same."