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DuSable Museum of African American History

Guide to the Frank Marshall Davis Collection, 1935-1987

Finding aid prepared by Melissa Barton, December 2006

Descriptive Summary

Title:

Frank Marshall Davis Collection

Dates:

1935-1987

Size:

4 linear feet

Repository:

Archives of the DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637

Subject Headings

Davis, Frank Marshall,

American literature

Access

Contact Museum Curatorial Department, (773) 947-0600, x247

Citation

When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is:

Davis, Frank Marshall Collection. [Box #, Folder #]. DuSable Museum of African American History.

Provenance

Part I (Box 1) Gift of Frank Marshall Davis [?], 1984; Part II (Boxes 2-5) Gift of Beth Davis Charlton, 1989.

Acknowledgements

Funding to process this collection and compose its finding aid was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Biographical Note

Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987), poet, journalist, and educator, was born December 31, 1905 in Arkansas City, Kansas. He graduated from high school in 1923; the following year he took courses at Friend's University in Wichita. In 1924, he enrolled in the Journalism School at Kansas State University, but, after two and a half years, finances forced him to leave school, and he moved to Chicago. He returned to Kansas State for one more year in 1928 with a Sigma Delta Chi Perpetual Scholarship, but in 1930 he left again, relocating to Atlanta. Davis became Managing Editor of the Atlanta Daily World in 1931. In 1934, he again moved to Chicago, where he served as Executive Editor of Claude Barnett's Associated Negro Press from 1935-1947. A prolific journalist and arts critic, Davis published articles in the Chicago Evening Bulletin, the Chicago Whip, the Gary (Ind.) American, the Atlanta World, the Chicago Star, and the Honolulu Record. Writings for the Associated Negro Press included two weekly features, "Rating the Records" and "Things Theatrical."

The author of three major volumes of poetry, Black Man's Verse (1935), I Am the American Negro (1937), and 47th Street (1948), Davis also published the illustrated volume Through Sepia Eyes (1938), and, when he was "rediscovered" in the 1970s, Awakening, and Other Poems (1978) and Jazz Interlude (1984). Davis's first book, Black Man's Verse, won praise from Poetry magazine's Harriet Monroe when it was first published in 1935, and he received a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship for poetry in 1937. According to John Edgar Tidwell, Davis's poetry "is characterized by robust statements of urban themes, a fierce social consciousness, a strong declamatory voice, and an almost rabid race pride" (203). Active in all arenas of Chicago's bourgeoning Black cultural scene, Davis was one of the founding members of the late 1930s South Side Writers' Group associated with Richard Wright, as well as a prominent participant in events organized by the South Side Community Art Center and the Abraham Lincoln Center throughout the 1940s. Davis frequently gave public lectures on subjects ranging from the political and social status of African Americans to the history of jazz. He also participated in several grass-roots political groups, including the Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, and was a sponsor of the Southside chapter of American Youth for Democracy. An aficionado of jazz music, Davis taught a full ten-lecture course on the history of jazz at the Southside Abraham Lincoln School and was "Jazz Disc Jockey" on Chicago's WJJD in the 1940s.

In 1948, Davis moved with his wife Helen Canfield Davis to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he would live the rest of his life and raise five children- four daughters, Lynn, Beth, Jeanne, and Jill, and one son, Mark. Though he continued to publish articles in Negro Digest, Davis's move to Hawaii removed him from Chicago's literary scene, and he all but disappeared from notice. With the advent of the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s, however, Davis's poetry enjoyed a renaissance thanks to the attention of poet and Broadside Press editor Dudley Randall, critic Stephen Henderson, and DuSable Museum Founder and Director Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs. Randall named him the "father of modern Black poetry" and organized a college lecture tour in 1973. A volume of poetry, Awakening, and Other Poems, followed in 1978. In 1985, Burroughs published a volume of Davis's poetry entitled Jazz Interlude with the DuSable Museum's press.

In the early 1960s, Davis began shopping a manuscript, Livin' the Blues: Inhibited Memoirs of a Black Poet Journalist, to publishers. He also wrote and published Sex Rebel: Black (1968), a fictional autobiography that he described as an "erotographic" novel, under the pseudonym Bob Greene. Though Davis would try throughout the sixties and with renewed effort in the eighties to publish Livin' the Blues, he would not succeed in placing the memoir in his lifetime. Davis died in Honolulu in 1987. In 1992, Davis scholar John Edgar Tidwell worked with Margaret Taylor Burroughs to publish Livin' the Blues using manuscripts held by the DuSable Museum.

Sources

"Frank Marshall Davis." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2003. Accessed Dec. 11, 2006. Mullen, Bill V. Popular Fronts: Chicago and African-American Cultural Politics, 1935-46. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Tidwell, John Edgar. "Davis, Frank Marshall." Oxford Companion to African American Literature. ed. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 202-203.

Books by Frank Marshall Davis

Scope and Content Note

The Frank Marshall Davis Collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, broadsides and pamphlets, serials, ephemera, clippings, and scrapbooks. While the scrapbooks, ephemera, and serials date from Davis's time in Atlanta and Chicago from 1935-1947, the bulk of the correspondence is from 1964 onward, when Davis was trying to place the manuscript of his autobiography Livin' the Blues, as well as two pseudonymous "erotographic" novels titled Sex Rebel: Black and Penguins in Paradise. Because the collection is so small, the container list has not been divided by series, but each category and its arrangement will be described briefly here: Manuscripts, Correspondence, Memoranda, Broadsides and Pamphlets, Serials, Ephemera, Clippings, Scrapbooks, and Miscellaneous.

Manuscripts, 1984, [n.d.]

Manuscripts include three versions (two of which appear identical) of Davis's autobiography Livin' the Blues. The first version is moderately corrected in Davis's hand; the second and third bear out these corrections in the typescript. Correspondence in the DuSable Museum Biography Files indicates that these manuscripts are probably the version John Edgar Tidwell published in 1992. The manuscripts section also includes a galley of Jazz Interlude, a volume of Davis's poetry published by the DuSable Museum in 1985, corrected by Margaret Taylor Burroughs.

Correspondence, 1935-1945; 1965-1985

The earlier dates in this section include letters that were laid in one of Davis's scrapbooks; what appears to be a readers' letter by James Weldon Johnson dated 8 August, 1935, presumably for Black Man's Verse, as well as correspondence detailing Davis's frustrated attempts to secure publication for 47th Street (collected in the folder "47th Street Publishers' Correspondence"). The rest of the correspondence details Davis's campaign to publish Livin' the Blues, as well as inquiries about two pseudonymous novels which Davis described as "erotographic," titled Sex Rebel: Black and Penguins in Paradise. Of particular interest are Davis's extensive exchanges with his Chicago-based literary agent, Paul Romaine, which suggest that Davis resisted repeated suggestions from publishers and from Romaine for revising his memoir.

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent, with the following exceptions: correspondence with companies and institutions is filed under the name of the company or institution, with the name of the individual correspondent listed in parentheses in the item description; where an exchange with a publisher involved only one or two letters, correspondence is collected under the title of the work; form letters and letters for permissions are collected under the headings "Form Letters" and "Permissions."

Davis carried on a sustained correspondence with Margaret Taylor Burroughs; these letters are preserved in the "Davis, Frank Marshall" file in the DuSable Museum Biography Files.

Memoranda, [n.d.]

This folder includes several scraps of paper with Davis's memoranda-two of which are lists of publishing houses.

Broadsides and Pamphlets

This small category includes two items of particular interest: "Three Poems" by Karl W. Carter, a Broadside Press broadside, inscribed to Davis by Carter, and a booklet titled "Eyewitness: Peekskill U.S.A.," a report by the Westchester Committee for a Fair Inquiry into the Peekskill Violence. The report details events in the town of Peekskill, New York, on August 27, 1949 and September 4, 1949. On August 27, anti-communist and anti-black protests against the appearance of Paul Robeson in concert led to violence, forestalling the concert. Roebeson's appearance was rescheduled for September 4, and was held in spite of protesters, but afterwards violence erupted again, with protesters throwing stones at audience members as they left the concert. A total of 145 were injured; no one was killed.

Serials, 1925-1950; 1966

This section includes a number of relatively rare issues of serials, including the first two issues of Jack Conroy's Chicago-based New Anvil; a fragment of the second of only two issues of the short-lived journal Race: A Quarterly Devoted to Social, Political and Economic Equality; a special "Negro Poets Issue," edited by Langston Hughes, of Voices: A Quarterly of Poetry, and the issue of Free World in which Davis's poem "For All Common People" was first printed. Serials are arranged alphabetically by title, then chronologically within each title.

Ephemera, 1944-1946; 1956

This section includes invitations, programs, posters and handbills from lectures and other events in which Davis participated around the Chicago area. Many of the handbills relate to events at the Abraham Lincoln School, where Davis both lectured frequently and taught a course on the history of jazz. One handbill for the course includes a rough syllabus of lectures. Other notable Davis speaking engagements include a panel entitled "Hear These 4 Liberal Leaders," with Jacob J. Weinstein, Deborah V. Dauber, and Walter Sassaman, dated February 19, 1946.

Miscellaneous

The miscellaneous section comprises an autographed copy of a doctoral dissertation in the Department of History, Indiana University, by Lawrence Daniel Hogan, entitled "A Black National News Service: Claude Barnett, The Associated Negro Press, and Afro-American Newspapers, 1919-1945."

Related Resources

See "Davis, Frank Marshall" Biography File in DuSable Museum Biography Files

Note on the Processing

Original order has been retained with the following exceptions: alphabetical and chronological arrangements have been made as noted; correspondence for 47th Street was laid in one of the scrapbooks, as was the James Weldon Johnson letter. These have been placed in folders to facilitate access and to better conserve them.

INVENTORY

Box 1

Folder 1

Livin' the Blues mss., version 1, pp. 1-204, [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 2

Livin' the Blues mss., version 1, pp. 205-377 [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 3

Livin' the Blues mss., version 2, carbon copy, (reflecting corrections from version 1), pp. 1-400 [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 4

Livin' the Blues mss., version 2, carbon copy, pp. 401-469

Box 1

Folder 5

Livin' the Blues mss., version 3, (carbon copies with original typescript of many pages interleaved; some pages missing; pagination irregular), pp. 1-380, [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 6

Livin' the Blues mss., version 3, pp. 381-469, [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 7

Livin' the Blues mss., fragments (7 pages), [n.d.]

Box 1

Folder 8

Copy of 47th Street, made for FMD by Margaret T. Burroughs, 27 Feb 1981 (published 1948)

Box 1

Folder 9

Jazz Interlude mss. (fragment), [n.d.] [pub. 1985]

Box 1

Folder 10

Jazz Interlude corrected galley [n.d.] [pub. 1985]

Box 2

Folder 1

Correspondence--47th Street Publishers' Correspondence

Box 2

Folder 2

Correspondence--Christmas Cards (blank)

Box 2

Folder 3

Correspondence--Form Letters

Box 2

Folder 4

Correspondence--Governor's State University

Box 2

Folder 5

Correspondence--Greenleaf Classics

Box 2

Folder 6

Correspondence--Grove Press

Box 2

Folder 7

Correspondence--Howard University

Box 2

Folder 8

Correspondence--James Weldon Johnson

Box 2

Folder 9

Correspondence--Leonard C. Lewin

Box 2

Folder 10

Correspondence--Livin' the Blues Publishers' Correspondence

Box 2

Folder 11

Correspondence--Permissions

Box 2

Folder 12

Correspondence--Paul Romaine

Box 2

Folder 13

Correspondence--Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies

Box 2

Folder 14

Correspondence--Sex Rebel: Black / Penguins in Paradise Publishers' Correspondence

Box 2

Folder 15

Correspondence--John Edgar Tidwell

Box 2

Folder 16

Correspondence--Warren Paul Associates

Box 2

Folder 17

Correspondence--Williams

Box 2

Folder 18

Memoranda

Box 2

Folder 19

Broadsides and Pamphlets

Box 4

Elmo Russ and Langston Hughes, "Cross" (Sheet Music), 1940 (see oversize Box 4)

Box 2

Folder 20

Serials: 10 Story Book

Box 2

Folder 21

Serials: Abbott's Monthly

Box 2

Folder 22

Serials: Crisis

Box 2

Folder 23

Serials: Crisis

Box 2

Folder 24

Serials: Free World

Box 2

Folder 25

Serials: Heebie Jeebies

Box 2

Folder 26

Serials: Negro Digest

Box 2

Folder 27

Serials: New Anvil

Box 2

Folder 28

Serials: Opportunity

Box 2

Folder 29

Serials: Race A Quarterly Devoted to Social, Political and Economic Equality

Box 2

Folder 30

Serials: Voices A Quarterly of Poetry

Box 2

Folder 31

Serials: Writer

Box 4

Serials: Afro-Hawai'i News

Box 2

Folder 32

Ephemera

Box 2

Folder 33

Clippings

Box 4

"Poets" [pub. Unknown], [n.d.] (review of Poetry of the Negro, ed. Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes) (see oversize)

Box 4

"Hawaii's early divorce laws recalled," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 4 Jan 1966 (see oversize)

Box 2

Folder 34

Clippings--Cottonwood

Box 3

Scrapbook: clippings about jazz, 1936-1937

Box 3

Scrapbook: correspondence and ephemera, 1946

Box 4

Elmo Russ and Langston Hughes, "Cross" (Sheet Music), 1940

Box 4

"Poets" [pub. Unknown], [n.d.] (review of Poetry of the Negro, ed. Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes)

Box 4

"Hawaii's early divorce laws recalled," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 4 Jan 1966

Box 4

Afro-Hawai'i News, 1.1, Jun 1987

Box 4

Afro-Hawai'i News, 1.4, Sep 1987

Box 4

Scrapbook--Loose Pages: clippings of columns by Frank Marshall Davis

Box 4

Scrapbook: columns from Atlanta Daily World and Gary American (Gary, IN), 1932-1933

Box 4

Scrapbook: Clippings about Frank Marshall Davis and ephemera, 1935-1937

Box 4

Scrapbook: clippings about Frank Marshall Davis and ephemera, 1943-1946

Box 4

Scrapbook: clippings about Frank Marshall Davis and ephemera, 1947-1948

Box 5

Lawrence Daniel Hogan, "A Black National News Service: Claude Barnett, The Associated Negro Press, and Afro-American Newspapers, 1919-1945," 11 Jan. 1978