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Frank Marshall Davis Papers

Finding Aid: Frank Marshall Davis Papers
Repository: The DuSable Museum of African American History

Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987), poet, journalist, and educator, lived in Chicago from 1924-1928 and again from 1934-1948. He served as Executive Editor of Claude Barnett's Associated Negro Press from 1935-1947. A prolific journalist and arts critic, Davis was also the author of three major volumes of poetry, Black Man's Verse (1935), I Am the American Negro (1937), and 47th Street (1948). 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.

The ephemera, scrapbooks, and serials in the DuSable Museum's Frank Marshall Davis Collection particularly showcase Davis's presence in Chicago's South Side community. This poster advertises Davis's 1944 book review lecture of Howard Fast's novel Freedom Road at the Carver Club for returning servicemen, opened the previous year. Other collection highlights include rare serials from the 1940s; other ephemera chronicling Davis's speaking engagements; and manuscripts of his autobiography Livin' the Blues and correspondence concerning its publication.

Selected Artifacts

An aficionado of jazz music, Davis taught a full ten-lecture course on the history of jazz at the South Side Abraham Lincoln School and was 'Jazz Disc Jockey' on Chicago's WJJD in the 1940s. A letter from James Weldon Johnson to Frances Norton Manning dated 1935 probably refers to Davis's first volume of poems, Black Man's Verse.  Manning, often described as a 'bohemian intellectual,' encouraged Davis's poetry writing and arranged an introduction to Norman Forge, editor of Chicago's Black Cat Press, which published Black Man's Verse. The correspondence in the collection documents Davis's difficulty in placing both his poetry volume 47th Street (1948) and his autobiography Livin' the Blues (published posthumously in 1992). This letter from Knopf editor Herbert Weinstock rejecting 47th Street follows a solicitation from Knopf for Davis's manuscript. A small set of now-rare serials reflects Davis's participation in an interracial coalition of artists and writers, many of whom were employed on the WPA's Illinois Writers' Project, co-headed by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy. The collection includes the first two issues of the leftist literary journal New Anvil, which was edited by Conroy. The Davis Collection includes extensive correspondence between Frank Marshall Davis and his literary agent Paul Romaine. In this letter Romaine refers to mutual friend Jack Conroy, a Chicago-based proletarian writer and editor of New Anvil who headed the Federal Writers' Project on which Davis was employed.  Romaine mentions enclosing what are probably Communist Party pamphlets, noting that he 'might as well pass them on to you. I am still unconverted after 30 years.' Davis frequently served as resident expert on behalf of African Americans at forums such as this one at the Swendenborgian Church Hall on February 19, 1946. The DuSable Museum published a volume of Davis's poems entitled Jazz Interlude in 1984. This page from a galley of Jazz Interlude shows manuscript emendations by both Davis and Margaret Burroughs.

Images and credits.