Livin’ The Blues Contents

Livin’ The Blues Contents


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Before his death in 1987, Davis proceeded, undaunted by the challenges,

to bring his life story before the reading audience. For him, Livin’ The Blues

would serve not just as a memorial constructed to provide additional

tangible evidence that he had lived in this world.



Books by  Frank Marshall Davis


Livin’ The Blues:Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet  / Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press


Black Moods: Collected Poems


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Livin’ The Blues

Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet

By Frank Marshall Davis

Edited by John Edgar Tidwell



Illustrations                                                                                                                           vii

Acknowledgments                                                                                                                 ix

Introduction                                                                                                                         xiii

Note on the Text                                                                                                               xxix

1905–1923                                                                                                                            3

1923–1926                                                                                                                          63

1929–1930                                                                                                                        103

1931–1934                                                                                                                        172

1935–1948                                                                                                                        223

1949–1980                                                                                                                        311

Appendix                                                                                                                           341

Notes                                                                                                                                 349

Index                                                                                                                                  369

Titles in Wisconsin Studies in American Autobiography                                                        375

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Publishing one’s memoirs can be either an extremely arrogant gesture of an incredible risk that the self will be exposed for what it actually is. Before his death in 1987, Davis proceeded, undaunted by the challenges, to bring his life story before the reading audience. For him, Livin’ The Blues would serve not just as a memorial constructed to provide additional tangible evidence that he had lived in this world. It would also provide new insight and fresh perspectives on the meaning of being an African American poet and journalist in these United States. These twin purposes had a special appeal to a number of people Davis reached out for assistance. Davis’s importance as a writer and his numerous achievements in life generated a loyal following, who shared a common obligation—that his story must be told. Fulfilling Davis’s vision, in his absence, has therefore necessitated an inspired collaborative effort. I wish to thank publicly some of the persons whose cheerful assistance made the publishing of this life story possible.

I am extremely grateful for the discerning perception of William L. Andrews in recognizing the importance of  Livin’ The Blues, when he had barely seen a hint of its potential in a poorly xeroxed copy of the manuscript generously provided by his colleague Elizabeth Schultz. Although he is general editor for the series in which this autobiography appears, I am very pleased he never chose to remain aloof from the process. He has been intimately involved as a “hands on” editor, reading and offering candid assessments of the manuscript, the Introduction, and the Note on the Text. Where he was unable to answer questions, he made available to me Daniel Murtaugh and Amy Southerland, two very capable and conscientious research assistants, whose yeoman library work uncovered most of the annotations for the text.

I am indeed a better scholar for having worked with the superb editorial staff at the University of Wisconsin Press. Ms. Barbara Hanrahan, senior editor, was quite rigorous in her editorial demands, but her wonderful sense of humor made the task much easier. At the next stage, Raphael Kadushin continued the congenial working relationship and facilitated ushering the manuscript through the various stages of production. One of his most significant accomplishments were securing the services of Ms. Lydia Howarth as copy editor. She demonstrated an exceptional knowledge of her craft by superbly improving my prose and also by suggesting judicious emendations that Davis, had he lived, would most certainly have given his highest approval to.

To Ms. Beth Charlton, Frank Marshall Davis’ daughter, and to Mrs. Helen Canfield Davis, his former wife, I cannot express enough appreciation. Editing this manuscript required me to know more than words on a page; more crucially I needed to understand Frank Marshall Davis the man—a formidable task since I never met him personally. Their fond memories and anecdotes not only humanized Davis but offered perfect complements to the text of his life story. Equally important were their cheerful responses to my many urgent requests for more research materials, which resulted in a steady stream of manuscripts, photographs, interviews, newspaper clippings, and photocopies of Davis’s hard-to-locate newspaper work.

After I began the editing process, other people, who either knew Frank Marshall Davis personally or had done research on him, came forward with assistance at critical moments. I wish to thank Dr. Margaret Burroughs, now emeritus executive director of Chicago’s DuSable Museum, for providing me with this version of  Livin’ The Blues, which I used for an earlier Davis project; E. Ethelbert Miller, director of Howard University’s Afro-American Resource Center, for sending me copies of his taped interviews with Davis; Fred Whitehead, editor of People’s Culture, for sharing in the commitment to ensure Davis’s wish of seeing  Livin’ The Blues published; Michael Weaver, for providing copies of Davis’s poetry contribution to Blind Alleys; poet-publisher Peter J. Harris, for giving me his insights into Davis’s poetics; Gerald Early, of Washington University, for rendering indispensable assistance in the research on Davis’s journalism; and Jerry M. Ward and Anne M. Emmerth for carefully reading and suggesting improvements in the manuscript.

Of course, the whole project benefited from the generous collegial support offered by Miami University. The Department of English, under the chairmanship of C. Barry Chabot, assisted me at very crucial moments. Hugh Morgan, for instance, rendered important advice on early drafts of the introduction. The technical preparation of the manuscript fell largely to the very capable hands of Mrs. Jackie Kearns, our Department administrative assistant, and to her staff of student workers. William Wortman, reference librarian at Miami University’s King Library, was invaluable in locating difficult to find source materials. The College of Arts and Science and the Graduate School both provided timely funding for proofreading the final copy of the text. But when problems seemed to proliferate and solutions were not to be found, Drs. Augustus J. Jones, Jr., and Michael E. Dantley, wonderful friends, reminded me to seek spiritual guidance through prayer—advice that most assuredly produced ways when there seemed to be none.

Last, in my mother, Mrs. Verlean Tidwell, I found an example of hard work, persistence, and, above all, the belief that good things will happen if you have faith. My wife, Mandie Barnes Tidwell, offered what might be the ultimate sacrifice. When a simple editing job, turned into a major research undertaking and the computer threatened to consume all my time, she very generously encouraged me to complete the book. I am most appreciative, then, for her unfailing support and understanding.   —John Edgar Tidwell

Source: Livin’ The Blues:Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet (1992). By Frank Marshall Davis (1905-1987). Edited by John Edgar Tidwell. The University of Wisconsin Press, pp. ix-xi

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Writings of Frank Marshall Davis:A Voice of the Black Press

Edited by John Edgar Tidwell University Press of Mississippi  

Collection celebrates a great American journalist

Frank Marshall Davis (1905–1987) was a prominent figure in the black press during the middle of the twentieth century, who worked as a reporter and editor for the Atlanta World, the Associated Negro Press, the Chicago Star, and the Honolulu Record. Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press (University Press of Mississippi) is a selection of Davis’ nonfiction, edited by John Edgar Tidwell, that gives readers insight into one journalist’s ability to frame the news in a way that opened up debate among Americans—especially African Americans.

Tidwell points out that the black press normally told the “other side” of the story—viewpoints that were distorted or altogether ignored by mainstream media. But Davis’s writing moved beyond the norm and was motivated by other, more significant issues. It accomplished far more than countering the racism emanating from the white press. Tidwell explains in his introduction that Davis’s writing “sought to move a people to better understand why they needed to change the world they lived in.”

Davis’s commentary on race relations, music, literature, and American culture was precise, impassioned, and engaged. Throughout his career, he championed the struggles of African Americans for equal rights and laboring people seeking fair wages and other benefits.

His cultural criticism argued that blues and jazz were responses to social conditions and served weapons of racial integration. His book reviews further complemented his radical vision by commenting on how literature reshapes one’s understanding of the world. Even his travel writings on Hawaii called for cultural pluralism and tolerance for difference.

Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press reveals a writer in touch with the most salient issues defining his era and his desire to insert them into the public sphere.

John Edgar Tidwell is an associate professor of English at the University of Kansas. He edited Frank Marshall Davis’s Livin’ The Blues:Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet and his Black Moods: Collected Poems.

posted 13 May 2006

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P.B. Young, the son of a former slave, published the Norfolk Journal and Guide , a black weekly, for more than 50 years, until his death in 1962. From a circulation of a few hundred in 1909 to a circulation of 75,000 during the 1950s, the Guide became the largest press in the South. This book explores P.B. Young’s personal history and charts his positions on a variety of social issues.

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update 8 June 2012




Home  Alternative Media & the Black Press Wilson Jeremiah Moses Table  Langston Hughes Table

Related files:  Frank Marshall Davis Speaks  Livin’ the Blues Contents

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