By: Trevor Loudon
After graduating from Knoxville College in Tennessee, Jarrett moved to Chicago in 1946 to work as a journalist. On his first day on the job at the radical Chicago Defender, he was sent to cover a race riot.
Frank Marshall Davis
Jarrett and Davis worked on the Defender around the same time. They certainly knew each other through the Communist Party and its fronts.
In June 1946, Vernon Jarrett was elected to the Illinois Council of the Communist Party’s youth wing, then known as American Youth for Democracy. This is according to Testimony of Walter S. Steele regarding Communist activities in the United States. Hearings before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress, first session, on H. R. 1884 and H. R. 2122, pages 75,76. It is the first hard evidence tying Vernon Jarrett directly to the Communist Party. Frank Marshall Davis, incidentally was an official sponsor of American Youth for Democracy, along with confirmed communists Howard Fast, Langston Hughes, John Howard Lawson and Dirk Struik.
In April 1948, Frank Marshall Davis and Vernon Jarrett were working together as members of the publicity committee of the communist controlled Citizens’ Committee to Aid Packing-House Workers.
CCAPHW letterhead, April 12 1948
Later that year, Frank Marshall Davis left Chicago for Hawaii to work on the Honolulu Record, then edited and run by Communist Party member Koji Ariyoshi.
A member of the “Dixie Mission” to Yenan, the HQ of the Chinese communist forces in the 1940s, Ariyoshi spent nearly two years in China as an officer of an all-Nisei psychological warfare unit. The unit’s job was to direct propaganda against the Japanese civilians and troops in China at the time.
Immediately after the war, Ariyoshi worked New York City with accused “Amerasia” spy John S. Service and Ed Rohrbough – who would become business manager of the Honolulu Record, in an effort to steer U.S. policy towards the Chinese Communists and against the Nationalists.
Ariyoshi also worked the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy, whose board included two people later arrested during the famous “Amerasia” spy case, “Amerasia editors Philip J. Jaffe and Kate L. Mitchell.
Frank Marshall Davis was an active member of the Communist Party in Hawaii even after it went formally underground in 1950, when he assumed chairmanship of a tiny cell known as Group #10. Later Davis joined in the infiltration of the Hawaii Democratic Party, serving in 1950 as Assistant Secretary and Delegate to the Territorial Democratic Convention in his Precinct Club – Third Precinct of the Fifth District.
Davis was also later observed by the FBI on several occasions photographing remote shorelines and beachfronts, possibly for intelligence purposes. The FBI continued to monitor Davis into the 1960s and he was placed on the “Security Index.” This meant Davis was marked for immediate arrest should war break out between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
While the Communist Party in Hawaii faded into the Democratic party and the International Longshore Workers Union, there is no evidence that Frank Marshall Davis ever stopped being a communist. As late as 1973, three years after Davis met and began mentoring the 10 year old Barack Obama, he was still listed as an endorser of one of the party’s oldest fronts, the Committee for Protection of Foreign Born.
CPFB letterhead, April 1973
Also in 1948, Vernon Jarrett left his job as a journalist at the Chicago Defender to start a black oriented radio show: “Negro Newsfront” with comrade Oscar Brown. He also went on to become the Chicago Tribune’s first black syndicated columnist and was a founder of the leftist National Association of Black Journalists.
Jarrett became the first black syndicated op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune in 1970. Then in 1983, he moved to the Chicago Sun-Times as an op-ed columnist, later becoming a member of the paper’s editorial board, from which he retired in 1995.
While Jarrett worked his way to respectability, he still used his pen to support ”progressive” causes and politicians, including Chicago’s first black mayor Harold Washington, communist aligned US Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama.
According to Vernon Jarrett’s Washington Post obituary of May 25th 2004:
Mr. Jarrett continually shone a light on African American history and pertinent issues in Chicago and throughout the country. He stoked the political embers in Chicago that led to the 1983 election of the city’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington.
Vernon Jarrett was aware of Barack Obama’s career from its early stages and became an influential supporter.
Commenting on the 1992 Moseley Braun Senate race, which Obama played a key role, Vernon Jarrett wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times of August 11th 1992:
Good news! Good news! Project Vote, a collectivity of 10 church-based community organizations dedicated to black voter registration, is off and running. Project Vote is increasing its rolls at a 7,000-per-week clip… If Project Vote is to reach its goal of registering 150,000 out of an estimated 400,000 unregistered blacks statewide, “it must average 10,000 rather than 7,000 every week,” says Barack Obama, the program’s executive director…
On Jarrett’s death, Dee Myles, the Chicago based chair of the Education Commission of the Communist Party USA, penned a tribute to Vernon Jarrett, for the Peoples Weekly World of June 5th, 2004, in which she invoked the names of Communist Party legend Paul Robeson – who reportedly advised Frank Marshall Davis to leave Chicago for Hawaii.
Readers like me can be extremely selective of the journalists we read habitually… We are selective about the journalists to whom we become insatiably addicted, and once hooked we develop a constructive love affair without the romance…
Such was my experience with Vernon Jarrett, an African American journalist in Chicago who died at the age of 86 on May 23. I became a Vernon Jarrett addict, and I am proud of it!
Jarrett’s claim to fame is that he was a partisan of the cause of African Americans in the broad democratic tradition of Paul Robeson…
On April 9th, 1998, at Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center, Vernon Jarrett hosted a Paul Robeson Citywide Centennial Celebration event, with his old comrade and Party sympathizer Margaret Burroughs and former Party members Studs Terkel and old friend Oscar Brown.
Dee Myles went on to say:
Jarrett was fanatical about African Americans registering and voting in mass for socially conscious candidates. He championed Harold Washington like a great warrior, and this March, from his hospital bed, wrote an article appealing to Black Chicago to turn out to vote for Barack Obama in the Illinois primaries. Obama astounded everyone with an incredible landslide victory as the progressive, Black candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. From his sickbed, Vernon Jarrett issued a clarion call, and the people responded.
There is no doubt that the Illinois Communist Party saw the connections between the movement that elected Harold Washington and that which put Barack Obama in the US Senate.
Illinois Communist Party organizer John Bachtell covered a “Special District Meeting on African American Equality and Building the Communist Party and Young Communist League,” Chicago, IL September 30, 2007.
The legacy of Harold Washington’s election and his administration is in the collective consciousness not only of the African American community, but the entire city. Many of his democratizing achievements endure 20 years later.
The historic election of Washington was the culmination of many years of struggle. It reflected a high degree of unity of the African American community and the alliance with a section of labor, the Latino community and progressive minded whites. This legacy of political independence also endures…
This was also reflected in the historic election of Barack Obama. Our Party actively supported Obama during the primary election. Once again Obama’s campaign reflected the electoral voting unity of the African American community, but also the alliances built with several key trade unions, and forces in the Latino and white communities.
Communist Frank Marshall Davis worked closely with comrade Vernon Jarrett in 1940’s Chicago. Davis moved to Hawaii where he eventually met and mentored a young Barack Obama. Meanwhile Vernon Jarrett helped elect communist/socialist backed Harold Washington to the Chicago mayoralty. Washington’s victory inspired Barack Obama to move to Chicago, where his career was promoted by both Vernon Jarrett and the Communist Party.
Vernon Jarrett’s daughter-in-law Valerie Jarrett, worked for Harold Washington. Later she employed Barack Obama’s fiancee, Michelle Robinson, befriended the family and became one of President Obama’s most trusted advisers.
In Chicago and nationally, the Communist Party threw its entire weight behind Obama’s Senate and Presidential campaigns.
Is this is all mere coincidence?
More importantly, given the connections of Frank Marshall Davis and the Communist Party USA to Soviet networks of the time, are there serious security implications here?