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Blacks, Reds, and Russians

Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise

Joy Gleason Carew

Publication Year: 2008

One of the most compelling, yet little known stories of race relations in the twentieth century is the account of blacks who chose to leave the United States to be involved in the Soviet Experiment in the 1920s and 1930s. In Blacks, Reds, and Russians, Joy Gleason Carew offers insight into the political strategies that often underlie relationships between different peoples and countries. Interviews with the descendents of figures such as Paul Robeson and Oliver Golden offer rare personal insights into the story of a group of emigrants who, confronted by the daunting challenges of making a life for themselves in a racist United States, found unprecedented opportunities in communist Russia.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title and Copyright Pages

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvii

As I have gone about the research for this book, I have been struck by the close parallels of my and my relatives’ experiences in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s with the experiences of the early black sojourners, who went in the 1920s and 1930s. ...

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pp. 1-8

How could a country that turned a brutal and despotic face to its own people offer a hopeful visage to blacks suffering from generations of oppression and Jim Crow? How could a country whose Stalinist leadership eliminated thousands of people from all walks of life, stifling human...

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1. A Journey Begins

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pp. 9-12

Eighteen years before writing this letter, Oliver Golden, Tuskegee student-turned-dropout, had been spirited out of town with the compliance of university officials because he had been in a fight with a local white.3 But now he was back with the proposal of a lifetime. He wanted George...

Part I: The Fellow Travelers

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2. Early Sojourners Claude McKay and Otto Huiswood: Shaping the "Negro Question"

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pp. 15-26

The Bolshevik Revolution was cataclysmic. Russia was completely remaking itself, and the ripples of this social change were exciting millions of other frustrated and neglected people. As news of the revolution spread, poet Claude McKay, like so many other blacks who had looked...

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3. Harry Haywood, KUTVA, and Training Black Cadres

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pp. 27-48

“Several weeks after I received my pass- port, I heard the FBI had been making inquiries about me. . . . [As] my departure time drew near, I hid out at the home of comrades on Chicago’s Westside [while my] political credentials, typed on silk, were sewn into the lining of my coat...

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4. W.E.B. Du Bois and the Soviet Experiment

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pp. 49-63

“In pregnant language reminiscent of a Protestant Reformation divine,” David Levering Lewis recounted, “Du Bois told of standing ‘in astonishment and wonder at the revelation of Russia’ that had come to him. He might be ‘partially deceived and half-informed,’ but if what he had...

Part II: The Technical and Agricultural Specialists

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5. Robert Robinson and the Technical Specialists

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pp. 67-89

“In 1930 I was twenty-three years old and I had been working at Ford for three years. . . . Then in April 1930, it happened. The Russians arrived. . . . They stopped near my machine [and] a young man approached and began speaking to me in very thickly accented English. . . . I did...

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6. George Washington Carver, Oliver Golden, and the Soviet Experiment

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pp. 90-98

“I wonder if you would consider the fol- lowing proposition: I have proposed to organize a group of Negro specialists who have had a theoretical and practical training in the production of cotton, to be sent to the Soviet Union,” wrote Oliver Golden to his former teacher, George Washington...

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7. The Agricultural Specialists Journey to the Soviet Union

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pp. 99-112

“The last time you heard from me I was simply a physiologist working in the cotton fields of Central Asia. Now I am a research chemist following in the footsteps of my illustrious teacher, Professor G. W. Carver. . . . As my example and guide in this pioneer experimental work, I have...

Part III: The Artists and Intellectuals

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8. Langston Hughes and the Black and White Film Group

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pp. 115-139

In June 1932, Langston Hughes joined a group of twenty-one people to make a film in the Soviet Union. “This unexpected chance to work in films in Russia seemed to open a new door to me.”2 Homer Smith was equally excited. “I yearned to stand taller than I had ever stood to...

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9. Paul Robeson’s Search for a Society Free of Racism

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pp. 140-154

Recalling his first visit to the Soviet Union, black cartoonist Ollie Harrington wrote, “I was invited by the satirical Krokodile [journal] to see the Soviet Union.” He was in Tashkent and mapping out a scene in his mind: ...

Part IV: The Expatriates and New Sojourners

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10. The Expatriates: The Purges, the War Years, and Beyond

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pp. 157-183

When Homer Smith downplayed his and other blacks’ brushes with the Soviet secret police by stating that it “did not affect” them, he was basically right. Only one of this small remaining group of black sojourners, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, was known to have been purged. ...

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11. William “Bill” Davis, the American National Exhibit,and U.S. Public Diplomacy

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pp. 184-199

In late July 1959, William “Bill” Davis was serving as one of seventy-five guides at the American National Exhibit in Moscow when another black man approached him. Davis was perplexed. He knew the three other black guides and the four black models in his group, but who was this...

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12. The Cold War, Solidarity Building, and the Recruitment of New Sojourners

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pp. 200-210

It was the fall of 1958. Robeson had returned to Moscow in August, and Du Bois followed shortly thereafter. In October, both would meet a grown Lily Golden in Tashkent at the Asian and African Writers conference. It was the first time in over ten years that Lily had seen the city of...

Appendix: Family Lines of Sojourners/Expatriates

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pp. 211-217


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pp. 219-256

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Bibliographical Essay

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pp. 257-263

An as yet little-explored body of literature provides background for the detailed and synthetic explorations of this work. Most of the black sojourners who went to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s did not publish their accounts, but information on them surfaces in the works...


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pp. 265-273

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About the Author

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Joy Gleason Carew is a sociolinguist and Russian specialist. Currently she is the resident linguist in the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. From 1993 to 2000, she was the director of the Center for the Study of Critical Languages at Lincoln University...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545776
E-ISBN-10: 0813545773
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813543062
Print-ISBN-10: 0813543061

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 301795488
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blacks, Reds, and Russians

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Soviet Union -- Race relations.
  • United States -- Relations -- Soviet Union.
  • Visitors, Foreign -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • Intercultural communication -- Soviet Union.
  • Soviet Union -- Relations -- United States.
  • African American scientists -- Soviet Union -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Soviet Union -- History.
  • African Americans -- Soviet Union -- Biography.
  • African American intellectuals -- Soviet Union -- Biography.
  • Soviet Union -- Intellectual life -- 1917-1970.
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