The black migration to Soviet-Era Russia


To search for a better life, around two hundred Black Americans migrated from the United States to the Soviet Union post World War I. The migration started in 1922 and ended in 1936. They fled racism and jim crow laws being enforced in the United States. In Russia, they started over, built homes and grew families there.

Black migration to Russia – A documentary

A film titled Black Russians: The Red Experience is documentary that’s in post production. The film tells the story of people that migrated to Russia during this era. The living descendants of the migrants share their experience. I look forward to the project’s completion. I really want to watch the film.

Film trailer available to watch on Youtube

Yelena Demikovsky started this project to raise awareness of this little known story. The picture is produce by Red Palette Pictures where she works. Yelena worked with activists such as Harry Belafonte, Jelani Cobb and Maxim Matusevich and historians to produce the film. 

George Tynes Migrated to Russia

He migrated from Virginia to Russia in the 1930s. Tynes is one of the people that moved 20 years after the Russian Revolution of 1917. George was a curious adventurer. “My father didn’t know anything about this country. He didn’t know what to expect,” said his daughter Emilia Tynes-Mensah in an article published in the LA Times [paywall].

Photos: Early African American migrants in Russia - Los Angeles Times
Photo via Tynes-Mensah/LA Times showing George Tynes taking a picture with Soviet army cadets

George made a life in Russia. His daughter also shared, “Everybody who would come to the Soviet Union from America, my father would tell them, ‘Please don’t forget to bring me some records.’ He loved Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson. But he also loved classical music and opera and ballet.” Tynes stayed connected to the United States, but Russia was his home.

The Russian Revolution

Wars are never good. Wars on a global scale are extremely impactful to the participants and future generations. After World War I, Russia experienced a political and social revolution. The imperial government was overthrown. Communism took hold in Russia due to this movement.

Harlem Renaissance ideas explored in Russia

During this time, writers including Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Dorothy West spent time in Russia. They advocated communist ideologies in the 1920s and 30s around the world. Russia become a major destination for many poets and artists.

Singer and actor Paul Robeson during his tour in Moscow in August 1958.
Paul Robeson in Moscow in August 1958 via Associated Press

In June 1932, the poet Langston Hughes arrived in Moscow as a part of group of 22 African-Americans who had been hired to act in a Soviet film about race relations and labor disputes in the American South.

When the Harlem Renaissance Went to Communist Moscow

Russia hosted events that allowed exploration of ideas that eventually fueled the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States.

A migration to Russia in 1982

Almost 50 years later, there was another notable migration. Jean Gregoire Sagbo is Russia’s first black elected official. He migrated to Russia from Benin in 1982. He came to Russia to study economics. He married a woman from Novozavidovo which is 100 km or 62 mi north of Moscow. He has two children. He’s also known as Russia’s Obama.

A Final Thoughts

Following a thread in history is very interesting to me. The Russia Revolution provided a platform for the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance provided a foundation for Civil Rights Movement. I love how it is all connected.

I would encourage you to check out a book titled The Black Russian.  The book tells the incredible story of Frederick Bruce Thomas. I made sure not to spoil it by not making any reference to him in this post. If you read it, let me know what you think.

The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov
The Black Russian via Amazon

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