The History of Blacks in Russia

Early African American migrants in Russia Tynes-Mensah family Agronomist George Tynes, flanked by Soviet army cadets, was among several hundred African Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union to work in the 1930s. Some settled there and became citizens.
Early African American migrants in Russia
Tynes-Mensah family
Agronomist George Tynes, flanked by Soviet army cadets, was among several hundred African Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union to work in the 1930s. Some settled there and became citizens.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Emilia Tynes-Mensah did the same things other children did. She read the classics of literary master Alexander Pushkin, listened to the symphonies of Peter Tchaikovsky and heard the propaganda that life here was better than anywhere else.

But in her home, there was American jazz, Thanksgiving celebrations and stories of the struggles facing blacks in the United States. An improvised version of soul food sometimes replaced borscht.

That’s because her father, George Tynes, was an African American agronomist from Virginia who moved to Russia in the 1930s.

Tynes was among hundreds of blacks who traveled to the Soviet Union in the two decades after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Some were hard-core Communists. Others were curious adventurers.

“My father didn’t know anything about this country. He didn’t know what to expect,” said Tynes-Mensah, 73, her mind flying back through the decades as she sat in her Moscow apartment, where black-and-white photos of her parents and children shared space on an antique sideboard with color shots of her grandchildren.

“Everybody who would come to the Soviet Union from America, my father would tell them, ‘Please don’t forget to bring me some records,’ ” Tynes-Mensah said. “He loved Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson. But he also loved classical music and opera and ballet.”

Most of the African Americans who came to Russia were seeking a better life, desperate to flee the social inequality and Depression-era hardships that racked America at the time, said Allison Blakely, professor emeritus of history at Boston University who has written a book on the African American immigrants.

“They were looking for a society where they could escape color prejudice and racism,” Blakely said.

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Source: LA Times | 

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