1930’s African American Immigrants To Russia Lived The High Life
Filmmakers and professors are now discovering and reporting about the lesser known crop of African Americans who left the US for the USSR back in the early 1930’s, and lived lives much more welcoming and successful than what was afforded to them back home. Via LATimes:
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.
Today, fewer than 50 descendants of these African Americans are believed to still live in Russia. In all, their numbers in the former Soviet republics could be between 100 and 200, according to researchers.
They have become footnotes to African American and Russian history, said Yelena Demikovsky, a New York-based Russian film director and researcher who is making a movie, “Black Russians — The Red Experience,” about the immigrants to the Soviet Union and their descendants.
Officials actively recruited skilled foreign laborers and professionals, Blakely said. About 18,000 Americans answered the call to work in the 1930s, he said. Among them were several hundred African Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union, including dozens who lived there for “the good part of a decade,” Blakely said.
The Soviets gave the African Americans red-carpet treatment, including fat paychecks, subsidized housing and free vacations.
The experience of African Americans who traveled to or settled in Russia was overwhelmingly positive, descendants said. In turn, they made valuable contributions to Soviet society, said Blakely, the professor. Agricultural specialists helped devise different uses for materials, such as rope made from hemp. They also helped develop plant species that were cheaper to cultivate. Their contributions provided a boost to the Soviet economy.
The lesser-known parts of our history are always so enlightening, aren’t they?