Skip to main content
Updated date:

True History and the Lies We Were Told: Afro-Russians are Real

John Bridges is a published author of history, and politics. His doctorate is in criminal justice.

Afro-Russians

Black Americans were welcomed with open arms in the newly formed Soviet Union.

Black Americans were welcomed with open arms in the newly formed Soviet Union.

Emancipation was a wonderful thing, at least in concept. Slavery ended, and former slaves were free to do as they wished. Freedom is only meaningful if there are opportunities that went along with it. There were few prospects for the freed slaves and even fewer options that would lead to prosperity.

The first option for freed slaves was to remain on the plantation and work as share croppers. Share cropping allowed the plantation owner to continue using unpaid labor in exchange for ceding a small portion of land to each laborer for growing their own crops. The situation mimicked the previous master and slave scenario. For some it provided security because it was familiar. The system was stacked against the share croppers because they would never make enough to be able to leave the plantation. The plantation owners and share croppers were inter-dependent.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes enjoying life in his new home, Turkmenistan.

Langston Hughes enjoying life in his new home, Turkmenistan.

The second option involved moving to the industrial north. Manufacturing companies needed manual labor and saw the newly freed slaves as a potential labor pool. Recruiters from manufacturers such as Ford sent recruiters to the south. They were not just recruiting but were also selling a dream. They spoke of a better life in the north and many freed slaves took the opportunity and moved north. In the factories workers made enough money to survive but rarely enough to advance. The relationship between the worker and the company was also inter-dependent.

Both options above were designed to keep the freed slaves in bondage by creating scenarios that could not easily be escaped.

The government created a third option for free slaves to be repatriated to Liberia. Liberia is a country in West Africa which was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants. Some chose to return to Africa, but for others whose families had lived generations in America, Africa was no longer home. For others still, returning to Africa was a desire, but their origins had nothing to do with Liberia. Africa is a very large continent with many varied cultures. Life in Liberia would not be representative of their true homeland.

Early Afro-American Immigrants Find a Good Life in Russia.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution resulted in an unexpected opportunity for freed slaves. The new Soviet Union professed to be a class free society. When the depression hit the United States, the USSR was recruiting foreign workers. Americans, including African American workers accepted the offer.

According to Ann Simmons of the Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2014, Officials actively recruited skilled foreign laborers and professionals. 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.

Their ranks included graduates of historically black colleges such as Tuskegee University in Alabama and Virginia's Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School, later called the Hampton Institute. They were engineers, educators, entertainers, journalists, lawyers. The actor-activist Paul Robeson and poet Langston Hughes were among those travelers captivated by communism.

The Soviets gave the African Americans red-carpet treatment, including fat paychecks, subsidized housing and free vacations.

African-Russians

African Russians have not had the warm welcome of the past

African Russians have not had the warm welcome of the past

There are currently estimated to be 40,000 Afro-Russians living in Russia. Initially all were treated well but that is not necessarily the case today. After the United States, Russia allows in the most immigrants into it’s nation. The influx of people from African regions such as the Congo has not been met with the welcoming of the freed American slaves and Afro-Americans. Those arriving rarely have the education a credentials of those who arrived before them. While not a true model of democracy, Russia has changed dramatically from its socialist past. The former classless society is now replete with people of wealth and people of poverty. When the Soviet Union collapsed, nearly half of its population fled to other countries. For some Russians, immigrants pose more of a threat to national identity than they did in the past. Black Russians have experienced much of the brunt of the hostility.

Simmons, Ann M. “In Russia, Early African American Migrants Found the Good Life.” Los Angeles Times, 19 Nov. 2014

Share Your Opinion

Comments

Dr John Bridges (author) from Portland, OR on July 21, 2018:

Ptosis,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate that your did research after reading the article as well. The numbers are a bit confusing and as such I tried to simplify things in the article.

1. Whenever I hear the word Black Russian I also often think of the movie Naked Gun, I think f Black Russian drinks. A powerful mixture of Kahlua and Vodka.

2. Yes there are few descendants of African Americans left in Russia and the former USSR countries. Many became disillusioned with the inefficiencies of the communist state and others fled as World War 2 loomed on the horizon.

3. Yes the USSR used African students to help promote their ideology during the cold war. and Yes the percentage of Afro-Russians is still quite low. The point was certainly not that they were abundant, simply that they exist....when we rarely even think about the possibility.

ptosis from Arizona on July 21, 2018:

Whenever I hear the words, "Black Russian", I recall the scene: The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear 1991 when Frank Drebin asks for a Black Russian. https://youtu.be/GUwhnO-nTLo

"...fewer than 50 descendants of these {civil war} African Americans are believed to still live in Russia. In all, their numbers in the former Soviet republics could be between 100 and 200" - latimes

"legacy of Soviet Cold War scheme offering Africans free study." - guardian

About 400,000 Africans studied in the former Soviet Union between the late 1950s and 1990. - wiki

"Afro-Russians, are about 40 000 within a population of 144 million."{today} - citizen.co.za

Related Articles