The Life of a Black Agronomist in Soviet Russia

Readers and listeners of this blog’s podcast might recall an interview I did last summer with Joy Gleason Carew about African Americans who traveled, worked and even immigrated to the Soviet Union. It’s a fascinating story that is thankfully getting more popular and scholarly attention.  There’s Vladimir Alexandrov’s The Black Russian which chronicles the life of Frederick Bruce Thomas in the waning years of Tsarist Russia and the now defunct blog, Afro-Europe, which has several posts dedicated to the black experience in Russia. There’s also Red Africa, a recent exhibit in London organized by the Calvert Foundation which explores the relationship between communist states and Africans. The Calvert Journal has done a special report on the exhibit and the issues it covers.

In addition to several books, there have been a few documentaries like Kara Lynch’s Black Russians (2001) and Yelena Demikovsky’s upcoming Black Russians: The Red Experience. Here’s a trailer for both films:

There’s another new short documentary on the experience of African Americans in Russia. Kremlin to Kremlin: The Joseph J. Roane Story follows the life of  Joseph Roane, a Tuskegee Institute trained agronomist, who went to the Soviet Union, specifically Uzbekistan, as one of sixteen black agricultural specialists in the 1930s. As part of his work, he developed a strain of cotton that could be harvested in 25 percent less time. He, his wife Sadie, and son Josif Stalin Roane returned to the United States in 1935 out of fear of getting swept up by Stalin’s terror.

You can watch the film: