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About Vladimir

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  • Birthday May 9

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    Russian literature and culture; Americans and African-Americans in Russia; Russians in America; Russian-American historical relations; Biography; History
  1. This discovery of an unknown novel by Claude McKay is terrific news and a fascinating story; I look forward to reading the novel when it is published. As I posted on my blog, McKay was very important for me in my work on THE BLACK RUSSIAN because he visited the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, or just a few years after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Like other black American writers, intellectuals, artists, and technical specialists who would go to the Soviet Union later, he wanted to examine the great "social experiment" that the new state was conducting, and especially to experience its colorblindness. He published two articles in The Crisis (December 1923 and January 1924) about his trip that illuminated how Russians viewed black people. First of all, McKay was struck by “the distinctive polyglot population of Moscow” (a reflection of the fact that Russia had been a multi-ethnic empire). He was also charmed to discover that “to the Russian, I was merely another type, but stranger, with which they were not yet familiar. They were curious with me, all and sundry, young and old, in a friendly, refreshing manner.” Because McKay spent most of his leisure time “in non-partisan and anti-bolshevist circles,” as he characterized them, he concluded that this attitude was inherent in the Russian pre-Revolutionary cultural mentality and not the “effect of Bolshevist pressure and propaganda.” One of McKay’s young acquaintances was actually perplexed that anyone would pay special attention to him: “But where is the difference? Some of the Indians are as dark as you.” This is what Frederick Thomas also encountered in pre-Revolutionary Russia when he arrived in 1899 and what allowed him to achieve spectacular success in Moscow.
  2. Thought you might be interested in my book THE BLACK RUSSIAN, which will be published by Atlantic Monthly Press/Grove-Atlantic in March 2013. It's about the remarkable Frederick Bruce Thomas, the son of former Mississippi slaves who became a millionaire theatrical entrepreneur in pre-Revolutionary Moscow and was the first to import jazz to Constantinople, where he died in 1928. There's some more information on my web page: www.valexandrov.com
  3. This is an important speech to remember, especially on Independence Day. I recently posted on a related topic on my blog (which is on www.valexandrov.com) and which is dedicated to things connected with, and circling around, my forthcoming book, THE BLACK RUSSIAN. This is the biography of the remarkable (and largely forgotten) Frederick Bruce Thomas, the son of former slaves in Mississippi who went on to become a millionaire in pre-Revolutionary Moscow and was the first to import jazz to Constantinople in 1919: The New York Times ran an article on its front page yesterday about the Daughters of the American Revolution, a patriotic organization that used to be notoriously racist, but that now accepts African-American women as members. The article mentions that some 5,000 blacks fought on the colonists’ side during the Revolution, out of 400,000 whites. Not all blacks did so willingly, although some did; and not all those who fought to win their freedom from slavery actually received it. Nevertheless, today’s descendants of these men are justifiably proud of their ancestors. But the article does not mention that far more black people chose the British side during the Revolution. Why would they have done so? Simon Schama in his Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution (2006) describes how tens of thousands of black people voted “with their feet for Britain and King George” during the Revolution because the last royal governor of Virginia had announced that any slave owned by a rebellious colonist who escaped and served the king would be freed. Tens of thousands did so, fleeing to Nova Scotia, and unleashing one of the great exoduses in American history. However, in the end, many were betrayed by the British and had to flee farther, to Sierra Leone on the coast of West Africa.
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