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Early era, 1920s-1930s

Literaturnyi ezhenedel’nik [Literary Weekly]. Petrograd: Izdanie krasnoi gazety, 24 February 1923.

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Claude McKay featured on the cover of Literaturnyi ezhenedel’nik [Literary Weekly], 24 February 1923

Claude McKay (1889-1948) was a participant in the Harlem Renaissance and Black radical movements. He attended the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in Petrograd and Moscow in November-December 1922, remaining in the USSR until May 1923. This journal, which features McKay’s portrait on the cover, includes an essay about McKay by Maksim Kozitsyn that describes the connection between class and racial struggles in McKay’s poetry.

Claude McKay (1890-1948). Sudom lincha: rasskazy o zhizni negrov v Severnoi Amerike [Trial by Lynching: Stories about Negro Life in North America]. Moscow: Ogonek, 1925.

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Sudom lincha: rasskazy o zhizni negrov v Severnoi Amerike [Trial by Lynching: Stories about Negro Life in North America] by Claude McKay, 1925, front cover

While in the Soviet Union, McKay published the non-fiction book Negry v Amerike (Negroes in America), which was followed in 1925 by the collection of three short stories Sudom lincha (Trial by Lynching). McKay’s English manuscripts for these books were lost, and translations of the texts from Russian to English were not published until the 1970s.  Like Magidoff’s anthology, Sudom lincha was published as part of the “Biblioteka Ogonek” series. Russian translations of McKay’s poems and novels were also published throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, although Soviet attitudes toward McKay soured with the publication of Home to Harlem and Banjo, which critics reviled as the work of a bourgeois Black nationalist.

Robert Magidoff (1905-1970). Antologiia negritianskoi poezii [Anthology of Negro Poetry]. Moscow: Zhurnal’no-gazetnoe obedinenie, 1936.

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Antologiia negritianskoi poezii [Anthology of Negro Poetry] by Kyiv-born Robert Magidoff (1905-1970), 1936, front cover

Born in Kyiv in 1905, Robert Magidoff immigrated to the United States in 1922, worked as a foreign correspondent in the Soviet Union from 1935-1949, and translated Black American poetry into Russian and Yiddish. This anthology contains translations from 17 poets, including Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes. It was published by Zhurnal’no-gazetnoe obedinenie (Magazine and Newspaper Association), one of the largest Soviet publishers in the 1930s, as part of the Biblioteka Ogonek series, aiming to spread literary and historical works. Jacob Burck, Polish-American artist who did the cover art, was a member of the Communist Party USA and visited the Soviet Union in 1936, but Soviet attempts to manipulate his work and glorify Stalin led him to leave the Communist movement.

Roland Hayes in the Soviet Press. Rabis 7 (14 Feb. 1928), cover.

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Roland Hayes featured on the front cover of the Soviet Press Rabis 7 (14 Feb. 1928)

Rabis was a weekly periodical about theater, cinematography, circus, stage performing, music, art, and photography, published by the Trade Union of Art Workers, and edited by art historian Boris Kotsin.

On the cover, we find featured a portrait of the well-known tenor Roland Hayes (1887-1977). He toured the Soviet Union in 1928. While African Americans found themselves in precarious circumstances in various countries, Hayes was given a hero’s welcome in the Soviet Union that declared itself officially friendly to all races and nationalities and in particular, to African Americans, due to their hardship in ‘bourgeois’ countries.

The issue, however, includes no article on Hayes. Rather, one can find theoretical articles and chronicles on Soviet arts and notes about the job market for actors. The inside of both covers includes advertisements of Ukrainian, Georgian, Belarusian films, and a tour of Ukrainian satirists.

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953). Negr (Chernoe getto): pʹesa v 3-kh deĭstvii͡akh, 7mi kartinakh [Negro (Black Ghetto): a play in 3 acts, 7 scenes]. Moscow: MODPIK, 1930.

A Russian translation of All God’s Chillun Got Wings, a play by Eugene O'Neill about an interracial marriage in New York. The play caused controversy in the United States when it premiered in 1924 as it tells the story of racism and interracial issues in the United States in the early twentieth century. Jim, the main character and a Black husband, faces discrimination from all the White characters in the play, notably his White wife who, resentful of her husband's skin colour, destroys his promising career as a lawyer.

In February 1929, the play was produced in Moscow at the Tairov Theatre, and, while it fit the anti-racist agenda of the time in the Soviet Union, the Russian production featured White actors in blackface. The original American production starred the actor Paul Robeson, who would later travel to the Soviet Union where he felt welcomed with open arms and free from the burden of racism.