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Livestream Lecture | Black Skin in the Red Land: African American Experiences in Stalin's Soviet Union

The 1920s and 1930s represented one of the most repressive periods for African Americans in the United States because the threat of racial violence was coupled with a lack of economic and educational opportunities. Yet, on the other side of the world, the Soviet Union was going through rapid industrialization and forced collectivization to create a modernized, socialist society. It is at this unique time in Soviet history that dozens of African Americans traveled to the land of the Soviets to pursue the opportunities they were denied at home in the United States. In her talk, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon will tell the stories of Black workers and artists who sought a better life without the specter of racial terror. She will also discuss why the African American presence in the Soviet Union at this juncture was a critical development in both Soviet and African American history.

This virtual lecture is presented live via Zoom. The online "waiting room" opens at 6 p.m., and the lecture will begin at 6:30  p.m. Participants can submit questions via the chat feature.
Registered users will be emailed a link to join this Zoom program. To get started, please download Zoom on your chosen device and explore the Frequently Asked Questions. This program will be recorded.

Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon (she/hers) is a historian of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Eurasia. She is currently a doctoral student in History at the University of Pennsylvania; one of her primary research projects examines how African Americans experienced the Soviet Union from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to WWI. She holds an M.A. in Regional Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia from Harvard University, and before she began her doctorate, St. Julian-Varnon was a community college history professor and secondary teacher. Her public writing analyzes the linkages of race, foreign policy, and culture in the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. 

Photo credit: Laurence Kesterson

  • Black and white photograph of Black artists en route to the Soviet Union

    Black artists en route to the Soviet Union

    Courtesy of Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon
  • Teapot made by Eva Zeisel featuring Eseev's famous statue of Lennon. Accompanied by caption "Black Skin in the Red Land"
    Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, photographed by Brian Searby