Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain

Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922–1963

Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 19 b&w photos Published: October 2002

Author: Kate A. Baldwin

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Examining the significant influence of the Soviet Union on the work of four major African American authors—and on twentieth-century American debates about race—Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain remaps black modernism, revealing the importance of the Soviet experience in the formation of a black transnationalism.
Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, and Paul Robeson each lived or traveled extensively in the Soviet Union between the 1920s and the 1960s, and each reflected on Communism and Soviet life in works that have been largely unavailable, overlooked, or understudied. Kate A. Baldwin takes up these writings, as well as considerable material from Soviet sources—including articles in Pravda and Ogonek, political cartoons, Russian translations of unpublished manuscripts now lost, and mistranslations of major texts—to consider how these writers influenced and were influenced by both Soviet and American culture. Her work demonstrates how the construction of a new Soviet citizen attracted African Americans to the Soviet Union, where they could explore a national identity putatively free of class, gender, and racial biases. While Hughes and McKay later renounced their affiliations with the Soviet Union, Baldwin shows how, in different ways, both Hughes and McKay, as well as Du Bois and Robeson, used their encounters with the U. S. S. R. and Soviet models to rethink the exclusionary practices of citizenship and national belonging in the United States, and to move toward an internationalism that was a dynamic mix of antiracism, anticolonialism, social democracy, and international socialism.
Recovering what Baldwin terms the "Soviet archive of Black America," this book forces a rereading of some of the most important African American writers and of the transnational circuits of black modernism.


Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain is a serious achievement that expands our understanding of African American intellectual history and alters the way we construe twentieth-century thinking about culture, race, and politics.” — Olga P. Hasty , Comparative Literature Studies

“[B]aldwin’s project is highly ambitious in its multidisciplinary and historical sweep, engaging some complex, indeed thorny issues of continuing relevance and urgency. This is already a considerable achievement in a time when too many academic studies are denatured, almost dead on arrival or publication as it were.”—Christopher Winks, XCP — Christopher Winks , XCP

"[A] provocative account of cultures in contact, a work opening new avenues of investigation that promises to expand working assumptions about the geography of the black Atlantic." — Keith Griffler , American Historical Review

"[A] rewarding book that makes a major contribution to analyses of African-American political thinking between the 1920s and 1960s."
Sage Race Relations Abstracts

"[T]he book's historical depth, border-crossing scope, analytic reach, and exposure of little-known but globally important texts make this a front-shelf selection. In its closing pages, the book's epilogue is terrifically smart and dazzlingly readable: should that style carry into Baldwin's future work she will be a force indeed." — David Chioni Moore , Research in African Literatures

"Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain takes an impressive step toward establishing a new concept of the black transatlantic tradition-one that foregrounds the key role the Soviet Union played in the formation of black internationalism." — Ryan Schneider , Modern Fiction Studies

"By retrieving and rethinking 'routes of influence between Moscow, Tashkent, and Harlem,' Baldwin's volume will certainly have great significance for the future cross-cultural research of both the 'color line' and the East/West divide." — Vladimir Prozorov, American Studies International

"In this important book, Baldwin's tenacious research provides readers with the means to reconstruct the neglected and, at times, deliberately suppressed story of the interaction between prominent black American visitors and the Soviet experiment in constructing a cross-racial model of international socialism. . . . [I]nnovative." — Dale E. Peterson, Slavic and East European Journal

"Kate A. Baldwin's linguistic mastery and direct use of Russian archives-including those of the Soviet state-afford Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain intriguing comparisons between African American views of the Soviet Union and those of other literal and political 'fellow travelers' in search of Communism's revolutionary promise." — Judy Kutulas, Journal of American History

"Kate Baldwin's Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain adds an invaluable new dimension to scholarship on African American artists and the Left, complicating notions of black internationalism beyond Paul Gilroy's influential diasporic blood and culture model of the Black Atlantic. . . . One of the great strengths of this study is Baldwin's groundbreaking research, drawing on recently opened Soviet archives. . . . She has also raised the bar for the quality and depth of research and research skills for students of the international dimensions of American Communism with respect to U.S. culture and politics." — James Smethurst, Comparative Literature

"The fresh comparative analysis of this final chapter is a characteristic strength of Baldwin's book throughout-she may well be the first serious critic of African American literary radicalism whose own Russian skills and travels have allowed her access to recently unsealed Soviet archives. . . . Baldwin's original and penetrating book is vital reading for Russianists interested in the far-flung appeal of Soviet internationalism, and for African Americanists seeking to map black transnationalisms outside the boundaries of Paul Gilroy's reigning Black Atlantic paradigm." — William J. Maxwell , Slavic Review

"This provocative and highly original book breaks new ground in African American studies. The topic provides a treasure trove for the scholar seeking to glean important insights from African American and Russian test. . . . Part of [Baldwin's] accomplishment is to have established such a link and successfully explored it. . . . Baldwin revives the cultural logic of a lost world and provides a new way for contemporaries to think about democracy, race, and citizenship." — Brenda Gayle Plummer , Journal of African American History

“A blockbuster study of the Soviet Union’s significance for African American literary and cultural self-fashioning in the twentieth century, researched with an unusually daunting prodigiousness and conceived with a truly geopolitical theoretical intelligence. In attending to questions of travel, of political identities-in-formation, and of subjectivity’s ever-changing subject, Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain locates a dialectic of displacement in which an imaginary and actual elsewhere—in this case none other than post-revolutionary Russia—furnishes a space to rearticulate crucial aspects of social and cultural life at home.” — Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

“A significant book that introduces the Soviet Union to the ‘Black Atlantic’ model of modernism. By examining the works of writers such as Du Bois, McKay, Hughes, and Robeson, the author explains the impact of the Soviet Union on African Americans. This kind of analysis is new—and vital—to literary studies.” — Gerald Horne, author of Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, and Trade Unionists

“In Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain, Kate A. Baldwin has presented the hitherto ignored Soviet response to African American intellectuals and cultural workers. This is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to understand the intellectual and political range of African America in the twentieth century.”—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present — N/A


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kate A. Baldwin is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: The Demand for a New Kind of Person: Black Americans and the Soviet Union, 1922-1963

1. “Not at All God’s White People”: McKay and the Negro in Red

2. Between Harlem and Harlem: Hughes and the Ways of the Veil

3. Du Bois, Russia, and the “Refusal to Be ‘White’”

4. Black Shadows across the Iron Curtain: Robeson’s Stance between Cold War Cultures

Epilogue: The Only Television Hostess Who Doesn’t Turn Red



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2990-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2976-3
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