In December 1958, US Senator Hubert H. Humphery recalled that at some point during an eight hour meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier “tore off on a whole long lecture” that the Senator wished he could remember because it was “the best speech I could ever make in my life on antiracialism. Boy, he really gave me a talking to.” Thus beings Meredith Roman‘s fascinating book Opposing Jim Crow: African Americans and the Soviet Indictment of US Racism, 1928-1937 (Nebraska UP, 2012). At first read, the image of animated Khrushchev haranguing a US Senator with “the best speech” the latter ever heard on the topic of race seems out of place, odd, and to some extent even comical. After all, what could Khrushchev really have known about race in America to impress an American?
Khrushchev’s fluency in “speaking antiracism” was no mere preformative dig at the United States. In fact, many African American travelers and expatriates to the Soviet Union in the 1930s were astonished how much its citizens knew and were concerned about American race relations. In Opposing Jim Crow, Roman shows that antiracism was a genuine vernacular constructed through show trials, antiracist campaigns, media, and representations of racial oppression in the United States. It was through American racism that the USSR was crafted into a morally superior, raceless society. Nothing reinforced this idea more than the adoption of Soviet antiracist discourse by American Americans visitors, expatriates, and sympathizers themselves. But more importantly, it was via these multiple intersections that speaking antiracism became an important, and until now ignored, component in the effort to create new Soviet people in the 1930s.