October 15, 2005

Pushkin was black

I learned a bit ago that two of my classes-- African-American Literature and Russian Literature-- are somewhat connected, in the form of the founder of modern Russian literature, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин).

From Wikipedia:

Pushkin's father descended from one of the Russian gentry's oldest families who traced their history to the 12th century, while his mother's grandfather was Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, a former Eritrean who was abducted when he was a child and ended up in Russia and became a great military leader, engineer and nobleman after his adoption by Peter the Great.

And from James Weldon Johnson's Preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922):

Is it not curious to know that the greatest poet of Russia is Alexander Pushkin, a man of African descent; that the greatest romancer of France is Alexandre Dumas, a man of African descent; and that one of the greatest musicians of England is Coleridge-Taylor, a man of African descent?

The fact is fairly well known that the father of Dumas was a Negro of the French West Indies, and that the father of Coleridge-Taylor was a native-born African; but the facts concerning Pushkin's African ancestry are not so familiar.

When Peter the Great was Czar of Russia, some potentate presented him with a full-blooded Negro of gigantic size. Peter, the most eccentric ruler of modern times, dressed this Negro up in soldier clothes, christened him Hannibal, and made him a special body-guard.

But Hannibal had more than size, he had brain and ability. He not only looked picturesque and imposing in soldier clothes, he showed that he had in him the making of a real soldier. Peter recognized this, and eventually made him a general. He afterwards ennobled him, and Hannibal, later, married one of the ladies of the Russian court. This same Hannibal was great-grandfather of Pushkin, the national poet of Russia, the man who bears the same relation to Russian literature that Shakespeare bears to English literature.

Interesting parallels.

Here is an extremely interesting and informative PBS Frontline page on Pushkin's genealogy.

Posted by smit2174 at October 15, 2005 1:45 PM