Staff Person: Ralph Scott
Source: Homer Smith, Black Man in Red Russia, Chicago, Johnson Publishing Company, 1964, Hoover Collection DK 267 S587
Black Man in Red Russia relates the story of an American war correspondent Homer Smith, on the Soviet front during World War II. Smith, who moved to Moscow from Minneapolis in 1932 was disillusioned with life in America and hoped the Soviets had the answer to the American race divide in their “democracy of the Proletariat.” During the war period as a correspondent for “the Negro Press,” Smith observed the German push on Moscow; the bodies of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest; the ovens at Maidenak where the Senegales troops captured in the fall of the Maginot line were put to death; the slaughter at Sevastapol; and finally the fall of Berlin in 1945. Smith claims to have been the only Black war correspondent on the Eastern Front. The introduction to the book is written by Harrison Salisbury, Associate Editor of the New York Times, and Moscow correspondent for the Times during World War II. Smith had met Salisbury, as a fellow journalism student at the University of Minnesota in the early 1930s. Salisbury writes that Homer Smith’s major thesis is “that the Soviet Union is no utopia; that we can not [sic!] run away from our problems, we merely run into others which may differ from those we know but are no less serious.” In the end Salisbury feels that Smith was lucky to have escaped with his Russian wife to Ethiopia in 1947. Smith became disillusioned with life in Ethiopia and returned with his wife to his native Minnesota in 1962.
As a small aside an American newspaper reporter named Homer Smith was the lead character in the tongue –in-cheek 1942 spy spoof, Cairo, staring Robert Young, Jeanette Macdonald, and Ethel Waters! The M-G-M movie premiered in Richmond, Virginia on 16 September 1942, and poked good natured fun at the foibles of Nazi spies in an absurd attempt at de-humanizing America’s enemies. In an unfortunate choice of titles, the film was released following the 1942 Cairo conference between Churchill and Roosevelt, and moviegoers, who were expecting a documentary film were instead treated to a comedy!