A Golden Example: The History of Lily Golden, a Russian African-American Professor of History, Is an Inspiration to Those Fighting against Supremacists Worldwide

By Ali, Nassor Said | New African, February 2009 | Go to article overview

A Golden Example: The History of Lily Golden, a Russian African-American Professor of History, Is an Inspiration to Those Fighting against Supremacists Worldwide


Ali, Nassor Said, New African


We may have to look towards Russia as the only white homeland left, says the American Renaissance, a white supremacist organisation which eulogises their Russian comrades-in-hate for waging a violent campaign against racial minorities in Russia in the years between 2002 and 2007.

But the life and family history of Lily Golden, a 75-year-old Russian African-American professor, still active in the intellectual and racial rights world, have proven the supremacists in both America and Russia wrong.

A third-generation member of a Black-Native/American-Jewish-Russian family which settled in the Soviet Union in 1931, Golden's life is a challenge to historians who limit the history of black people in Russia to the confines of the Moscow International Youth Festival in 1957.

Thanks to the British writer, Hugh Barnes, we know that the history of black people in the Soviet republics goes a long way back. Barnes made the groundbreaking research on the black Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin's great-grandfather, Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, who had seven children but whose progeny's whereabouts are shrouded in mystery.

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Barnes revealed in his book, Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg, that Russia's pre-Pushkin black communities had made an immense contribution to nation-building. It is no surprise therefore that Lily Golden, a legend in her own right, has followed in their footsteps.

"By the time of Catherine the Great, negro slaves were a common sight in St Petersburg," Barnes wrote. "In the grand saloons of Millionnaya Street, they appeared in a variety of roles, such as pets, pages, footmen, mascots, mistresses, favorites and adopted children."

Golden, with her unusual combination of African, Native American, Jewish and Russian ancestry, has become a tower of strength for those fighting against racial bigotry. She says: "I belong to all races. I am African-American, a Polish Jew and a Red Indian who became Russian in everything but blood."

Her grandfather, Hilliard Golden, was an African slave freed in Mississippi in 1865 who married a Native American (or Red Indian) woman and had 10 children with her. Hilliard soon became one of the wealthiest black landowners in Mississippi, but had to flee the notorious Ku Klux Klan who twice burned his home and crops.

One of Hilliard's sons, Oliver John Golden, Lily's father, was an African-American communist and an agronomy expert who specialised in cotton growing. He married a New York-based Jewish woman of Polish origin, Bertha Bialek, also a communist, who stood condemned by her parents for marrying a black man. Oliver and Bertha moved to the then Soviet republic of Uzbekistan in 1931.

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Lily now looks back on her mixed ancestry with pride and dismisses racial supremacists as "myopic buffoons playing on a stage they know nothing about". Illustrating her point, she says: "My daughter, Yelena's identity is even more complicated, because she is me plus an African father from Zanzibar, himself a mixture of different kinds of blood."

Born in July 1934 in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, Lily had to adapt herself to the local conditions in order to cope with racial hostilities in the Soviet Union then played down by the Kremlin.

Later, as a brilliant young woman, she won the affection of the Soviet leadership and became the "brain behind" (according to Western propaganda) President Nikita Khrushchev's policy of exporting revolutions to Africa. "At least, this is how the capitalist world thought I was," Lily now says.

In those days, Western newspaper headlines such as "Lily Golden, the brain behind Khrushchev's revolution exports" were typical of what she now calls "hostile headlines in the late 1950s and early 1960s".

Lily had been influenced by her association with renowned African-American pan-African activists such as W. …

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