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Curious Bits From a Curious World

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The US, Race, and Soviet Propaganda

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There will be a major spoiler for an 80 year old movie.

Circus (Tsirk) is a musical comedy produced in the Soviet Union and released to audiences in 1936. It was colorized in 2011 and is currently available on the Amazon video service. To this day it remains a well regarded film, first with the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation as well as wider audiences. The story follows an American vaudeville performer, Marion Dixon, who uses a cannon during her routine touring Moscow with her German manager. It turns into an extended tour as the local director wants to produce a similar act for the Soviet Union and Marion falls in love with a Russian engineer.

Throughout the film there are references to a terrible secret that Marion holds. This secret is responsible for Marion’s international touring as she feels she cannot return to the United States because of it. In turn her manager is shown to use this secret as leverage in an attempt to keep her in line. There are a number of song and dance routines, some romantic tension and lightheartedness and then the big reveal. Marion’s manager not happy with losing control of his meal ticket decides to tell everyone in attendance at her performance her dirty little secret… she has a black baby. The Soviets in attendance respond at first with absolute bafflement, “So what?”, they say. They cannot understand why this German or anyone else should care what race this child is and begin to ridicule this buffoon before an extended lullaby segment where the breadth of Soviet Union ethnicities are displayed.

One of the Soviet Union’s favorite avenues for criticism of the United States was race. Whenever the US was attempting to bring international pressure against the USSR on the basis of human rights, among other things, the USSR would shoot back, “Who are they to criticize us? Do you see how they treat the blacks or the asians? These things don’t happen under communism, we are all brothers.” To them it was just further validation for the vilification of the corrupt capitalist system that allows for a few to keep down so many. While the Soviet Union was producing Circus this is what the US was up to via American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960:

1930

The Hays Code prohibits depictions of miscegenation in Hollywood films. (Brown and Stentiford, 533)

Nation of Islam founded in Detroit, Michigan. (Brown and Stentiford, 566)

Mississippi – Education [State Code]
Required schools to be racially segregated, and the creation of separate districts to provide school facilities for the greatest number of pupils of both races. In addition, authorized the establishment of separate schools for Native Americans. (Jim Crow History.org)

Mississippi – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited marriages between persons of the Caucasian race and those persons who had one eighth of more Asian blood. (Jim Crow History.org)

1931

Georgia – Public carriers [Statute]
Motor common carriers could confine themselves to carry either white or colored passengers. (Jim Crow History.org)

Scottsboro Boys trial. (Gilmore, 118)

1932

Third International Conference on Eugenics. (Brown and Stentiford, 530)

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment lasts from 1932 to 1972. (Brown and Stentiford, 307)

First use of “racist” as a noun in the English language. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president. His promise of a New Deal and a “Black Cabinet” in 1933 attracts many negro voters to the Democratic Party. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

Louisiana – Miscegenation [State Code]
Outlawed interracial marriages. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited Negroes and Indians to marry each other. (Jim Crow History.org)

Louisiana – Residential [State Code]
No person or corporation shall rent an apartment in an apartment house or other like structure to a person who is not of the same race as the other occupants. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Public accommodations [Statute]
All circuses and tent show must provide separate entrances for white and black customers. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Education [State Code]
Required racially segregated schools. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a misdemeanor. Also forbid marriages between persons of the Caucasian and Asian races. (Jim Crow History.org)

1933-1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration

1933

Georgia – Education [State Code]
The board of education was responsible to provide instruction of black and white children in separate schools. (Jim Crow History.org)

NAACP begins its legal campaign to desegregate education. (Gilmore, 2)

Negroes launch the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” economic campaign. (Brown and Stentiford, 246)

The act which establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps forbids discrimination on the basis of race. (Brown and Stentiford, 162)

1934

Louisiana repeals its poll tax. (Brown and Stentiford, 632)

Indian Reorganization Act overturns the Dawes Act. (Brown and Stentiford, 209)

Tydings-McDuffie Act promises independence to the Philippines, strips Filipinos of citizenship, and caps immigration at 50 per year. (Nugent, 273)

The Nation of Islam comes under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress. (Brown and Stentiford, 196)

1935-1950

A domestic ideal of racial tolerance, necessitated by the demands of fighting fascism, becomes the “American way.” (Gilmore, 3)

1935

Arkansas – Public accommodations [Statute]
All race tracks and gaming establishments were to be segregated. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Miscegenation [State Code]
Illegal for a white to marry anyone but a white. Penalty:Felony, one to two years imprisonment. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Health Care [State Code]
Separate mental hospitals to be established for blacks. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Public Carriers [Statute]
Required segregation on all public transportation. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Education [Statute]
Required school bus drivers to be of the same race as the children they transported. (Jim Crow History.org)

Texas – Health Care [Statute]
Established a state tuberculosis sanitarium for blacks. (Jim Crow History.org)

Texas – Public carriers [State Code]
Directed that separate coaches for whites and blacks on all common carriers. (Jim Crow History.org)

Delaware state law requires racial segregation in public education. (Brown and Stentiford, 105)

A repatriation act is passed that pays Filipinos their passage back home on condition they never return. (Nugent, 273)

Ethiopia, the last African nation under native rule, is attacked by Italy. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

The National Council of Negro Women is formed. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

W.E.B. Du Bois publishes Black Reconstruction, a book that reinterpreted Reconstruction to highlight the gains that came about for negroes. (Brown and Stentiford, 251)

Segregation of CCC camps. (Brown and Stentiford, 162)

Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress. (Brown and Stentiford, 196)

1936

Pearson v. Murray, Maryland Supreme Court orders the University of Maryland Law School to admit negro students. (Brown and Stentiford, 112)

Opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention delivered by a negro. (Roberts and Klibanoff, 26)

Samuel Dickstein’s (Jew) House of Un-American Activities Committee becomes a permanent feature of Congress. (Gilmore, 171)

First use of “racism” in the English language (from the French term, “racisme,” in 1935). (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

via American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960

I bring up an eighty year old movie because as I take a look at events in the world and at home I see the US losing it’s moral high ground. We could debate all day as to whether or not it ever truly had it, but there was a time when United States strove to do better. A time when we as Americans could say things aren’t perfect but we’re working on it and they’re getting better. These days there are so many unwilling to accept the realities of life in this country for so many others that there will come a moment sooner rather than later when all of those negative factors amassing around the globe will force a decision upon them. Do they want to lead the world in doing what’s right or would they rather follow along that long path to damnation.

Further Reading:

African Americans – Racial reform and cold war ideology

Did the Soviet union ever take advantage of the racial tensions in cold war america? particularly with blacks in the south?

Circus (1936 film)

Why was there so much racial inequality in the USA between 1929 and 1945?

African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on

American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960

Race Relations in the 1930s and ’40s

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