Yosif Stalin has lived for nearly eight decades, bearing the name of one of history’s most cruel leaders. Yosif Stalin, however, is not his entire name. Yosif Stalin Kim Roane is his full name, and he claims to be the first African-American child born in the Soviet Union.
Yosif, who is in his late 80s, is one of the few living relatives of the Black men and women who came to the Soviet Union in pursuit of a better or more hopeful life in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of these Black men and women fled to the Soviet Union in search of a better life during the Great Depression and Jim Crow’s racist policies in the American South.
Joseph J Roane, Yosif’s father, was one of them. According to a report by RFE/RL, Joseph Roane was part of a team of African-American agronomists sent to the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan in the 1930s to help boost cotton output. Joseph Roane is most known for assisting in the development of a combination of American and indigenous cotton that grows swiftly in Central Asia, allowing Uzbekistan to become one of the world’s major cotton producers.
Joseph Roane, Yosif’s father, had been raised in a prosperous Virginia home and had studied agronomy in college when he was recruited to the Soviet Union by Oliver Golden, an African-American cotton specialist from Mississippi. This cotton expert and his agronomists were not the only African Americans deported to the Soviet Union at the time. They were joined by another group of folks who wanted to make a video about how racist racism was. Some political trainees were attracted to a society that prided itself on being classless and racist.
According to Golden’s granddaughter, Yelena Khanga, a Russian journalist and television personality, Joseph Roane agreed to leave the United States because the Soviet foreign trade agency that hired the workers “was offering better pay for a month than a lot of people would make in a year in the Depression.”
He stated that he, too, was young and wanted to travel the world. Joseph Roane and his wife, Sadie, arrived in the Soviet Union in November 1931, accompanied by a team of agricultural experts. They then flew to Uzbekistan, where they would be paid more and live in better conditions than locals. There was also less racism there than in the United States, according to Joseph Roane.
Yosif was born to his wife Sadie in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, in December 1931. Joseph Roane’s contract to work in the Soviet Union was extended in 1934, and he began working at a tomato cannery in Soviet Georgia. He worked and lived in Soviet Georgia for three years before Soviet officials gave a group of African-American agronomists, including Joseph Roane, an ultimatum: surrender their American citizenship and stay in the nation or leave. This occurred at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, which claimed the lives of over a million people.
Joseph Roane, his wife, and their son Yosif visited the Virginia town of Kremlin, where Joseph Roane had lived before moving to the Soviet Union. The fact that Yosif was born in a Kremlin-run empire and then relocated to the United States with his family to grow up in a Kremlin-themed neighborhood in Virginia inspired the title of a documentary called Kremlin To Kremlin. The film follows Yosif’s father, Joseph Roane, through his life and travels.
Yosif was just five years old when he left Uzbekistan, but he recalls walking through forests and fields and meeting several prominent African Americans, like civil-rights activist Paul Robeson.
Yosif, who has been residing in his Kremlin mansion in Virginia, is not the first African-American child to be born in the Soviet Union. According to RFE/RL, Golden had a son named Ollava in the late 1920s, before Yosif was born. Ollava went on to become a ballet dancer and died in 2013.
However, according to Joy Gleason Carew, author of “Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners In Search Of The Soviet Promise,” Yosif was the first child born to African-American parents. Many Black children with Soviet moms and African-American fathers were born in the Soviet Union at the time. Yosif and his parents returned to the United States, even though many of their relatives remained in the Soviet Union.
Joseph Roane became a local teacher in Kremlin, Virginia, while Yosif learned to adjust. Yosif later went on to serve in the United States Navy before becoming a teacher and raising a family. In addition, he ran a barbershop.
“No one ever referred to me as Stalin.” “A lot of people don’t know anything about Stalin, even right today,” he told RFE/RL in 2016.