Harlem & Moscow

Red Flags: The Real People of the Harlem Renaissance

Episode 1

In this episode of Harlem and Moscow: Red Flags, host Panama Jackson is talking to experts about the people of the Harlem Renaissance who went on this trip to Moscow back in 1932. We learn more about Dorothy West, Langston Hughes, Henry Lee Moon, Louise Thompson, and others who journeyed to the Soviet Union. We also talk about other Black artists in the “Harlem and Moscow” circle like Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Paul Robeson, and many others. Plus we dish on the gossip of the era and how surprisingly shady folks in that time were! Panama is joined by the playwright of “Harlem and Moscow” Alle Mims as well as historian, cultural critic, and author of  “Our Secret Society,” Tanisha C. Ford.

Music Courtesy Of:

Transitions Music Corporation

“Fantastic Voyage”
Lakeside BMG Gold Songs, H&R Lastrada Music, Tiemeyer McCain
Publishing Fred Alexander, Norman Paul Beavers, Marvin Craig, Frederick E. Lewis, Tiemeyer Le’Mart, Thomas Oliver Shelby, Stephen Preston Shockley, Otis Stokes, Mark Adam Wood

Full Transcript Below:

Panama Jackson: You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage to the land of Moscow?

Welcome, comrades, to Harlem and Moscow’s Red Flags, the official companion podcast to theGrio’s audio play, Harlem and Moscow. I’m your host, Panama Jackson, the host of the Dear Culture Podcast here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. And Harlem and Moscow is a six-part audio play about how the Harlem Renaissance ended up in the Soviet Union, which, listen, we’re going to get, obviously that’s going to be a big part of this, but I’m still baffled by these very Black people in this very white space.

The cast is amazing. Let me tell y’all, the cast is amazing for this. There’s Grammy award winning poet J. Ivy, Grammy award winning singer Tarrey Torae my friend, poet Kyla Lacey, Nancy Gilliam who sang on the original Wiz soundtrack. So you know, you got to get on down the road. You know, you know what I’m talking about.

When we say the Wiz, you know what we talking about. Talented Black actors are all up and through this fabulous audio play. In Harlem and Moscow Red Flags, we’re talking to experts about the people of the Harlem Renaissance who went on this legendary trip. I’ve got the perfect guest here to talk about this group of Harlem’s Black elite and how surprisingly shady they were.

Uh, listen, we’ll, we’ll get into that. I’m actually really excited about that part. Joining me is Allie Mims, the playwright of Harlem and Moscow. Uh, and congrats Allie. I’ve listened to the play. It’s fascinating. I enjoy it. Um, I care about everybody in it. I was invested. Uh, so kudos to you. I’m going to give you the, the, the kudos, the elite Black clap.

Alle Mims: Thank you so much. 

Panama Jackson: Also joining me is historian and cultural critic Tanisha Ford, who is the author of Our Secret Society, which is about Mollie Moon, who was on the trip to Moscow. And over the course of her life, Mollie threw some of the most epic galas and parties. Her fundraisers helped fund the civil rights movement.

Um, so make sure you check out this book. This book is fascinating. I learned so much. But in today’s conversation, we’re getting to know the real people and what inspired them to embark on this voyage to Moscow. Spoiler alert, watch episodes one and two now. But first Let’s go to Harlem and Moscow’s Teller of Tales, narrator, Jared Alexander, for a recap.

Jared Alexander: Hey, Panama. In the first two episodes, we are introduced to Dorothy West and her mother, Rachel. Rachel wants to hear all about her daughter Dorothy’s trip to Moscow to make a movie. But Rachel is most curious to hear about the famous poet Langston Hughes. He’s a big reason why Dorothy wanted to go on the trip.

She was fangirling all over Langston. You And everybody knew it. Even though Dorothy was crushing on Langston Hughes, we learn it was her friend and beau, Henry Lee Moon, who invited Dorothy on the trip as her escort. Henry Lee is a reporter who is covering the making of the film for the Amsterdam newspaper.

Dorothy’s mom wants to know why Dorothy left Harlem with Henry Lee, but came home alone. We also meet the others in the group. Mildred Jones, the art student who was Dorothy’s roommate during the trip, and the trip’s organizer, Louise Thompson, an activist and professor who does her best to keep the young, lively group in line.

The Harlemites arrive in Moscow, and the adventure of their lives begin. 

Panama Jackson: Thanks, Jared. You know what I reAlleze? And this is going to be sad for some, but I just got to do this. We’re going to, we’re going to open up this conversation with the most important question Tanisha I’d like to start with you as the historian here.

What is the Harlem Renaissance? 

Tanisha Ford: The Harlem Renaissance is a label we’ve given to a time period where there’s this Black cultural and political explosion across the country. So Harlem, the neighborhood in New York City, of course, wasn’t the only place that this was happening. But in places like Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Los Angeles, I mean, like there’s, there’s this era where Black artists, visual artists, writers, musicians, playwrights are refusing previous representations of Blackness as the savage, as the wanton, lascivious woman, as the primitive.

And they are reimagining Black life and Black freedom through the art. So, and this artistic movement is coupled with the new Negro movement, which we mostly associate with the intellectuAllesm of the day. So we no longer will call ourselves colored, we won’t see ourselves as colored, we won’t aspire to whiteness and proximity to whiteness.

We are. We are fully embodying ourselves as new Negroes, and we want our own political determination. We are striving to to provide for our own communities. This kind of self determination that is part and parcel to the new Negro movement. So I like to think of this era from the 1920s in the 19 thirties as the new Negro Renaissance to try to frame the ways in which I think the politics and the culture are working hand in hand.

Panama Jackson: So let’s talk about the people and why you could describe this friends group as the shade room meets the Harlem Renaissance. So this, the, the, the audio play is told through the lens of Dorothy West. Who I’m familiar with from her, her classic, The Living is Easy. Like, I, that’s my, that’s my entry into Dorothy West.

But who was Dorothy West at the time of this trip to Moscow in 1932? Like, Allie, who was Dorothy West? 

Alle Mims: Dorothy West was a really fun person to be introduced to this movement through because she was kind of, um, uh, set apart from others in a few different ways. For one, she was very solidly a part of the upper class.

Black society in, in Boston. So her family had a vacation home on Martha’s vineyard, um, that she never really had to want for much. She wasn’t working as much as other people. Her father was paying for her apartment in Harlem, her and her cousin, Helen, who we also meet in this first episode. Um, so there’s that.

And there also, she was. considered the youngest person of the Harlem Renaissance. She was kind of a wonderkin. She had an essay, a short story. Um, I want to say go viral, but it won some awards. It got her some attention very early on in her life. And so from there, she sort of entered this friends group.

She dated Henry Lee. She also briefly dated Countee Cullen, who is another member of the Black elite. He is the preacher’s son of the most popular church in the area, Black church in the area, and goes on to marry, however briefly, W. E. B. Du Bois daughter, only daughter. And so you can see the level of friendship.

People that we are talking about here. Um, the, these are the kind of people who would be like a godfather, a mentor figure to Dorothy West. Uh, so she’s coming in, uh, pretty upper class, which is interesting because this is such a communist project. And so she’s sort of, um. In opposition in a way of people with people like Louise Thompson and Tanisha.

I love how you get into this in this book about the the idea of like intellectuAllesm and studied politics versus like lived politics and lived experience and how you differentiate Mollie Moon from Louise Thompson. I think you could do the same with Dorothy West. Like she was educated, but. As the daughter of a business owner, a homeowner, all of these things, she didn’t really have to think about class in the same way that other people on the trip did.

And so for me and the way I frame it in the story, this trip was very much an awakening for her. I’m not saying that she never would have been for the people if she never went on the trip, but I do think it was a huge stepping stone in her life to see Um, how, uh, especially people within her own community, the Black community, the Harlem Renaissance, the new Negro movement, seeing how they were looking at class and how they were looking at race and how she had sort of been sheltered by that kind of thing because of the way that she was raised.

Panama Jackson: Yeah. And you know, you’ve already mentioned Louise Thompson. So let’s hop in. Who is Louise Thompson? Like, I definitely learned more about Louise Thompson through listening to this and then going back and do my own research. So Tanisha, who’s Louise Thompson? 

Tanisha Ford: That’s why I think it’s so cool to think of this as like a New Negro renaissance, because Louise Thompson, later Louise Thompson Patterson, um, is not an artist, but she’s working closely with people like Langston Hughes, who becomes one of her best friends, and Zora Neale Hurston.

She works for one of their, their patrons. Uh, so she’s, she works as a secretary. You know, transcribing a lot of their work, um, doing that kind of secretarial work, the behind the scenes work that matters. She grew up in, in CAllefornia, uh, member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority for people, some people that might really be a big thing to note.

She’s You know, a mentor, a mentee of WEB Du Bois, uh, she becomes an activist in college. Um, she then goes off to, to Hampton Institute, for example, and she’s a professor there among other places, and she’s really supportive of the students who are protesting against, um, this very patriarchal system within the HBCU system at that time.

Um, and she’s really disaffected with what she sees as this white leadership of these. Black institutions. She moves to New York city where she almost immediately becomes interested in labor issues and communist party politics. She’s one of the few people on the trip who actually has a legit tie to the CP USA, the communist party USA.

So she is definitely deeply rooted in a political base and foundation. She also cares about the arts. So I love that. She’s like a bridge figure between the, the. Mollie Moons and the Dorothy Wests of the world and the Langston Hughes’s and, you know, some of the other visual artists of the world too. 

Panama Jackson: When I think, when I think of the Harlem, I think Langston Hughes and I think Zora Neale Hurston.

That’s like the number, that’s like the one and two when you can one A, one B them for all the matters. But like, who is Langston Hughes at this time? Because when I’m listening to the, when I’m listening to the audio play, like, He’s that dude, right? Like, so Langston is like the one you get star struck over.

Like, you know, it’s like, you know, and then there’s the people that know him are like, Oh, just laying whatever. And then there’s the people like, Oh my God, you know? So it’s kind of like, like, what is, what is the Langston Hughes? Part of this, why is he so essential even to this trip? 

Tanisha Ford: Yeah. Like listen. And that’s why I think it’s so brilliant, Allie, that you base the play on Dorothy West because for some people they might have based it on Langston Hughes.

Mm-Hmm. . He does have a certain kind of star power. Um, he and Louise Thompson are very good. friends. She knows it’s critical to to recruit Langston to be a part of this project because he has the name recognition that she doesn’t. And of course, at first, she tries to get all these celebrities to join this film and for various reasons, maybe which we’ll talk about, they decide not to sign on.

So Langston is really essential. He’s the person who has the name. He has the financial backing behind his his artistry at the time. He’s the He’s seen as a less polarizing figure than Zora Neale Hurston. Some people find her very prickly. They don’t agree with her politics or her approach to literature and anthropology.

Right? So Langston Hughes is this guy who is seen as extremely talented, brilliant, a brilliant political thinker, handsome, well dressed, and also likable. So the Soviets are very excited that Langston Hughes is coming because he’s a name that they are very familiar with. And he’s also older than a lot of the people on the trip.

So there’s a way that he’s also this elder statesman. And even he has ties, his, his network has far reaches. So when Louise is unable to secure the kind of financial, um, resources that she’s looking for, but it’s LinkedIn who she goes to to try to help her with this recruiting effort because he knows everybody.

So he’s the fly guy for sure. 

Panama Jackson: I don’t know who you would compare him to nowadays, but. He’s just that dude. He’s him, as they say. 

Alle Mims: He’s him. He is him. Um, absolutely. He has that star power, um, from, and especially reading about, uh, him from the point of view of the women in his life. He’s also a huge flirt, but never tied down.

He’s a free agent. I think that has a lot to do with, like, his mystery and everything is that he’s also, like, A hot single guy who, you know, it, what, what’s his deal? Who’s he dating? You know, what is he into? No one can quite pin him down. And I think the thing that was interesting to me to learn about him is that he actually started his education at Columbia and it was being funded by his father who had moved to Mexico because he hated the U S he hated racism.

He said it was better in Mexico. So he tells Langston, you have to go to a good. Like, uh, meaning white school and get an education in engineering and then you’re going to move down to Mexico with me and be some sort of engineering, like, manager. You’ll make a lot of money. It’ll be much better. He goes to, he goes to, he picks Columbia because it’s a good white school, but also he knows a lot of people.

It’s right next to slash swallowing Harlem as we speak. Um, and his father pays for the first couple semesters. He flunks a bunch of classes and he writes his dad and basically says, Look, I want to be a writer. If you don’t want to send me another penny, that’s fine. And his dad never sends him any more money and so from then on he’s on his own, very young, in Harlem, paying like weekly rent because he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to make it again.

And so he really gets introduced to the scene as like, sort of desperate and I think that’s Where I think his personAllety comes from, he needs to be liked. He needs a sponsor. He doesn’t really have the family funding that some of these people have. He doesn’t at that point have the education. He does end up going back to school.

And so to me, that’s where that star power and, and the likeability really comes from is that he can’t afford for people to not like him. He can’t afford to be super polarizing in that way. He has to make it on his own. But of course, when we’re meeting him, he is Sort of in that making it stage and, um, as Tanisha says, he becomes sort of the, the name drop that Louise Thompson uses.

Do you want to come on this trip? Langston Hughes will be there. Do you want to come on this trip? Langston Hughes told me to invite you personally. And so he becomes a big draw to people who assume, well, if Langston Hughes is attached to this, it’s going to be, you know, successful. And of course, people like Zora Neale Hurston have opposite views of that and are thinking, you know, this is going to crash and burn.

Um, it’s, it’s never going to work. There are people trying to convince those on the trip not to go. Um, but I think that Langston Hughes, especially when it comes to like the younger actors, the younger writers, they’re thinking if Langston is attached to this, I’m going to be a star. He’s already a star. If I follow in his footsteps, that’s going to be me next.

Panama Jackson: I definitely want to talk about who didn’t go on this trip. But I guess there’s a big question that we have to ask here. Why did these people go on this trip to begin with? Like, why is this even a thing that is happening? Like they’re not, they’re not going to Paris. They’re going to Moscow. They’re not, they’re not going to Miami.

They’re going to Moscow. You know, Tanisha, why did they go in the first place? Like, what is, what, what is the draw here? 

Tanisha Ford: Moscow was that girl at this moment, right? It was a nascent. The U. S. S. R. Was a nascent nation state. Um, it was a place that was a hotbed of political activity, particularly this mobilization of proletariat and this imagining of a global proletariat uniting to overthrow capitAllesm.

And you have to remember, we’re in the throes of the Great Depression. Black people in the United States are living. Most of them are living below the poverty line. So people are looking for solutions to mass poverty. They’re looking for alternatives to capitAllesm, and it seems like the U. S. S. R. has a formula that is working.

Um, they’ve overthrown the Saris regime. And here we have these quote unquote Bolsheviks who are now, you know, in control of this, uh, Rising nation. So a lot of them also wanted to go because they might have had artistic yearnings or, you know, it could be a great new space for writing and cultural production in the ways that Paris wasn’t an earlier time period, but I think that many of them wanted to go Because they wanted to travel and most at this time, African Americans did not experience a great degree of spatial freedom in the United States, so traveling abroad sounded sexy and you needed a reason to be able to travel abroad.

And this became a viable reason to go and to live in a place like Moscow. It’s like, you know, how our travel influencers today you can see what’s the hot location back a couple years ago was to loom. If you went to Tulum, you know, like everybody was trying to get to Tulum, right? So this is. What’s we can see, we can think of like Paul Robeson and as a lot of the Robeson as like travel influencers who have encouraged a lot of the politically minded, uh, to go to Moscow 

Alle Mims: picking back off of what you just said.

I think it’s important to know that they were not the first Black group to go. So they already had sort of a blueprint of like, okay, like, we at least know that people from our community have gone and they, they had everything paid for. They were treated as like special statesmen. Um, and so they, they, they had an idea, like it.

Obviously was a risk in general, but they at least knew, okay, once we get there, they’re going to pay for our hotel. They’re going to pay for our food and they did and they were getting paid more for this trip to Moscow where they were Well, okay, I won’t spoil it But they were getting paid a lot more than they were getting even some of these people have been on broadway And they’re still getting paid more And then there’s also Russian film at the time is thought of as being the most innovative film.

Film is still really new, especially talking films. And so while we think, obviously, Hollywood, Hollywood, Hollywood, um, one, Hollywood wasn’t casting Black actors like that. I mean, are they casting Black actors like that now either, you know? So the fact that they were willing to bring 22, uh, Black artists, intellectuals to star in a film.

Um, on their own on, on Soviet dime, you know, that was huge. No one was offering to fly them out or train them out to LA for something like that. You know, they didn’t have those opportunities in the U S and Russian film is, is huge at this point. And you’re, you’re going to meet people like Sergey Eisenstein, who doesn’t make it into this, um, Iteration, but he’s there and he, he meets them on the trip.

And so that was a really big deal as well, that you could be starring in a film that would have an international release and would likely be some sort of art and artistic movement as well. And, uh, one last thing I’ll say about that is I think, uh, they wanted the opportunity to represent their race in this new way, um, talking about the new Negro movement.

A lot of it is in response to the popularity of minstrelsy and the fact Most white people, most Americans, the only image of Black people that they are seeing is through minstrel shows. Um, and that continues as we get into the movies as well. Um, and this is, you know, before, uh. Like Oscar Micheaux, this is like a few years before he really takes off and starts making Black films in that way in the U.

S. And so I think they’re also hoping that, uh, because this is what was sold to them, that the Soviets are willing to put a, a real depiction of Black American life on screen that has really not been seen before. And so I think that they’re hoping like this new media is going to really solidify, um, what Black American life is really like, not just in the U S but around the world.

Panama Jackson: So everything you said, short of the words, there’s a risk, but everything sounded awesome. Like I’m ready to go even in 1932 now. So, you know, you can put, but we can, I’ll, I’ll ask Dorothy West daddy for some money and see if he can get me sent along the way too. Um, but as important as who went, it really is like the who’s who that didn’t go.

Right. Cause we’re talking about County Cullen. Our good brother, Alain Locke, uh, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, like, you know, why, why didn’t some of those people go, Allie? 

Alle Mims: Um, again, lots of different reasons. Um, I think there was a lot of distrust when it came to communists and the communist party.

Um, it, There’s a sticky sort of, um, a feeling that, you know, we’re being used, you know, do they, do they really care about us? Or are we being used as like poster, you know, poster fodder? Like, it, the idea from the Soviet’s perspective is, oh, well, if we make this revolutionary film and there’s some sort of class revolution in America.

That will inspire a class revolution around the world, and it will inspire Black folks around the world, Africans, um, also just darker skinned people, people in the, um, global South. It could inspire so much more if we just get Black Americans on board. Um, but on the other hand, from some of these people’s perspective, it felt as though, yeah, we’re being used.

We’re not, we’re not really in control of this. It’s still being. Written mostly by Russians directed by a white German man, like what are we really saying with this project? What are we saying when we have to go to the other side of the world in order to benefit our community here? Um, I think Alain Locke is hilarious the shadiest of them all because he ends up buying a ticket on the same boat and sails all the way to Germany with them, just to try to convince some people to get back on the boat with him and leave.

Panama Jackson: That’s top, that’s top shelf shade though. You know, that’s, that’s high quAllety. 

Alle Mims: It was pretty incredible like to spend that money, you know, to just convince people not to go. Uh, Zora Neale Hurston has a Has a quote where she said, you know, only four people on the trip, quote, looked like a Negro because they, there was some shade about how, well, yeah, you’re all well to do, you’re all educated, you’re all light skinned or mixed race, you know, what do you know about working class struggles?

Um, and then there’s just people like County Cullen who’s like, I’m not a communist. Why would I put my name on the line like this? And he’s very much, um, sort of a foil to Langston Hughes in the way that he’s, he’s like, I’m not a Negro poet. I’m just a poet, you know? And so I think that really, um, solidified his choice as well that, um, you know, no, we need to be staying here doing our own thing, uh, not sort of doing a song and dance for, for white people on the other side of the world, essentially.

Panama Jackson: Yeah. I mean, Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I gotta ask, you know, you brought up a really interesting point, Tanisha, you know, because of the, because of your book, I think you can speak very, very, like, directly to this too, like, there’s a class element to this, like, there’s a certain type of people that are certain, I’m putting it in quotes, but you know, like, the certain type of people that are going on this type of thing, Dorothy West, you know, she’s having this conversation with her mother from their home in Martha’s Vineyard, right, like, you already talked about how she’s, you know, she, she’s, you know, She was the one that would have been in AUC where I went to college down here with the Chanel bags and all this stuff.

She’d have been doing just fine while the rest of us are like, what’s that channel bag over there? You know, like, what is that thing that I’ve never seen before? But you know, so there’s, there’s a certain element, like, I mean, I guess, I don’t know how else to say it, but like elitism about the people. So what’s the, what’s the class element of this?

So the people that were able to even be in a space to take this trip and go take a year off of their life to go in Moscow to chase a dream. Of being in a film. Um, you know, what’s the, what, what does that, what does that end of the conversation look like? 

Tanisha Ford: Yes. The, the glass class piece is definitely real.

One thing I also wanted to say too, about some, one of the reasons why people didn’t go on this trip is the issue with the ruble and the fact that this isn’t a currency that is globally recognized. So this currency works. In the USSR context, but you know, how am I going to transfer this money back to the United States?

So that’s another issue that keeps people from going, especially paid like professional actors from going on this trip. Now I don’t, I don’t wanna paint Dorothy West with too much of a bougie brush. Like I don’t wanna. Overly boujify her. I mean, sure. She came from, okay, let’s say this. Her father was born enslaved.

Okay. So it wasn’t like, this is like generations of wealth that they have. Her father also loses a lot of money during the great depression, like many people did. Right. So. So they have money in name at some point, but more than they actually have funds. And also her mother’s family comes from very humble means.

And so the living is easy. A lot of it is very autobiographical in the sense that she’s writing about her mother’s family and how a lot of these, these family members come up from the South. So I want to, I want to make sure that we understand that she does have a class consciousness. She does have a class critique.

So, uh, There are people on this trip, a lot of whom are college educated. Um, but it’s, it’s kind of like how, how a lot of us, we might have certain material conditions today because, you know, I have a PhD and I have a job. I earned a living wage, but I also have a class critique. Um, so I want to definitely say that, but the, it’s also important to note too, that the, the film’s director, felt similarly to Zora Neale Hurston.

Once these people came, he’s like, wait a minute, you don’t have any calluses. You people don’t know work. You haven’t done any work. Like you look more like models than you do, you know, real laborers. I think they wanted to try to get something that was. as close to authentic as possible. So I think they were really hoping that actual Southern laborers would be a part of this film, right?

So there are these different tensions about who should be in the film and how it should be represented, both in terms of the color hierarchy, but actually in terms of one’s class background and positionality. And it’s in that context that people like Mollie Moon, who’s not a part of the play, but is also on this this trip and his best friends with Dorothy West.

She comes from a very working class background. So although she has a Meharry education, she’s very working class. Her stepfather works in the steel mills of, of Gary, Indiana. So she, it knows this kind of proletariat labor exploitation up close and personal. And so in that way, she’s able to call on a past that even her good friend, Dorothy West cannot.

So there’s a lot of. Different class tensions happening here. And Alle, I think you do a great job at really trying to capture those dynamics in the play and not flatten out this community so that we can see a full spectrum and range of, of class politics, but also just the, you know, range of Black intellectuAllesm and radicalism, even though some people were not pro communist, they were still anti capitAllesm and anti coloniAllesm.

So, you know, This, that’s the beauty about this trip and as a source material for a creative work, we get to see so much of Black life through your play. 

Panama Jackson: What is the job of the journAllests who were on this trip in terms of reporting back to America and the Black community and the community at large about what’s happening?

Alle Mims: The way that I interpreted it was that Henry Lee Moon was more on the skeptical side. I would also love to hear what Tanisha has to say about this. Um, I, the way, and this doesn’t necessarily come through as much in the play, just because we’re so focused on Dorothy West and her personal relationships, and just the relationships between everyone.

But he was there to sort of keep everyone on the up and up, and that, um, At the same time that he and, uh, Theodore Poston were, were writing for the Amsterdam. Langston Hughes is also writing articles and essays and sending them back. So it was almost like a, a balance, you know, Langston Hughes is singing the praises of the Soviet union.

He’s going to the far East. He’s writing about how wonderful it is. And there’s no class and there’s no race and we’re being treated so nicely. And so Henry Lee Moon was there more to be like, I’m here for the facts. You know, he, he’s an investigative. He’s a journAllest. He, he’s just come back from the South reporting on the Scottsboro Boys.

He’s like the only Black reporter who’s allowed in the courtroom because he pretends to be a priest while he’s down there. As you’ll, you’ll see in later episodes, Henry Lee really comes forward with, with a very, with very strong opinions, um, about this trip and as what has happened on it and he, especially, and this is something we don’t really get into the play, but he’s interested in what’s happening in Ukraine.

You know, there’s still civil wars happening in the Soviet Union. There’s, um. Genocide happening, uh, the Gulag is open at this point, StAllen is rising in power, churches are being burned, and that’s stuff that Langston Hughes isn’t really writing about, you know, or, or he’s saying, well, we didn’t know, we didn’t, how could we know?

They were only showing us the good parts. Well, Henry Lee knew, so, um, I, I think, That, that’s how I interpreted his role in this is that even though he and some of his friends did get caught up in, in the party of it all, um, he’s definitely there as like, uh, a critical eye. Um, and he’s not necessarily associated with the communist party, although he did, he is very much interested in anti capitAllesm and unionization, especially later in life.

Um, and so it’s, it’s really interesting to, to see that point of view as someone who is, you know, distrustful of the Communist Party and, and, and white people in power in that way. Um, but still willing to go on this trip and, and sort of say, you know, I’m going to keep, uh, I’m going to keep the story straight.

I’m going to tell y’all what’s really happening here, um, and keep the, keep the community at home abreast of all the, all the events. 

Panama Jackson: So Tanisha, I kind of want to ask you about something that’s very prevalent in your book, and it’s the use of like society pages to kind of tell the stories of what’s going on and kind of frame narratives or break narratives and all that kind of stuff.

And what’s the, what is the significance of the society pages in all of this discussion about who these people are and why they matter enough to even be a part of this type of, this type of endeavor, this type of journey and voyage? 

Tanisha Ford: The society pages are a huge source that I use in our secret society because they’re chronicling everything who knew who, who was where, what they wore, what they ate.

I mean, it’s just a brilliant source. And at this time, the Black newspapers are a major source of Black life period. And at the, at the, at their peak, there are hundreds of Black newspapers in print across the country, not to mention there is a body that is our Black associated press, basically, like where we can run one story and it will be published across various Black newspapers.

And these are people who are quite image conscious. Some of them are just coming into prominence, so they’re not necessarily featured in the, in the, in the press as much, but Langston Hughes for sure is a household name, Ted Poston, Henry Lee Moon, because they actually have jobs as working journAllests.

They have access to the papers and they’re utilizing these things. And so part of the way I’m able to track down the history of this trip is through the society pages. For example, when they leave New York, the Bon Voyage. I mean, there are parties all across Black society for this group as they, you know, embarked on this trip to, to Moscow in the 1930s.

So, um, you got to see who was in support of the film, right? Like, who were people who were hosting parties? And there were people of wealth, both Black and white, um, prominent Black people. JournAllests like Jerry Major, um, definitely attended some of these parties and wrote about them. Um, and I think at that time she wasn’t even going by the name Jerry Major yet.

She was going by Geraldine Dismond. So you have to try to trace her through the society pages there. But of course she becomes a famed Ebony and Jet Society editor much later on. But in these earlier years, I mean, this is her beat. So is it like the shade room of today? I mean, sure. There are definitely some of these.

Magazines and newspapers that had more of that salacious edge, but maybe we can think about it more as like the Jasmine brand, like what’s happening with some of these people because of the, you know, a little bit more balanced 

Panama Jackson: reporting actually goes along with some of 

Alle Mims: the stuff, you know, less blind 

Tanisha Ford: items.

Exactly. Exactly. You know, so it’s like a mix of all those things. And I just love the material. I mean, it’s so much shade and tea for sure. 

Panama Jackson: That’s fascinating. I love it. I love hearing about these individuals for who’s, for whom I’ve, I’ve, I read their works, I’ve learned about who they are because of my own interest in study and all of that, but.

It was so amazing to be introduced to this entirely new experience that I just, I didn’t even know about this. And, and, and I, you know, I kind of pride myself on my Harlem Renaissance knowledge and I feel a bit ashamed that I had no idea about this. And, you know, Allie over here writing a whole play about this, and then you got a whole chapter in a book about this, and now I feel extra ashamed.


Alle Mims: incredible. Like it, it was literally front page news. And yeah, I didn’t know about it until I took a class taught by Dr. Jennifer Wilson. And she was like, Yeah, this whole trip happened, same, I’m like, I’ve never heard of this, I’ve heard of a lot of these people never heard of this trip, didn’t know that Americans, let alone Black Americans were allowed in the USSR at that time, let alone encouraged and invited and paid for it.

It was, it was really incredible to, to, to look back at those newspapers and say, wow, like, look at how important of an event this was, look at the parties that were thrown over this event. And then less than a hundred years later, it’s, it’s gone, you know? Yeah. 

Tanisha Ford: For sure. It’s definitely the tragedy, and that’s why I’m glad that as a historian, I can tell this history, but that you, as a playwright, Allie, can also bring this history to light for people in new ways.

Alle Mims: Thank you. Thank you. It was really exciting, and it’s really great to talk to you about it. 

Panama Jackson: That’s going to conclude this first edition of Harlem and Moscow Red Flags. We’re going to talk more about the real life hookups and heartbreaks of the trip. With Sam Riddell and the Black communist movement with Michael Harriot.

So check out those discussions and upcoming episodes of Harlem and Moscow red flags. I want to thank you Allie, uh, and Tanisha for this fun conversation about the people who made this trip pop. Uh, and you know who they were and why they were and all this other stuff that’s, it’s really fun. So thank you both, uh, for this fun conversation.

Um, and to people, make sure you check out Tanisha Ford’s book, our secret society. I’ve read it. Uh, it’s really, it’s actually really a fun read too. Let me go ahead and say that like, it doesn’t read just like a straight history book, like it, it reads. It’s like, I know this is it’s history, but it almost reads kind of like.

Fiction too, like, you know, like we’re getting the stuff behind the stuff and, you know, the, the little salacious stuff here and there. I was like, okay. Our secret society, Mollie Moon, and the glamour, money, and power behind the civil rights movement. And for everybody, make sure you listen to the audio play, Harlem in Moscow, wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Uh, give us a five star review. Tell everyone about this important historical production from the Real Black Podcast Network. And make sure you watch or listen to the official companion podcast, Harlem and Moscow Red Flags, where great guests like Tanisha Ford and Allie Mims break it all down. Uh, so thank you all for being here.

My name is Panama Jackson. Have a Black