ALEXANDER PUSHKIN – Russia’s greatest Black poet
“Pushkin was the Russian spring. Pushkin was the Russian morning. Pushkin was the Russian Adam.” –A.V. Lunacharsky
From the most remote times there has existed in Russia people of African descent. By far the most famous of all the Blacks in Russian history, however, was Alexander Sergeievich Pushkin–patriarch of Russian literature. Born in Moscow on May 26, 1799, Pushkin was descended on his mother’s side from Major-General Ibrahim Petrovich Hannibal–an Ethiopian prince who became a favorite of Tsar Peter I (1682-1725). Hannibal impressed Czar Peter “so well that he became a confidant and favorite, was revered at the court, and began the aristocratic Pushkin lineage. In an unfinished work, The Negro of Peter the Great, Alexander Pushkin pays homage to his illustrious ancestor.”
Pushkin has been positively identified as the father of Russian literature, and composed in the Russian language at a time when most Russian intellectuals were writing in French. Of Pushkin, Feodor Dostoevsky wrote that, “No Russian writer was ever so intimately at one with the Russian people as Pushkin.” Maxim Gorky wrote that, “Pushkin is the greatest master in the world. Pushkin, in our country, is the beginning of all beginnings. He most beautifully expressed the spirit of our people.” According to N.A. Dobrolyubuv, “Pushkin is of immense importance not only in the history of Russian literature, but also in the history of Russian enlightenment. He was the first to teach the Russian public to read.” I. Turgeniev wrote that “Pushkin alone had to perform two tasks which took whole centuries and more to accomplish in other countries, namely to establish a language and to create a literature.” Czar Nicholas I, who hated and feared Pushkin, referred to him as “the most intelligent man in Russia.”
Pushkin died prematurely, defending his honor in a duel, in January 1837. At the time of his death, Pushkin was working on a novel on the life of his beloved ancestor, Ibrahim Hannibal–The Negro of Peter the Great. Among Pushkin’s most significant works translated into English are: Eugene Onegin, The Ode to Liberty, The Captain’s Daughter and Boris Godunof.
A bronze statue of Pushkin was erected in Moscow’s Red Square. Today, his name is loftily born by twenty museums. African-American scholar Allison Blakely has written that, “Pushkin was truly the Russian counterpoint to Shakespeare.”