It`s easy to forget that two of the most famous European authors of the 19th Century were significantly black:
- - Alexandre Dumas the Father, the colossally popular author of "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" was the grandson of a Haitian slave woman. Here`s a picture. (His not quite as famous, but still well-remembered illegitimate son of the same name, the author of "Camille," the inspiration for Verdi`s "La Traviata," was therefore the great-grandson of a slave. Here`s a picture.)
- - Alexander Pushkin, the national poet of Russian, the first great writer in the Russian language, isn`t that well-known in the West because he was a poet whose genius is notoriously lost in translation, but to Russians, he`s The Man. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, are all very fine, but Russians venerate Pushkin with an unparalleled passion. Pushkin was the great-grandson of an Ethiopian (or perhaps Cameroonian or Chadian — it`s all kind of murky) slave renamed Abram Petrovich Gannibal, who became, apparently, a godson of Peter the Great, then a general in the Czarist army, a military engineer, and the governor of a Russian province. (It`s a wild story. Somebody ought to make a movie about this guy`s life!) Voltaire supposedly called Gannibal "the dark star of the Enlightenment," although it`s hard to nail down the facts about him. What we do know is that Pushkin identified closely with his African ancestor, and began a book about him called "The Blackamoor of Petersburg." Pushkin often played up his African ancestry, which just made him even more exotic and charismatic to Russians. Pushkin said, "The black African who had become a Russian noble lived out his life like a French philosophe."
By the way, a village on the Russian Black Sea coast was found in Czarist times to consist of 500 African-looking people, who became known as the "Batumi Negroes."
For a quick review of the charmingly comic opera-ish relations between Czarist Russia and Africa, including Russia`s aid to Christian Ethiopia in fighting off Italian invasion in 1896 and the Cossack attempt to conquer Ethiopia in 1898, see here.