George Tynes (1908-1982)

George Tynes
Courtesy of Ivan Tchijevsky)

Soviet agricultural specialist and one of the first popularizers of turkey breeding in the USSR, George Tynes, was born in 1908 into a large African American family in Norfolk, Virginia. His father was a Methodist minister, and his mother was Native American. His cousin was the famous American opera singer Margaret Tynes. In his youth, Tynes attended lectures by W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, and in 1926, he entered Wilberforce University and became a halfback on the college football team.

Tynes graduated from Wilberforce in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression and could find work only as a dishwasher in a Harlem restaurant. There, he met a Black Communist agronomist, Oliver Golden, a Mississippi native who moved to the Soviet Union in 1924. In 1930, Golden returned to the US to persuade graduates of Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute as well as other specialists to accept work with Narkomzem, an organization of agricultural enterprises in the USSR.

Tynes was among the first 11 Black agricultural specialists that Golden brought to the Soviet Union in 1931. Arriving at the port of Leningrad in November, they boarded a train for the 2,200-mile journey to Yangiyul, Uzbekistan. After five years in Yangiyul, Tyles returned briefly to the United States before accepting Soviet citizenship, although he never joined the Communist party.

Tynes returned to Uzbekistan, where he began breeding white Peking ducks. There, he met his future Ukrainian wife, Maria Pavlenko, whose family had been resettled in Uzbekistan following collectivization in the Donetsk region. In 1938, 30-year-old Tynes married 19-year-old Maria even though each poorly understood the other’s language.

The couple traveled across the Soviet Union, setting up poultry farms. Their children, Slava, Emilia, and Ruben, were born in different cities in the USSR. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, George Tynes was the director of a poultry farm in southern Russia, continuing his work even when German troops occupied the area.

In the post-war period, the couple and their children settled in Ramenskoye near Moscow. Tynes worked as a livestock specialist at a local fish farm with a leading Soviet agronomist, Gita Lyasko. The Tynes home had frequent visitors who were served Russian, Ukrainian, and American cuisines perfectly combined on their table.

African Americans who moved to the nation to work were given a warm welcome from Soviet authorities, including high wages, subsidized housing, and free vacations. Because of his success in raising poultry, Tyne’s numerous studies on waterfowl were published. He frequently participated in major agricultural exhibitions and received state awards and prizes. The Peking ducks he raised were delivered to the Kremlin and to the famous Beijing restaurant in Moscow.

Tynes, however, remained connected to American culture, asking all visitors from the US to bring the latest jazz records. He loved listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Paul Robeson, as well as classical music, opera, and ballet. During the Ed Sullivan Show tour of the USSR in 1959, his cousin, Margaret Tynes (their fathers were brothers), was reunited with him when she visited his family at their home outside Moscow. In 1970, at the age of 62, Tynes was an actor in the Belarusian film Black Sun. In 1974, Tynes retired, and eight years later, in 1982, he passed away at his home at the age of 74.