Awhile back while walking through the Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia, I was stopped in my tracks by an arresting portrait of a handsome black man. It turned out to be Lloyd Patterson a Bronx-born theater designer who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1932 with a group of African American artists and intellectuals including Langston Hughes. The purpose was to make Black and White, a film about racism in the United States.
The film was never made, but while in the USSR, Patterson fell in love Vera Aralova, a theater artist, and stayed on. Patterson and Aralova had three children including James Lloydovich Patterson who at the age of four appeared in director Grigori Aleksandrov’s 1936 film Circus, which somewhat paralleled his life as he played the dark skinned child of an interracial couple. The younger Patterson also achieved recognition for his poetry in later years.
During the Second World War, Patterson’s family was evacuated from Moscow while he remained behind working at a radio station. He died from wounds sustained during the bombardment of 1942.
Though his life was short and his accomplishments few, the portrait suggests Patterson was quite a man. He would have to be to take such a brave step. Leaving behind his home to strike out for a place (and such an alien place!) where he would be treated like the proud person the painting depicts.