Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book: "The Black Russian" - The story of Frederick Bruce Thomas

The Black Russian is the incredible story of black American Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi.  A rich white planter’s attempt to steal their land forced them to flee to Memphis, where Frederick’s father was brutally murdered.

After leaving the South and working as a waiter and valet in Chicago and Brooklyn, Frederick sought greater freedom in London, then crisscrossed Europe, and—in a highly unusual choice for a black American at the time—went to Russia in 1899.  Because he found no color line there, Frederick made Moscow his home. He renamed himself Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas, married twice, acquired a mistress, and took Russian citizenship.

Through his hard work, charm, and guile he became one of the city’s richest and most famous owners of variety theaters and restaurants. The Bolshevik Revolution ruined him, and he barely escaped with his life and family to Constantinople in 1919.

Starting from scratch, he made a second fortune by opening celebrated nightclubs that introduced jazz to Turkey. However, the long arm of American racism, the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic, and Frederick’s own extravagance landed him in debtor’s prison. He died in Constantinople in 1928.

About the author
Several years ago, while preparing a course on Russian émigré culture between the wars, Yale professor Alexandrov ran across a reference to "the famous Russian Negro Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas," said to have owned an entertainment establishment in Moscow called Maxim's. A black man with a Russian first name and patronymic? How did he get to Russia? And how did he end up, as he did, in Constantinople? Therein lies Alexandrov's fascinating tale, which is beginning to spark interest. (source:

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  1. Truth is stranger than fiction! When I first read this I thought it was about a novel. It sounds very similar to the family history of Lily Golden and her daughter, famous Black Russian journalist, Yelena Khanga. Fascinating!
    This is rich (but unknown) Black History!

  2. Amazing story and this is just one person, think of all of the other black people in Europe around that time and before that have simply been written out of history.

  3. That's interesting. Similar to finding out about Chinese in places you don't think they go to such as Africa and South America. I got to try some Chinese food in Kenya

  4. Is this fiction? seems like it. also there was no history of racism e.g. instituationalized slavery. the impression painted of the guy is not wholesome due to the relationship mentions. This is not a very thorough description of the person. Maybe it reflects the author or maybe it reflects the character (reflection of a black male, with personal integrity in question). it comes across a chauvinistic. the answer to the question is steamliner to russia and train to constantiople. is it yet another male trying to own me. that's an old man writing this book. i would do a much better job writing. i should be allowed to get an agent


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