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News & Events

Vladimir Alexandrov of Yale University presents his new award-winning book "The Black Russian"
Seton Hall > News & Events 

Thursday, November 7, 2013, 6:30 pm, Fahy Hall 236, Seton Hall University campus  

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Dr. Vladimir Alexandrov, B.E. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University, will discuss his award-winning book "The Black Russian" (Grove/Atlantic, 2013), named one of the "Top 10 Biographies: 2013" by Booklist. This is a remarkable story of a black American entrepreneur who found fame and fortune in tsarist Russia only to lose everything in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Frederick Bruce Thomas was born in 1872 to former slaves and spent his youth on his family’s prosperous farm in Mississippi. However, a resentful, rich white planter's attempt to steal their land forced them to escape to Memphis. And when Frederick's father was brutally murdered by another black man, the family disintegrated. After leaving the South and working as a waiter and valet in Chicago and Brooklyn, Frederick went to London in 1894, then traveled throughout Europe, and decided to go to Russia in 1899, which was highly unusual for a black American at the time. Frederick found no color line in Russia and made Moscow his home. During the next nineteen years he renamed himself “Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas,” married twice, acquired a mistress, took Russian citizenship, and by dint of his talents, hard work, charm, and guile 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 Turkey in 1919. Starting with just a handful of dollars out of the millions he had lost, Frederick made a second fortune in Constantinople by opening a series of celebrated nightclubs that introduced jazz to Turkey. However, because of the long arm of American racism, the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic, and his own extravagance, he fell on hard times, was thrown into debtor's prison, and died in Constantinople in 1928.

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Although widely known during his lifetime, Frederick Thomas is now virtually forgotten. The few references to him that have been published during the past eighty years are all brief and often wrong. Vladimir Alexandrov researched Frederick Thomas’s life and times exhaustively in archives and libraries throughout the United States, as well as in Russia, France, England, and Turkey, and found a great deal of information about him.

Frederick Thomas is fascinating because of the extraordinary way he escaped the constraints of his humble origins and being black in the United States, because of how his life went from rags to riches to ruin not once but twice as a consequence of revolutionary transformations in two exotic societies, and because of the contrasting roles that race played in his life abroad--from being invisible in Russia, to returning to haunt him in Turkey, when he most needed help and the American government turned him down.

Pr. Alexandrov's presentation will be followed by Q&A and book signing.

This event is free and open to the public. Slavic refreshments will be served.


For more information please contact:
Maxim Matusevich
973) 761-9386


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