“The Black Russian”…No, Really I said, Black Russian

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

El esposo and I had to dash into Brooklyn today to get our taxes done. Yes, we still drive 90 miles to New York City to get our taxes done because we love, love, love our accountant. We usually end up making a nice day of it and show the kids all of the places where their parents fell in love, grew up and spent their pre-children adulthood.

I can't wait to read this book!
I can’t wait to read this book!

Today was a great day. The weather was perfect, we found street parking and our accountant helped us with a pesky financial problem I was really worried about. But best of all, after taxes, we stopped at the book store and I saw this amazing book called, The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov. It’s this amazing biography of a Black man named Frederick Bruce Thomas who was born in 1872, left the United States as a young man and reinvented himself in Moscow to become one of the richest and most famous theater and restaurant owners in the city. Despite having a tragic ending, Thomas’s story is absolutely remarkable and I wonder if he’s well-known in Russia? I also wonder why his story isn’t well-known here in the United States? Well, I could take a guess why a Black man who successfully thumbed his nose at America’s crippling racism at the turn of the century wouldn’t exactly be blowing up the history books, but still.

Here’s what it says about this on the author’s website:

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.

I will definitely be reading The Black Russian and learning more about Thomas. It turns out Alexandrov is coming to Philly later this month, so I better read fast!

Tell me, dear readers, has anyone read this book yet? Doesn’t it sound like the most delicious meltingpot read? Let me know if you have any insights about the book or Thomas, or any other Black Russians.

I’m listening.


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5 Thoughts to ““The Black Russian”…No, Really I said, Black Russian”

  1. Mi

    I meant to write “… the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin…”

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Hola Mi,

      Thanks for the clarification. And thanks for the awesome info. I had no idea. There are some interesting stories of Black Americans in Russia I’ve heard over the years and they’ve always fascinated me. I’ll now have one more.

      1. Mi

        Hola LT,

        Oh! I didn’t know you were talking about Black American Russians. Mine is an example of African Russian. Sorry about the confusion!

        1. Ms. Meltingpot

          No problema 🙂

  2. Mi

    Hello LT,

    Yes, my favorite Russian of African ancestry is the father of Alexander Pushkin (the great Russian writer). Pushkin’s maternal lineage is thought to include Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696-1781), an Ethiopian/Eritrean nobility.

    During a war, the young Gannibal was captured and then sent to the Ottoman Sultan of Constantinople. He was then ransomed and brought to Russia where Peter the Great adopted him and raised him as one of his children. Gannibal later became major-general, military engineer, governor and nobleman of the Russian Empire. At one point, he and his Swedish wife fathered Osip Gannibal, who fathered Alexander Pushkin’s mother…

    Had Gannibal had the misfortune of being sent to the U.S. in the 1700’s, I doubt he would rise to governorship… Times have changed. Nowadays, an African is better off coming to America than going to Russia. With the election of Obama, I would not be too surprised to see an African-born governor. Then again, I may be too optimistic…

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