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    Frederick Has to Lie to American Diplomats in Constantinople

    The note in Orient News was a wonderful endorsement for Frederick’s new nightspot in Constantinople, and a “Winter Salon” did open in the Anglo-American Villa a month later with a program similar to what had proven successful during the summer.  But Frederick’s optimistic plan to travel to the capital of Romania to book new acts ran into a serious obstacle. 

    To leave Constantinople, he would need a passport, and to get one he had to apply to the American Consulate General.  This would be more complicated and risky than dealing with Jenkins, the American Consul in Odessa, had been.  Unlike him, the American diplomats in Constantinople were not facing a panicked evacuation and would not act without authorization from the State Department in Washington.

    Frederick took the plunge on October 24, 1919, and met with Charles E. Allen, the Consul in Charge.  Allen was a young southerner and a fairly low-ranked figure among the Americans at the Consulate General.  And as documents in the National Archives demonstrate, he resented the black man in front of him, who had arrived trailing stories of riches and fame in Moscow, and with a white wife and a clutch of mixed-race sons to boot.

     

    Charles Allen, the American diplomat with whom Frederick Thomas had to deal in 1919

     

    Without going into all the details that I discuss in my book, it is clear that Frederick tried to do whatever he could to protect himself and his family.  For the first time in many years, the long arm of American racism was reaching out to him across oceans and continents. 

    During his interview, Frederick told Allen a series of big and small tactical lies about his past, such as inventing a sister in Nashville who could supposedly vouch for him.   He was also very canny about his future intentions and said exactly what he thought Allen would want to hear.  This included that Frederick wanted the passport to go to Russia and France because he intended to “settle my property interests en route to the U. S. to put my children in school.”  Frederick also indicated that he planned to return to the United States within six months and to reside there permanently. 

    This was all a smokescreen and it is unlikely that Allen believed him.  Frederick had no financial interests in France (although he might have fantasized about moving there because Paris was becoming famous for its hospitality toward black Americans after the Great War).  And he could not possibly have wanted to return to Russia while the Bolsheviks were in power and a civil war was raging. 

    Frederick also undoubtedly understood that he and his family would not be able to lead normal lives in most of the United States, where Jim Crow was riding triumphant and where Frederick’s marriage to Elvira would be seen in many states not only as reprehensible, but illegal. 

    The situation of black people in the United States was well known in Constantinople, where English and French-language newspapers regularly ran lurid articles about American racial policies and lynchings. 

    (To be continued)

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