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    WELCOME TO THE BLACK RUSSIAN BLOG--DEDICATED TO TOPICS CONNECTED WITH, AND CIRCLING AROUND, MY BIOGRAPHY OF FREDERICK BRUCE THOMAS, THE SON OF MISSISSIPPI SLAVES WHO BECAME A MILLIONAIRE IMPRESARIO IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY MOSCOW AND 'THE SULTAN OF JAZZ' IN CONSTANTINOPLE To subscribe to this blog's RSS feed, please click on the icon above

    Entries in American Consulate General (2)

    Frederick's Application is Sabotaged by the American Consulate General

    When Frederick tried to apply for a new passport at the American Consulate General in Constantinople, his long residence abroad immediately emerged as a major problem because it raised suspicions that he had expatriated himself (although Frederick must have blessed his foresight in concealing what he had actually done in 1915, as I describe in my book).  There was little that Frederick could say to Allen, the consul in charge, to mitigate this, but he tried.

     

    Entrance to American Consulate General in Constantinople c. 1919, when Frederick Thomas went there to try to get a new passport (Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress)

     

    Frederick explained that he had intended to return to the United States in 1905 when he accompanied a Russian nobleman as an interpreter on a trip to San Francisco, which, however, had to be aborted in Manila in the Philippines because of the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.  Whether or not Frederick took such a trip is uncertain, although he did mention it to other Americans later and provided some plausible-sounding details. In any event, such a trip would hardly have satisfied Allen’s misgivings about Frederick’s decades-long residence abroad and consequent automatic expatriation.

    For his part, Allen responded to Frederick’s duplicity with a carelessness that was negligent or worse.  This ranged from not bothering to correct the typo “Frederirick,” which was the first item that appeared on the passport application, to not filling out several important sections in accordance with instructions found on the forms themselves, including those about the applicant’s family, his identity as an American, and the Consul’s evaluation of the application.

    These omissions would have been sufficient to invalidate the application in the eyes of the State Department, had it been sent.  But Allen did not even bother to forward what he had to Washington and let the documents languish in the Consulate General for the next fourteen months.  The most likely conclusion is that Allen sabotaged the application simply by setting it aside, and that he did so because of his distaste for Frederick specifically or for black people in general.  This is in fact suggested by some slighting comments he made to the State Department the following year when he finally did submit paperwork on Frederick’s behalf.

    (To be continued)

     

    Frederick Discovers an Oasis in Constantinople

    Like the character of Pera, the post-war history of Constantinople seemed specially fashioned for Frederick Thomas’s needs.  The Allied occupation of the city began only days after the Armistice on November, 11, 1918, and Pera was placed under British control.  The French got Galata as well as Stambul, while the Italians were in Scutari, on the Asian side of the Bosporus. 

    Because the Americans had not been at war with Turkey, they did not administer any territory, but their activities and interests were also concentrated largely in Pera; in fact, the American Embassy was only a few dozen steps from the Pera Palace Hotel.  As a result, Frederick discovered that he did not need to know Turkish in order to deal with the city’s civilian or military administrations.

     

    American Consulate General, Constantinople, c. 1920, a place Frederick Thomas visited often for reasons that were almost entirely unhappy. 

    The handsome building still stands in the old, European part of the city; but decades ago it was disfigured by a tall security wall and is now boarded up.  The new American consulate is on the city's outskirts

     

    Another direct result of the occupation was that the international character of Pera and Galata became even more pronounced because of the thousands of British, French, Italian, and American officers, soldiers, sailors, diplomats, and businessmen who poured into the city and settled in properties that they rented or expropriated from local residents.  The nature of commerce in the district changed accordingly.   The new military arrivals were mostly single men who brought with them an appetite for wine, women, and song.  Such interests were (officially) inimical to conservative Turkish Muslim culture, but liberal, Europeanized Pera was very happy to satisfy them.  And it is doubtful that there was anyone in the district in the spring of 1919 with more or better experience in this line of work than Frederick. (To be continued)