African American Passport History – Who was Walter Foster?

African American Passport History – Who was Walter Foster? You don´t find nowadays many early passports of African American people. Why? One reason is surely there were not many in early 20th Century (or before) who had a passport issued. This topic would be definitely an most interesting one to research further on why it was like this.

But thanks to Dave Miller and his Flickr account we learn more about African American passport applicants. Visit Dave´s site and learn more about the topic. You will find great passport pictures and vivid stories.

Walter Foster was an African American music hall and vaudeville entertainer who appears to have come to Europe around 1904 and stayed there. He is described as a singer, dancer and comedian, and was 4’ 11” in height. Although he testified (inconsistently) in affidavits attached to his applications for US passports that he had traveled back to the US several times, I haven’t found any evidence on passenger lists that he actually did so.

He married Matilda Polak, (born, The Hague, Holland, 6th April 1885) in Cardiff England on 22nd May, 1910. It is notable that Walter and Matilda were in Petrograd Russia in August 1917 and may have been there during the October Revolution in November of that year. By August 1918 they have emerged in Norway.

Walter & Mathilda Foster
Passport pictures from the passport application most likely from 1914 when Emergency passports were issued for US citizens


Walter Foster testifies that his father was William Foster, a farmer of “Garrisburg”or “Garysburg” Virginia. Walter names this town as the place of his birth on his later passport applications, but claims Northampton Co, NC in earlier documents. He was born March 4th, 1877 or 1878.

He variously claimed permanent residence in the US as Garrisburg, VA or 140 W 27th St, New York City. His movements throughout Europe can be broadly traced through his passport applications.

Walter Foster
Walter Foster: theatrical artist born in North Carolina. Foster was living in Istanbul, Turkey at the time of this photo (c. 1915). His passport application says he was “going to Romania to look for work.”

Jan 1914 – In Constantinople, Turkey applying for travel to “Russia, Bulgaria, Servia Romania”. (Sep 1914 US Consular Registration in Constantinople. Gives profession as “dancing comedian”. Local address is The Eden Palace Hotel, Rue Dervich, Pera)

Dec 1914 – In Constantinople – applying to go to Romania to find work.

Dec 1915 – In Bucharest – applying to stay in Romania to fulfill theatrical contracts.

Aug 1917 – In Petrograd, Russia – applying to stay in Russia on theatrical business.

Aug 1918 – in Christiania, Norway – applying for travel within Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Feb 1920 – in Brussels, Belgium – applying for travel in Belgium, France, Holland.

Sep 1922 – in The Hague, Holland – applying for travel in Holland, England, France, Belgium.

Walter Foster died in Valletta, Malta on January 11th, 1924 of heart disease in the company of his wife, Matilda. He was buried in the Ta Braxia Cemetery in Valletta.


Matilda Polak Foster, Dutch entertainer and wife of Walter Foster.

Matilda Polak was born 6 Apr 1874 in The Hague, Holland. She was a music hall/vaudeville entertainer. She married the American singer/dancer/comedian Walter Foster (b 4 Mar 1879, Northampton Co, NC) in Cardiff England on 22 May 1910. The couple traveled and worked together throughout Europe, Turkey and Russia until Walter’s death.

Matilda’s passport application records reflect those of her husband for the most part.

1915 Constantinople to Bucharest, Romania,

1917 Petrograd, Russia

1920 Brussels

In 1921 she sought a separate passport so that she could travel from Barcelona Spain to The Hague so that she could attend her mother’s golden wedding anniversary. Walter apparently stayed behind in Spain. The family’s address in The Hague is given as “Limburgetirumstraat”.


Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation

11th July 1917

Walter Foster

“ceased to reside in the US about September 1906” and has since resided principally in Petrograd Russia, England, France, Romania, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Egypt.

Arrived in Petrograd 1st Oct 1916. Reasons for residence “Have been in the theatrical business during my foreign residence and have made a better living abroad than I could at home. I made an attempt to get home shortly before the outbreak of the war – I was in Constantinople at the time – but the following conditions prevented it.”

“Have made no visits to the United States since establishing a residence abroad.”

“Have mother and father, William Foster, at Garysburg Virginia”


 Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation

23rd Aug 1922

Walter Foster ceased to reside in the US about March 1917. Residing temporarily at England, France, Italy, Belgium, Scandinavia, Russia, Holland.

“Before the war, I came to Europe about once a year, where I fulfilled theatrical contracts (singing and dancing). I left the United States for the same purpose in 1913, but returned to American and remained there until March 1917, since which time I have been to the countries above-mentioned, where I have had contracts to sing and dance at the various capitals. I expect to leave The Hague for Italy on Sept. 25-1922,as I have an engagement to perform at the “Salon Marguerita”, Rome.”

“I first came to Europe for theatrical performances in 1904 and returned to the U.S. in 1907; returned to Europe 1908-1909? & to the U.S. in about a year (1907-10?); then left the US in 1913 and returned in 1915 to America. Have been in Europe now since 1917.”

George Foster (brother) Garrisburg, Virginia

Philip Foster (father),

“My father is a farmer and during my stays in the United States I help him to farm his land.”