Entrée to Black Paris: African Americans in the City of Light

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Entrée to Black Paris: African Americans in the City of Light
If you can identify any of the personalities above, you are already on a path toward understanding African-American history in Paris. But there is much more to discover. This exploration might first bring writers James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and the charismatic performer/activist Josephine Baker (and her pet cheetah) to mind. These celebrated African Americans, who came to Paris to find a freedom that did not exist in the U.S., were well-known for their talent, articulation of racial injustice, and dedication to the ideal of equality. Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly . . . I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both. — James Baldwin I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee. — Josephine Baker The city of Paris has dedicated a square in the 14th arrondissement to Josephine Baker, an American-born French entertainer, French Resistance agent, and civil rights activist. © Entrée to Black Paris Beyond Baldwin and Baker Dr. Monique Wells — the co-founder of Entrée to Black Paris — wants to show us that the history of African-Americans in Paris is more than the story of musicians and writers. It is about remembering the African-American troops that fought alongside the French in WWI, who were treated with respect by the French but were greeted with segregation, and even lynching, when they returned home to America. It is also about some of the lesser known talents in Paris, like painters Beauford Delaney and Loïs Mailou Jones or Christiane Taubira, the first Black woman to run for president in France. Entrée to Black Paris tours offer a wide-ranging history of African-American and French-African presence in Paris. © Discover Paris Monique’s tours — traditional walking tours and the more recent virtual tours that were pandemic-born — focus on the broader African-American and French-African experience in Paris. With these targeted walks, she brings physical traces and often-lost stories to light. She and her husband Tom Reeves take visitors to several of the Paris treasures that are part of Black culture in Paris — the sculpture in the Luxembourg Gardens dedicated to France’s formerly enslaved people; the statue of the first Black president of the Senate, Gaston Monnerville; the Carpeaux Fountain near the Observatory, where women from four continents stand together; the Closerie de Lilas in Montparnasse where James Baldwin wrote part of Giovanni’s Room; the Hotel Odessa on rue Odessa where painter Beauford Delaney stayed; south Pigalle where the jazz clubs after WWII reached their heights and welcomed musicians like Louis Armstrong and Count Basie; and the colorful multicultural Château Rouge area of the 18th arrondissement, sometimes called “Little Africa.” The Fontaine d’Observatoire, with sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux near the Luxembourg Gardens. © Steve Cadman/Flickr

Lead photo credit : Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin, and Josephine Baker © Carl Van Vechten/Public Domain/Creative Commons; Allan Warren, CC BY-SA 3.0; Rudolf Suroch/Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at www.meredithmullins.artspan.com or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • Nancy Russell
    2021-07-22 07:17:30
    Nancy Russell
    I adore this website. The piece about African Americans in Paris almost broke my heart, especially when I saw that Mr. Delaney was born in Knoxville, Tn and I am a Tennessean and have never heard of him. What a shame. Thank you.


    •  Meredith Mullins
      2021-07-23 07:58:27
      Meredith Mullins
      Bonjour Nancy, We can be thankful for advocates like Monique Wells for bringing such talent to the forefront. Delaney was an exceptional artist, with many sad chapters to his story. A life that deserved recognition and, hopefully, inspired change. With best wishes, Meredith