The history of Paris as a haven for African-Americans

By Tylisa C. Johnson

I was standing in front of my apartment bookshelf, eyes darting between the shelves, trying to decide which two novels to pack in my carry-on. My eyes landed on James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name. I had to smile.

I was heading to Paris on the eve of Valentine’s Day, in the early days of Black History Month. Alongside a handful of outfits, a conversational repertoire of French, and fading European history lessons, I’d packed a deep curiosity about my African-American ancestry in Paris.

It was Paris where, for decades, countless African-American intellectuals and creatives crossed the Atlantic, hopeful and drawn by the possibility of freedom, an escape from American “Blackness.” For many, it is still sought for its history and culture.
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