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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Black Visions of France: the Other Expat Writers You Should be Reading – Frenchly

From James Baldwin to Jake Lamar, there are so many incredible black writers who have made Paris their home.

Langston Hughes

Every white writer who’s been to France has an essay, a memoir, a novel, or a poetry collection about the country. It’s practically a rite of passage. But Paris didn’t cease to exist once Hemingway was done with it. There are countless black writers who expatriated to France and wrote about the country with just as much insight and skill. So if you want to understand or live the expat experience, it’s time you start reading about the other side of it. (Consider also purchasing from a local black-owned bookstore, like Sisters Uptown Bookstore in NYC, Mahogany Books in Washington D.C., or Black Pearl Books in Austin.)

James Baldwin

Where to start, but with James Baldwin? The Harlem-born writer moved to Paris in the middle of the twentieth century, at the age of 24, to escape the racism and prejudice he faced in America. In addition to works like Go Tell It On The Mountain and Notes on a Native Son, one of Baldwin’s must-reads is Giovanni’s Room, a quasi-autobiographical novel about a young black man who takes up with a handsome Italian in Paris, and one of the seminal works of black queer fiction.

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Americans In Paris

A weekly public radio program and podcast. Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme.Many Americans have dreamy and romantic ideas about Paris, notions which probably trace back to the 1920s vision of Paris created by the expatriate Americans there. But what’s it actually like in Paris if you’re an American, without rose-colored glasses?

Listen at THIS AMERICAN LIFE: Americans In Paris

A tour in the footsteps of famous African-Americans in Paris

 

PARIS (AP) – The great African-American writers James Baldwin and Richard Wright began their feud over Wright’s novel “Native Son,” at Cafe Les Deux Magots. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis held hands with his white girlfriend, French actress Juliette Greco, while strolling along the Seine after hanging out with Picasso. Entertainer Josephine Baker became a megastar at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Some travelers to Paris seek selfies with the Eiffel Tower, go to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre or stroll to the Arc de Triomphe. But you can create a different type of itinerary exploring African-American connections to the City of Light [ . . . ]

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