Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light

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“J’ai deux amours: Two loves have I, my country and Paris.”
— Josephine Baker

“In Paris, I lived in all parts of the city — on the Right Bank and the Left, among the bourgeoisie and among les misérables, and knew all kinds of people, from pimps and prostitutes in Pigalle to Egyptian bankers in Neuilly. This may sound extremely unprincipled or even obscurely immoral: I found it healthy. I love to talk to people, all kinds of people, and almost everyone, as I hope we still know, loves a man who loves to listen.”
— James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

Paris’s reputation as a colorblind society attracted thousands of African Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests to the French capital, starting just after World War I and the beginning of the Jazz Age, and lasting through the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930’s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Prominent African Americans such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Sidney Bechet, Josephine Baker, Henry O. Tanner, Miles Davis lived, worked, and played in Paris, making significant contributions to the city’s legacy of achievement in art and literature and numerous other fields. It also, however, included students, entrepreneurs, athletes, housewives, soldiers, fashion models and journalists, who crossed the Atlantic in search of adventure, the pursuit of economic opportunities, and to seek refuge from racism that was so prevalent at nearly all levels of society back home.

Photo: Clockwise from upper left: Josephine Baker, the Eiffel Tower, James Baldwin, another Baker shot, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker. Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle/George Russell.

RECOMMENDED READING

Little Black Book of Paris, 2012 Edition

 

Kiratiana's Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found

Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris:
Get Lost and Get Found