In the footsteps of African-American writers and artists in Paris | Way of life


Writer James Baldwin was 24 when he arrived in Paris in 1948 with just $ 40 in his pocket. Artist and civil rights activist Josephine Baker was just 19 when she left the United States and began to dazzle Parisian crowds in 1925, draped in a simple flamingo feather.

Despite their humble beginnings, these iconic figures escaped America’s pervasive and oppressive racism and flourished in the City of Lights to become pioneers of literary and artistic expression for decades to come.

With roots dating back to the Harlem Renaissance and far beyond, black American artists arriving in Paris during this time experienced a freedom to pursue and express themselves through literature, music, stage performance and art.

The ingenuity and creative brilliance of black Americans was still present, but in the United States, black artists and performers were hampered psychologically and physically. Regardless of their fame and success, African Americans were always limited to front doors and separate audiences and treated like second-class citizens.

It was in Paris, European cultural capital, that they were embraced for their talent and intellectual prowess and celebrated for their genius. While Paris was certainly not free from racism, the city was still a place of freedom from Jim Crow’s repressive laws that black Americans faced in the United States.

From cafes to smoky jazz clubs, these art giants took refuge in a city whose light promised not to tarnish theirs.

The result? A revolutionary cultural exchange that enriched French culture and allowed African Americans to leave a lasting imprint on the country.

Their paths can be traced in cafes and hangouts made famous by African-American scholars, artists and musicians, places that still thrive today.

Visitors can explore this history with a guided group tour or self-guided stops at places important to the African American experience in Paris, or a combination of the two.

Black Paris Tou by Ricki Stevensonrs delve into the influence and heritage of the African diaspora. Walking tours explore the neighborhoods and people that helped shape Paris, including sites that tell the story of the city’s African-American history.

The Brian Scott Bagley CompaIt offers visitors a historical and artistic point of view retracing the life of the incomparable Joséphine Baker across Paris as well as other tailor-made tours.

More interested in organizing a solo itinerary? Simply mark the spots that interest you the most, start your morning with a croissant, and embark on your own adventure.

Here are some fascinating places to embark on a journey into the dazzling heritage of black Americans in Paris.

Nestled in the lively and artistic sixth arrondissement of Paris, La Palette is a well-known café created as a haven for artists and writers.

The famous contemporary artist Beauford Delaney, originally from Tennessee, was so fascinated by Paris on his first visit in 1953 that he decided to settle there. He lived in Paris for the rest of his life.

It was at La Palette where you could walk in and see regulars like Delaney or James Baldwin having lunch surrounded by dozens of original works of art hanging from the deep mahogany walls.

Today, the cafe, with its sunny, flower-filled terrace, easily draws visitors away from the many eclectic galleries that line the street.

The Palette, 43 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France

Located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Près, this iconic café dating from the 1880s is where James Baldwin worked on his first novel, “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. The cafe has a rich history of being a home of artists and authors, tourists and locals.

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were regulars.

Stop by today and you’ll find waiters, immaculately dressed in their white shirts and aprons, whipping up espressos or appetizers or French onion soup, before leaving customers in peace to converse and watch. people as they please.

Flo’s Cafere, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France

Another pole of attraction for the creative plateau, Les Deux Magots is located just opposite the Café de Flore. This classic Parisian café was the backdrop for the heated debate between two legendary African-American writers, James Baldwin and Richard Wright.

Renowned authors have both detailed and written about the plight of being black in America, but notably never agree with the other’s point of view. Today, coffee is a hotspot for tourists, and a common debate is whether to order red or white wine.

The Two Magosts, 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 75006 Paris, France

For decades, this traditional Parisian café in the chic Sixth Arrondissement was a literary hangout with brilliant black minds, including novelist and journalist William Gardner Smith and writer Ralph Ellison.

It was at Tournon that legendary novelist Richard Wright, who protested against the treatment of black Americans in works such as “Native Son” and the autobiography “Black Boy”, could always be assured of a debate alongside his coffee.

Today, the cafe is a popular spot for neighborhood residents. It’s also a short walk from the French Senate, so you might even spot an occasional government official. Inside, photos of the many famous African-American artists who regularly visit the cafe for classic bistro food and a lively speech are proudly displayed.

The Tournon, 18 Rue de Tournon, 75006 Paris, France

Champs Élysées Theater

“I have two loves,” said Josephine Baker, “My country and Paris.” When jazz crossed the Atlantic, it brought its distinctive improvisation and addicting sounds – just like one of the world’s most iconic artists.

It was at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in 1925 that a young Joséphine Baker, 19, opened “La Revue Nègre”, the captivating cabaret show that would seduce the Parisian public for decades. The show caused an overnight sensation and Baker became the biggest black female star in the world, known for her “wild dance,” performed in her now iconic banana skirt.

Baker’s bold looks have been recreated by the biggest names in entertainment, including Beyoncé and Rihanna, and have inspired fashion collections from Prada to Marc Jacobs.

Today, the theater, inaugurated in 1913, is dedicated to classical music and dance with concert recitals, symphony orchestras, chamber music, classical ballets and choreographic creations.

A few steps from the Théâtre des Champs is Manko, a sumptuous restaurant, cocktail bar and Peruvian club.

Decades ago this building housed a sultry jazz club and that nightlife spirit is still alive today. Channel the cabaret girls of the past and nightclub powerhouses like Ada “Bricktop” Smith and Josephine Baker, whether you go for the ceviche or the hip club vibe.

African-American artists, after performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, hung out at the club after work hours to party and have fun until the sun shines on their steps at home.

Manko, 15 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France

The Brasserie La Coupole, a true jewel of Art Deco, located in the 14th arrondissement, opened its doors in 1927. La Coupole is a piece of the history of Montparnasse where the who’s who of Paris dined and came to see each other.

Known as Josephine Baker’s favorite restaurant, this is where Baker, the black pearl of Paris, appeared with her pet cheetah, Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond necklace and would perform on stage with Baker, moving from stage to a waiting Rolls-Royce after her performance.

Today, you can enjoy your pancakes without the presence of a cheetah, but the elegance of yesteryear is still very much alive in this famous Parisian brasserie.

The CoupoIe, 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse 75014, Paris, France

The Carrousel has lived more lives than a black cat.

Located in the popular district of Pigalle, this building debuted in 1926 as the Chez Joséphine club, a gift from Giuseppe Pepito Abatino to Joséphine Baker.

In the entrance hangs a plaque. Celebrating the rich and enduring legacy of the world famous artist, it reads: “Here, Josephine Baker, music hall artist and civil rights activist, held a cabaret from 1926 to 1928 to promote the fusion jazz and African American culture. “

Despite its many transformations over the years, the cabaret spirit endures in this contemporary restaurant. It is now an intimate place to have a drink or delicious truffle croquets with friends before partying the night away in the red light district a few steps away.

The Carrousel, 40 Rue Pierre Fontaine, 75009 Paris, France

Le Caveau de la Huchette is a jazz club located in the Latin Quarter in Paris. The building dates from the 16th century and the owners claim it was once used as a secret lodge for masons. If nothing else, its intimate cellar vibe lets you know it had a life long before it became a Paris hotspot.

Opened in 1947, energetic clubs like this kept jazz alive as musical tastes shifted abroad. In Paris, African-American artists still knew how to enchant the crowds of the city and make a living with the captivating sounds.

Today, the club continues to be a hotbed of Parisian nightlife where big names in jazz and up-and-coming take the stage every night. The filmmakers also find their inspiration there; the club was recently featured in the Oscar winning film “La La Land”.

When asked: “Why did you choose France? I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France, but I did know what was going to happen to me in New York.

We now know that part of what happened in the City of Light was a legacy of freedom and creative expression, still alive today.

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