African-Americans have long been a staple in Paris. Many free blacks, many from Louisiana, emigrated to the City of Lights in the 1800’s. There they found work and freedoms not offered to them in the States. During World War I, many black GIs decided to make France their home after being stationed there. African-American artists, from musicians to Harlem Renaissance writers also found a refuge in Paris, most famously, Josephine Baker, who even assisted the French Resistance during World War II. Decades later, Black artists, such as Nina Simone, still sought the comforts of Paris.
Black Americans left their footprint in Paris and there are various tours highlighting some of the history of African-Americans in the city.
One is “Black Paris & A Taste of France,”(http://www.colesvilletravel.com/Paris_May2012.pdf) a 10-day cultural tour of France – Paris, Bordeaux, and Dordogn, created by Colesville Travel (www.colesvilletravel.com). “We have offered this tour every year for the past five years in either May or September,” says Cynthia Amin Hall, owner of Colesville Travel. The tour explores Paris, Bourdeaux, and of course, takes you through Josephine Baker’s legacy. In Paris with a guided walking and bus tour that retraces the lives and achievements of Black Americans. The tours will be provided by Walking the Spirit Tours of Black Paris, which focus on popular areas – The Latin Quarter/St. Germain-des-Pres, Champs-Elysées and Lower Montmartre. Walking The Spirit Tours – Black Paris & Beyond (http://www.walkingthespirit.com/) was created by Julia Browne.
“Julia Browne of Walking the Spirit Tours collaborated with Colesville Travel about five years ago to create the Black Paris & A Taste of France Tour. Julia and I felt that the history of Black Americans in Paris was a fascinating subject and we wanted to share it with others. Julia lived in Paris for over a decade and created the original series of tours focusing on Black history in Paris (in 1994),” explains Hall.
There are two tours in Paris, one highlighting the lives of African- American writers, jazz musicians and painters based in Paris, such as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, artists Henry O.Tanner, Lois Mailou Jones and Beboppers Miles Davis and Bud Powell. The second tour lets visitors experience the excitement of Black Montmartre of the 1920’s and 1930’s where jazz flourished in Paris alongside African art, decadence, and black entrepreneurs. There is also an exclusive tour of Josephine Baker’s former home, Chateau des Milandes.
“On this private tour you can expect to see how Black Americans lived in Paris during the 1920’s and 1930’s right up until our day. You can also expect to take a private motor coach from Paris, to the Burgundy wine region and then south to Chateau des Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker. I think touring the castle is the most anticipated part of the tour,” says Hall. “This is all offered in combination with a city tour of Paris. This tour gives you a combination of culture and heritage. This is a very popular tour because you get to travel outside of Paris and experience more than the city of Paris.”
The tour, which costs $3,195.00 based on double occupancy, includes roundtrip air from Washington, D.C. Dulles (IAD) to Paris (other cities can be arranged), five nights at the Holiday Inn St. Germain-des-Pres – 3 star – (or similar), breakfast daily, two nights at the Sainte Catherine (Bordeaux wine region), two nights at Best Western Le Renoir (Sarlat), a five-hour walking/bus tour through ‘Black Paris’, a five-hour Paris City Tour (Eiffel Tower and River Seine), a full day Bordeaux wine tour including tastings and a private tour of Josephine Baker’s Chateau des Milandes.
“People are surprised about the accomplishments of so many Black Americans in Paris, as well as the magnificent castle where Josephine Baker lived. They are also surprised at how much Josephine Baker accomplished during her lifetime,” says Hall. “They love the way the tour is designed. We make it very easy to travel through Paris and beyond.”