Thursday, May 21, 2015

Will There Be an Institute for Black History and Culture in Paris?


During the City of Paris' May 10th commemoration of the slave trade, slavery, and their abolition, two speakers at the ceremony - Claude Ribbe, president of l'Association des Amis du Général Alexandre Dumas, and Louis-Georges Tin, president of the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires (CRAN) - spoke of a proposal to use a building called Hôtel Gaillard to house an institute for black history and culture and a museum devoted to the remembrance of slavery and colonization. Earlier that day, at the national day of remembrance ceremony at the Luxembourg Garden, Prime Minister Manual Valls expressed the possibility that the building could be used for this purpose.

Banque de France
© Discover Paris

CRAN, le Comité d'Organisation 10 mai (Organization Committee for May 10), and two unions - the Union Syndicale Solidaires and the CGT (French unions) - sponsored and distributed a document at the ceremony, which states that the financial origins of the Banque de France are steeped in the slave trade. The document names several original members who were slavers, arms dealers, and shareholders in the slave trading company called Compagnie des Indes, and states that the bank recuperated the funds from the Compagnie des Indes when it was dissolved. Because of this history, the sponsors of the document call specifically for Banque de France to make reparations for slavery.

(French president Francois Hollande has already rejected the call for France to make financial reparations, similar to those made to the orphans of French Jews deported during World War II.)

Owned by Banque de France, Hôtel Gaillard has been empty for several years. Ironically, it is located on place du Général Catroux, the site of the City of Paris' commemoration ceremony.  Place du Général Catroux was formerly known as the place des Trois Dumas due to the statues honoring three generations of Dumas that stand on the square.

Thomas Alexandre-Dumas, the first Afro-Antillean general in France, was born a slave. He served in Napoleon’s army from 1786 to 1801.

Monument to General Thomas-Alexander Dumas
© Discover Paris!

The monument to General Dumas, erected in 2009, replaces one that was erected in the same spot in 1913 and was melted down during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

Original statue of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

Two other statues on the square honor the general’s son, Alexandre Dumas, père, and his grandson, Alexandre Dumas, fils. Both were acclaimed authors.

Statue of Alexandre Dumas, père
© Discover Paris!

Statue of Alexandre Dumas, fils
© Discover Paris!

The question of reparations was broached in a recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde, which discussed the inauguration of the first site on French territory dedicated to the history of slavery. Called Le Memorial ACTe, it is located in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. President François Hollande presided over the ceremony on May 10, 2015 and was therefore not available for the national remembrance ceremony in Paris. This is why Prime Minister Valls spoke at the Luxembourg Garden ceremony that day.

The article poses the following question with regard to the placement of Le Memorial ACTe in Guadeloupe:

If the memorial is to symbolically compensate for a wrong, shouldn't it have been constructed at the place where the crime originated and on the soil of those who profited from it - in other words, in metropolitan France?

It goes on to quote Myriam Cottias, president of France's National Committee for the Remembrance and History of Slavery (Comité National pour la Mémoire et l'Histoire de l'Esclavage - CNMHE) as saying:

We cannot be content to act as though this history concerns only the descendants of slaves. It is not an epiphenomenon; it is a very important episode of the history of all of France. Beginning in the 17th century, the wealth of the country was built upon it.

The article refers to the memorial to the abolition of slavery, which was inaugurated in Nantes in 2012, as "opening the way" for the site in Guadeloupe. In addition to the memorial, Nantes has devoted twelve of the thirty-two rooms of its municipal history museum to information and artifacts pertaining to the slave trade; seven of these twelve rooms are completely devoted to the subject. Along the 1.5 km (0.9 mile) route between the museum and the memorial, the city has erected eleven illustrated panels that present the history of Nantes’ slave trade.

A proposal is currently being considered for the conversion of Hôtel Gaillard into a Cité d'Economie et de la Monnaie, the mission of which would be to educate the French public about economics, money, and finance. The document that was distributed at the City of Paris commemoration ceremony submits that Banque de France should cede the building and finance its conversion into a center for black history and culture.

************


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you like this posting, share it with your friends by using one of the social media links below!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 10, 2015 - France Remembers the Slave Trade, Slavery, and Their Abolition

Last Sunday, May 10, 2015, marked the sixth commemoration ceremony for the slave trade, slavery, and their abolition held by the City of Paris. It took place at place du Général Catroux in the 17th arrondissement. The City of Paris and the French non-profit association, Les Amis du Général Dumas, extended invitations to the general public to attend the event.

The weather was splendid and hundreds gathered at the square for a brief official ceremony, followed by several passionate speeches and musical entertainment.

Invitees at the commemoration ceremony
Place du Général Catroux, 17th arrondissement
© Discover Paris!

A military band took its place on the lawn near the podium.

Military band takes its place on the lawn
© Discover Paris!

The official ceremony was attended by Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France; Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, French Minister of Education; Myriam El Khomri, Secretary of State of the City of Paris; and Harlem Désir, Secretary of State of European Affairs. They were welcomed by Claude Ribbe, president of Les Amis du Général Dumas, and Brigitte Kuster, Mayor of the 17th arrondissement. All took a place on the podium.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls (center) and dignitaries
© Discover Paris!

Other notable attendees included Philip Frayne, Minister Counselor of Public Affairs for the U. S. Embassy; Henri Lopes, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo in France; Lisette Malidor, performance artist; and Valérie Pécresse, French politician and current candidate for the presidency of the Regional Council of Ile de France.

Lisette Malidor
© Discover Paris!

Edouard Montoute, a French actor born in Cayenne, French Guiana, read an ascerbic description of the atrocities perpetrated during the French slave trade and the profits gained through its conduct as recounted in Alexandre Dumas père's 1863 novel, Ingénue.

Edouard Montoute reads from Dumas père's Ingénue
Background: Claude Ribbe
© Discover Paris!

Flower arrangements (gerbes) were then placed on the lawn in front of the monument to General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas – a sculpture of iron shackles created by Driss Sans-Arcidet. Deputy Chief of Mission for the U. S. Embassy Uzra Zeya laid an arrangement for the United States alongside those of Prime Minister Valls, the Mayor of Paris, and the Mayor and elected officials of the 17th arrondissement.

Invitees from the public were then invited to place a rose at the base of the sculpture.

Monique places a commemorative rose
© Discover Paris!

All flower arrangements in place
© Discover Paris!

The official ceremony ended with Leïla Bredent, a Guadeloupan singer with a glorious voice, who sang the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise."

Leïla Bredent sings "La Marseillaise"
© Discover Paris!

After the prime minister and some of the other dignitaries of the official ceremony departed, Claude Ribbe spoke forcefully and eloquently about the lack of formal education in the French system about slavery, the slave trade, and the racist and Negrophobic ideology that underpinned these institutions. He spoke of the need for reparations, similar to those accorded to slave traders who complained to the government about their loss of revenue (equivalent to roughly 4 billion euros today) and the ransom of 150 million French francs (equivalent to roughly $21 billion today) imposed on the fledgling nation of Haïti in 1825 in exchange for diplomatic recognition by France.

Ribbe also evoked the controversial subject of a proposal for the creation of a center of education, culture, and remembrance, to be named after Général Dumas, at the Hôtel Gaillard as a means of "taking back 380 years of Negrophobia that has been supported, or at least tolerated, by France." Find his discourse in its entirety (in French) here.

Claude Ribbe addresses the crowd
© Discover Paris!

Following Ribbe's speech, appeals were made by Franco-Cameroonian singer BAMS; the president of SOS Racisme, Ibrahim Sorel Keita; and the president of CRAN (Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires), Louis-Georges Tin, for solidarity, self-determination, and the establishment of a cultural center and museum at the Hôtel Gaillard* that would be focused on black history and culture in the Francophone world.

From left to right: BAMS, Ibrahim Sorel Keita, Louis-Georges Tin
© Discover Paris!

Deputy Chief of Mission Zeya was present for all the festivities.

U. S. Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya
© Discover Paris!

The evening ended with a lively musical interlude by two groups – Miyo and Balkouta – led by Dominique Tauliaut.

Gwoka music rounds out the evening
© Discover Paris!

*Next week, the ETBP blog will further explore the call to have the Hôtel Gaillard, a mansion owned by Banque de France that stands on place du Général Catroux, become the home of an institute dedicated to black history and culture and a museum dedicated to the history of slavery and colonization.

************


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you like this posting, share it with your friends by using one of the social media links below!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Connie Fredericks-Malone: Passion and Talent in Paris

In 2001, at age 49, singer Carole Denise Fredericks died of a massive heart attack following a benefit concert at Club Med World in Dakar. She was buried in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris (in perpetuity, upon the invitation of the French Minister of Culture and Communication of the Chirac administration). Her legacy consists not only of a long list of enormously popular music recordings, but also a body of work that has been transformed into innovative French lessons for American and Canadian students of all ages, from kindergarten to college.

Screenshot from CDF Foundation Web site

The work of preserving Carole’s legacy has fallen largely to her sister, Connie Fredericks-Malone.

Connie Fredericks-Malone
© Discover Paris!

Connie has served as the director for Carole D. Fredericks Foundation Inc. and the official spokesperson for the Fredericks family since 2006. On behalf of the estate, she has successfully negotiated with SONY Music/France, BMG/France, M6 Interaction, and JRG Editions Musicales to bring French language music videos, recordings, and materials to the United States for educational purposes. In 2013, she negotiated license agreements with French producers and publishers for the entire catalog of French-language and English-language songs Carole recorded between 1989 and 1999. She frequently speaks about Carole’s life and legacy at international, national, and regional foreign language conferences.

Because of the work that she does for the foundation, Connie and her husband, James Malone, come to France every year. They spend part of their time in Carole’s apartment at 91bis, rue du Mont Cenis in the 18th arrondissement, where they organized the installation of a plaque in Carole's honor.

Crowd gathered for plaque installation ceremony - June 2012
© Discover Paris!

Connie speaking at the ceremony
© Discover Paris!

Taj Mahal (brother of Connie and Carole) and Connie standing beneath the plaque
Photo of Carole D. Fredericks in the foreground
© Discover Paris!

Carole D. Fredericks memorial plaque
© Discover Paris!

In June 2014, Connie spoke about the foundation in an exclusive interview with Femmes au Pluriel, a magazine for and about women around the world.

Connie is not a stranger to the stage and screen. She spent 20 years performing in musical theater, day-time and prime-time television, commercials and cabaret/night club venues. She also knows her way around behind the scenes, having served as a television writer and producer for KGO-TV in San Francisco, CA. She competed in the AARP Boomer singing competition in 2014 and made it to the Top 30 Semifinalist level out of 1200 participants.

Connie has made forays into singing on this side of the Atlantic during her last two visits to France. Last year, she sang gospel at the Journée Histoire et Renaissance (Day of History and Rebirth), a festival of African culture that was held in the Paris suburb of Achères.

This year, Connie made her professional singing debut in Paris at Club Rayé, an ultra chic New York-style piano bar in the 2nd arrondissement, on May 1, 2015.

Club Rayé
© Discover Paris!

A packed house was enraptured as she sang renditions of classics such as “Crazy He Calls Me” and “God Bless the Child.” She even included a few French language classics such as “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf and “J’ai Deux Amours” by Josephine Baker.

Connie sings at Club Rayé
© Discover Paris!

The performance was such a success that Connie and Club Rayé proprietor, Kein Cross, are discussing having her headline at the club each time that she returns to Paris. Indeed, Connie is considering coming back to Paris more frequently precisely for that reason.

To learn more about the Carole D. Fredericks Foundation, visit http://www.cdfmusiclegacy.com/.

************


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you like this posting, share it with your friends by using one of the social media links below!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blacks on Stage at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin


Cover of the first-edition publication of A Raisin in the Sun

A musical rendition of Lorraine Hansbury's A Raisin in the Sun opened at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on April 21, 1979.

Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin
2009 Creative Commons License - Danglars2

Directed by Charles Axton, it starred Sandra Phillips as "Mama," Nate Barnett as "Walter Lee,", and Corliss Taylor-Dunn as "Ruth."

Though it came to Paris 36 years ago, Raisin in the Sun is the most recent of a long line of plays featuring black characters at the Porte Saint-Martin. The productions that preceded it were staged in the 19th century!

Between 1803 and 1892, at least eleven productions performed at the theater included black characters in the cast. But this is not to say that black people played these roles. The first black actors to appear on stage in Paris did so in 1847, and they were poorly received by audiences.

In April 1824, one of four versions of a play based on the popular novel called Ourika, by Claire de Duras, opened at the Porte Saint-Martin theater. The story line of Ourika, ou l'orpheline africaine (Ourika, or the African orphan), was fairly true to the novel - a young Senegalese girl is raised as a white French girl by an aristocratic couple and accidentally discovers her race when she overhears a conversation where two women are discussing her misfortune at never being able to marry a French man.

Ourika
1924 Léonel de la Tourrasse

The novel was based on a true story about a black child who was purchased in or around 1788 by the Chevalier de Boufflers, the colonial administrator of Senegal, and given as a gift to the Duchess of Orléans. She dies of a mysterious illness at the age of sixteen.

In this production, the part of Ourika was played by French actress Marie Dorval.

Marie Dorval
Lithograph by Paul Delaroche
Public domain

Frédérick Lemâitre, a famous 19th-century actor, portrayed four black characters at the theater throughout the years, including Toussaint l'Ouverture (in a play of the same name) in 1850.

Toussaint l'Ouverture
Public domain

Frédérick Lemaître
Public domain

Ironically, many plays by Victor Séjour - a free man of color from Louisiana - were staged at the Porte Saint-Martin between 1852 and 1862, but none of them had black characters.

Victor Séjour
Public domain

In July 1937, Langston Hughes (whose poem "Harlem" was the inspiration for A Raisin in the Sun) spoke at the International Writers' Congress at the theater.

Langston Hughes
1936 Carl Van Vechten

************


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

If you like this posting, share it with your friends by using one of the social media links below!