Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Overview of Paris Reflections: Walks through African-American Paris

I have recently been approached by several people with requests to purchase or to autograph copies of Paris Reflections: Walks through African-American Paris. I co-authored this book with Christiann Anderson to call attention to the rich history of African Americans in the French capital. The book features six abbreviated versions of walks that I have created for Discover Paris’ Entrée to Black Paris. Christiann provided the illustrations. The following is an overview of what you will find in Paris Reflections.


The Sorbonne/Mouffetard walk provides a tour of the 5th arrondissment. You will see the illustrious University of Paris Sorbonne, learn a little about the ancient history of this area (it was settled by the Romans centuries ago), and visit one of Paris’ most celebrated shopping streets, rue Mouffetard. Against this backdrop, you will learn about several African Americans who have studied at the Sorbonne as well as see sites frequented by many of our writers and artists, including William Gardner Smith and Loïs Mailou Jones. You will also learn about the Nardal Sisters, black women from Martinique who were instrumental in the launching of the Négritude movement (a cause devoted to affirming black culture through literature) in France.

The walk through Saint-Germain-des-Près (6th arrondissement) is circular, meaning that you begin and end in the same place. The world famous trio of cafés, the Deux Magots, the Flore and the Brasserie Lipp mark the starting point, and the importance of café life for African Americans is emphasized. You will work your way past the magnificent place Saint-Sulpice to the edge of the beautiful Luxembourg Garden to see where a major hangout for African Americans writers of the post-World War II era still exists. A visit to the garden follows, then a walk past the theater where the great playwrights Alexandre Dumas and Victor Séjour saw their works performed. A stroll in a quarter where jazz was once king leads you back to the Café Flore and the end of the tour.

The Saint-Michel/Musée d’Orsay walk takes you through the upper part of the 6th and 7th arrondissements. Here, the word “upper” means the part of the district that is closest to the Seine. Art galleries are prominent in this area of the 6th, and you will see many where African Americans have exhibited their work. Additionally, you will be able to visit the shops of several dealers of African art and artifacts. Walking by the French Institute, you will learn of an African American who excelled as a Shakespearean actor in the nineteenth century. Moving on to the 7th arrondissement, you will find out more about many of our famous writers and painters while surveying the plethora of antique stores for which this quarter is known. You will end the walk at the Legion of Honor museum where you will learn of several African Americans who have received this prestigious award, and the Musée d’Orsay, which contains several works depicting people of color.

Plate 2. James Baldwin
© Christiann Anderson

The Montparnasse walk (lower 6th and 14th arrondissements) emphasizes the lives and work of artists. While parts of this walk take you to areas frequented by tourists, you will also go into neighborhoods that are “off-the-beaten-path”. Montparnasse has been steeped in artistic tradition since the early 1900s, and African-American artists such as Augusta Savage and Laura Wheeler Waring of the “Negro Colony” of the 1920s and 1930s and abstract artists Ed Clark and Beauford Delaney of the post-World War II era settled here in keeping with that tradition. You will see where they lived and worked, and visit the cafés that were as important to life in this district as the Deux Magots and the Flore were to life in Saint-Germain-des-Près. You will also see the famous Bobino Theater, where Josephine Baker made a triumphant comeback to the Paris stage and performed her last show ever, and the square that was dedicated in her honor.

Plate 4. The Funeral of Josephine Baker in Paris
© Christiann Anderson

Our Notre-Dame-de-Lorette/Opéra walk in the 9th arrondissement is another “off-the-beaten-path” walk that takes you to the area where African Americans first established a community in Paris after World War I. The night club scene is what made “Pig Alley” (a tortured pronunciation of Pigalle, the name of a street and a square found in the area) renowned in its day. Here you will learn about the players – Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker and Bricktop were among them – who turned this district into “the Harlem of Paris”. Leaving the Pigalle area and moving back toward an area more frequented by tourists, you will see the theater where Sidney Bechet inspired such a frenzy in his French audience that they rioted, and the opera house where W. E. B. DuBois and Countee Cullen enjoyed performances.

The final walk presented in Paris Reflections covers the most well known and popular area of Paris, that of the Louvre (1st arrondissement) and the Champs-Elysées (8th arrondissement). Here you will see Paris in all of its grand style: the Tuileries Garden, place de la Concorde, the twin facades of La Madeleine church and the Assemblée Nationale, and the grandest of avenues – the Champs-Elysées – capped by the splendid Arc de Triomphe. A wide variety of African American activity took place here, from a civil rights march in support of Dr. King’s March on Washington to a state funeral for Josephine Baker. Some of our artists’ best work has been exhibited and honored with awards at the Grand Palais just off the Champs-Elysées. More recently, an African American left his indelible mark on the Louvre when he remodeled part of its recently renovated Richelieu wing. You will learn of all these things and more on the Louvre/Arc de Triomphe walk.


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Temple said...

I love this book and plan to use it when I'm next in Paris (September 2011). Can't wait to see how this blog develops - what a breath of fresh air!


About Beauford Delaney said...

Thanks so much, Temple! Have a wonderful trip!

Romero's nephew said...

Glad I googled this. I have more to add about my Paris in the mid sixties. I'll be back.

About Beauford Delaney said...

Thanks for commenting, Romero's nephew! I have given a more detailed reply to your comment on the James Baldwin post.