The African American writers, artists and musicians of the black arts movement who fled to Paris beginning in the 1930’s, helped establish the city as a haven for black creatives in the minds of many and the urge to see if this is still the case as the city of light is still a major pilgrimage spot for many African Americans.. Though much has changed in the city, there is still a thriving black expat scene in Paris, if you know where to look. Here is a breakdown to get you started on discovering the black history of Paris:
What to Do
If you’re interested in learning more about African American history in Paris, the easiest way to get a lay of the land is to take a tour. Several tour companies that take visitors around the city of light to locations that were (and still are) important to African and African American history including:
Walking the Spirit Tours – Founded in 1994 by travel expert Julia Browne, this tour company offers black heritage tours of Paris and beyond, as well as travel planning for the first time or luxury visitor.
Black Paris Tours – Full day or ¾ day tours that take you all around the city of Paris to explore the history of African Americans in the city of light since the 1800’s. The full day tour also includes a trip to the Chateau Rouge neighborhood, sometimes called the “little Africa” of the city.
Discover Paris Tours – For those who just aren’t into group tours, Discover Paris offers several downloadable self-guided tours, including a Josephine Baker tour and one focused on Richard Wright’s Paris. The company also offers traditional tours focusing on black history, food and the images of black people in European art.
Where to Stay
If you want to walk the same streets as James Baldwin and Richard Wright, stay in the 6th Arrondisment, specifically in St. Germaine de Presse, where both writers resided during their time in the city. The neighborhood, which used to be an artsy bohemian hotspot is now more of an exclusive haven. Some hotels to consider are:
Hotel St. Germaine de Presse – This 18th century townhouse has been converted into a beautiful old-world style hotel in the heart of Paris.
Hotel Odeon St. Germaine – An upscale hotel offering clean lines and a warm reception to all guests is just steps away from the Luxembourg Gardens.
If you’re looking for something a little more budget friendly, head to Montmarte, in the 18th Arrondisment. Though it can be a little touristy the closer you are to the Sacred Coeur, the rest of Montmarte has that charming French village vibe that you’ve dreamed of. At the foot of the hill is Place Pigalle, Paris’ red light district, which some people find a little too “real.” For a good balance, aim for hotel in the middle of the hill such as:
Hotel des Artes – This cozy little hotel has been around since 1901 and has always catered to Paris’ artsy set.
Les Jardins de Montmartre Hotel – Elegant and garden themed, the décor of Les Jardins celebrates Paris in all its seasons. Be sure to let them know if you have a favorite, since all of their rooms reflect different times of the year.
Where to Eat
There’s a wider variety of food available in Paris than many people are aware of. In addition to excellent French food and cafés, some with very special connections to African American expats; Paris also has restaurants representing countries from around the world and around the African diaspora. Some suggestions are:
Café de Flore & Les Deux Magots – These two cafes, now major tourist destinations, were major hangouts for the artistic set since the 1800’s. Writers such as James Baldwin and Richard Wright mingled with the likes of Chester Himes, Pablo Picasso and Jean Paul Sartre for coffee and lunch at these historic locations, which are just across the street from each other in the 6th Arrondisment.
Gumbo Yaya – For foodies missing the taste of home, visit Gumbo Yaya for their famous chicken and waffles. This tiny eatery on the Rue Charles Robin serves “American soul food” with a French accent.
La Table d’Erica – For a taste of the French Caribbean visit La Table de Erica (Erica’s Table) in St. Germain de Press for authentic creole cuisine.