Virtual Journey – Paris: The African American Experience
African Americans have made major cultural impacts across the globe, and Paris is one place where this influence is felt most prominently. Paris stood as the staging ground for the Harlem Renaissance, gave birth to jazz music in Europe, and welcomed African American artists, authors, and musicians as far back as the first Great War. More than a century later, the significance of African American culture on this iconic city continues to resonate today. Join us on this virtual journey through the "City of Lights." Let the journey begin!
World War I
At the start of the Great War, African Americans still faced severe racism and discrimination at home. Learn about the war efforts of Black soldiers and their influence, which ushered in the Jazz Age.
The soldiers of the famed 369th Infantry of the New York National Guard were disregarded in the war effort based on their race and were sent to serve the French army. Watch this History Channel video and learn how this all African American military regiment became one of the most decorated regiments in the Great War.
Eugene Jacques Bullard is considered to be the first African-American military pilot to fly in combat, and the only African American pilot in World War I. Ironically, he never flew for the United States. Learn of this fascinating story of war and entrepreneurship, and the pain Bullard experienced back home in this article from the National Air and Space Museum.
Listen to Tulani Salahu-Din, Museum Specialist at the National African-American History and Culture Museum, outline how World War I led the "Paris Noir” movement to become the global expression of the Negro Renaissance.
The 1920s in Paris: The Jazz Age Meets the Harlem Renaissance
Black people found a new world in Paris in the 1920s that was free from the segregation and Jim Crow world in America. This era saw the beginning of both a new musical genre called Jazz and the black intelligentsia movement known as the "Negro Renaissance."
Listen to this riveting lecture by Dr. Richard A. Long, an American cultural historian and author, who was called “one of the great pillars of African-American arts and culture”, as he discusses the prominent Black figures of Paris: Langston Hughes, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Sidney Bechet, Alain Locke, and many others and how the confluence of Black culture in France led to a renaissance of Black thought in two countries.
In the 1920s, Montmartre (located in Paris's 18th arrondissement), become synonymous with the Black intelligentsia of the Harlem Renaissance, the home of the Jazz Age, and the merging of cultures to reveal a world that could be. Listen to historian Tyler Stovall as he sets the scene and continue to listen to his takes on Bicktrop “Bricktop” and how Jazz and Bebop were born in Paris.
Josephine Baker was an American dancer, singer, actress, and civil rights activist who found fame as an expatriate performing in Parisian Jazz clubs. View rare videos, articles, and photos of her in Smithsonian’s NMAAHC collection.
The Contemporary Experience
Over a century has passed since The Harlem Hellfighters crossed the Seine, and Black Americans are still leaving their mark on Paris. From the wave of Black musicians and philosophers such as Miles Davis and James Baldwin in the 1960s to the contemporary experience of Black expats like Jake Lamar who currently call Paris home, the African American experience in Paris is still an evolving story.
Black musicians defined the sound of Paris in the 60s. Listen to this incredible Miles Davis concert from 1969 that will transport you to a happening jazz club in the heart of the city.
Best-selling author and Black expat Jake Lamar shares his thoughts on the great Richard Wright and reads a passage from Wright's memoir, Black Boy. Jake is also a guest speaker on our Paris: The African-American Experience journey!
Black power-couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé added their mark on Paris when they filmed their music video "APE***T" for their joint album EVERYTHING IS LOVE at the famed Louvre. Learn more about all of the artwork featured in their project on this curated tour.
The Inspiration - Explore the City of Lights
Paris symbolized more than just another city to Black Americans who called Paris home: it symbolized the freedom to be who they chose to be without the glaring issues of race curbing their expression. Get inspired by the sights of the City of Lights in this curated photo gallery.
Learn more about the Black experience and legacy in Paris with these reading selections. See the full reading list here.