African Americans in France

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African Americans (also referred to as Afro-Americans or Black Americans) in France are people of African American heritage or black people from the United States who are or have become residents or citizens of France, as well as students and temporary workers.


African Americans, who are largely descended from Africans of the American Colonial Era, have lived and worked in France since the 1800s. Unofficial figures indicate that up to 50,000 free blacks emigrated to Paris from Louisiana in the decades after Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in 1803.[1][dead link]

Paris saw the beginnings of an African American community in the aftermath of World War I when about 200,000 were brought over, most for non-combat duties. Nine tenths of the soldiers were from the American South.[2] The 369th Infantry Regiment of New York, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters, were the first to arrive in France in 1917. One member, Sergeant Henry Johnson, was the first American Soldier to be awarded the croix de guerre with palm by the French Army.[2] Many black GIs decided to stay in France after having been well received by the French, and others followed them. France was viewed by many African Americans as a welcome change from the widespread racism in the United States.

It was then that jazz was introduced to the French, and black culture was born in Paris. African American musicians, artists and Harlem Renaissance writers found 1920s Paris ready to embrace them with open arms. Montmartre became the center of the small community, with jazz clubs such as Le Grand Duc, Chez Florence and Bricktop's thriving in Paris.[2]

The Nazi German invasion of Paris in June 1940 led to the suppression of the "corrupt" influence of jazz in the French capital and the danger of imprisonment for African Americans choosing to remain in the city. Most Americans, black as well as white, left Paris at the time.[citation needed] Following World War II, the arrival of black immigrants from former French colonies had offered African Americans in France the chance to experience new forms of black culture.[3]

In the 1950s and 1960s, the political upheavals surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests in the United States were mirrored by civil unrest in France. The African American journalist William Gardner Smith was a novelist (Last of the Conquerors) who worked for Agence France-Presse. That French news service reported the events of the student uprising during the May 1968 protests. Many blacks supported the movement, which escalated into a virtual shutdown of the entire country. Once order was restored, however, a notable increase in repressive tendencies was observed in the French police and the immigration authorities.[citation needed]


Tyler Stovall, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has said:

In many ways, African Americans came to France as a sort of privileged minority, a kind of model minority, if you will—a group that benefited not only from French fascination with blackness, but a French fascination about Americanness. Although their numbers never exceeded a few thousand.[1]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c Ripmaster, Terence; Stovall, Tyler (August 1997). "Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light". The History Teacher. 30 (4): 513. doi:10.2307/494154. ISSN 0018-2745.
  3. ^ "Newsletter". Discover Paris!. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Kenny Clarke, Inventor Of Modern Jazz Drumming, At 100". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Ernest ('Lobo') Nocho: Three Original Paintings". Between the Covers: African-Americana. 157. 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-05-23. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
  6. ^ "Winston Churchill's Daughter May Wed Negro Artist". Jet Magazine. 1965-01-28. Retrieved 2013-03-25.

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