Custom travel itineraries are cool as you can retrace the steps of a variety of people. Monique Wells had the idea to do that with her company called Entrée to Black Paris, containing 13 walking tours, cooking classes, and museum tours centred on Black people and Black cultures. Wells spoke with Atlas Obscura about the origins of the project and the allure of Paris for Black Americans in the 20th century.
Why has there been such a strong African-American presence in Paris, as opposed to elsewhere in Europe?
It’s tied up in the history of the United States’s involvement in World War I. A large number of African-American troops served in France and were not allowed to fight with white Americans. They were “given” to the French and fought valiantly next to French people. They were awarded medals for their bravery, they were invited into French homes. This was an experience that they could have never hoped for on U.S. soil.
When the war was over, they went back home and talked about that. The summer after that war ended is known as the Red Summer, because anti-Black riots erupted in two dozen cities and racist violence killed or injured hundreds of people. White America felt that it needed to put these Black men back into their place.
France took on this sort of mythical quality. It was seen as a place where Black people could just be people. And that’s where the myth of the colorblind France really took hold.
Related to Black Americans in Europe: African Americans in Soviet Russia