By// Maureen Jenkins
Paris has always held a mystical allure for Black people. It’s been a place where African-Americans found not just acceptance, but their own voices. From World War I’s ragtime-and-jazz-playing Harlem Hellfighters to sassy Josephine Baker to legendary author James Baldwin, Paris has embraced and celebrated Black culture, providing a warm welcome to those who’d been shunned in their American “homeland.”
Keeping the magic — and the rich history — alive today are Ricki Stevenson’s Black Paris Tours and Julia Browne’s Walking the Spirit Tours, both founded by North American Black women with a passion for Paris.
For more on Black Paris Tours and Walking the Spirit Tours, click here.
Oakland, Calif., native and former journalist Stevenson launched her walking-bus-Metro tour in 1997, after fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to the City of Light. Following a brief orientation into the niceties of French life (always greet proprietors when entering a store; keep voices low on buses), Stevenson’s tours start at the historic Arc de Triomphe on the famed boulevard Champs-Elysées.
While clutching laminated photos of African-American legends like artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and pilot/entrepreneur Eugene Bullard, Stevenson recounts their experiences in Paris, making them come alive for folks who likely have never heard this African-American history. “I try to get people to understand our history was great here in France,” she says. “We were honored diplomats, teachers, brought agronomy to the French,” she says.
“It’s extremely important to take these tours at the beginning of a trip to Paris. It makes the entire trip more personal and impactful,” says Kiratiana Freelon, author of Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found (Eunique Press, $19.95). “Instead of visiting a foreign city, you feel like you are visiting a city that was integral to African-American history and culture.” In her book, Freelon — who lived in Paris for one year — strolls with readers on these tours and to African and Caribbean clubs, eateries and festivals.
Walking the Spirit Tours is a “mission” for Browne, who launched them in 1994. Based near Toronto, she frequently travels to Paris to lead tours — but also employs passionate guides like African-American artist Ealy Mays who “can give visitors insight not only into that lifestyle and its challenges, but also into the neighborhood of the Latin Quarter he lives in,” Browne says. As you stroll throughout the city, you drop into his favorite cafes and restaurants for history lessons — and authentic French cuisine.
Most rewarding for Browne is “when people come away from the tours just blown away by how deep their history goes in Paris and France, and come away feeling this isn’t just another foreign city, but a place where we’ve left a positive mark.”//
Maureen Jenkins is a freelance writer who blogs about Black women “living globally through international travel” at urbantravelgirl.com.