A Haven from Hatred
During WWI African Americans and African Canadians wanted to serve their Countries but found racism a barrier to entry. After fighting their way in, they fought valiantly on the battlefields of France.
What they discovered during the war was tolerance and acceptance by the people of France. They found gratitude from the people they helped to save from the Germans. They found recognition with honor when they received the Croix de Guerre for their contribution. They found a haven from the hatred they lived with daily at home.
When on leave and before withdrawal from France at the end of the war, these men were able to taste a sense of freedom, of equality they never found at home. It surprised them when white American soldiers were berated and disciplined for aggressive acts against them by the French. They enjoyed integration, mingling with the French in clubs and cafés. They enjoyed the expressions of gratitude, not aggression they experienced at home.
Some stayed. Most returned home and died on the battlefields of a racist America that was neither grateful or proud. They were angry that these men they considered too inferior to fight had come back as heroes. They refused to recognize them as heroes, choosing instead to murder them and other innocent African Americans for having the temerity to believe they could be equals.
France, but most especially Paris, had taken them to the mountaintop. They were able to see what equality could be like, what acceptance felt like, and reveled in the newfound freedom.
What was France like for these heroes? The African Americans introduced jazz to France, but France introduced them to equality.
To get more of this slice of African American history watch the documentary Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light. This one-hour documentary by Joanne Burke is the most comprehensive and compelling documentary existing on the remarkable migration of pioneering African Americans to France and the impact both cultures had on each other. Winner of the Henry Hampton Award for Film Excellence at the 2017 Roxbury International Film Festival.
Also available is a Museum-Quality 83-page Film Companion Book. Enjoy it as a stand-alone resource or a comprehensive extension of the documentary; this invaluable book is filled with scores of high-quality photographs and engaging text.