U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Black Tourists

[Sorry for the break in Alfred Hitchcock programming. Other than an encounter with “The Birds” in high school, I haven’t seen much Hitchcock. I’m terribly uncultured, I know. I asked a film studies friend to pinch-hit for me, but she has other things to do, like an on-campus interview!]

I’m moving on from my Harlem chapter (which I’ve been blogging about for a while) to my chapter on black tourism. Alasdair Pettinger offers an interesting challenge to the idea of the chapter:

Yolande Du Bois

“In a recent anthology, one writer suggests that the very idea that Black people might actually travel for the sake of it is hard for some to accept: ‘Are you visiting relatives?’ ‘Do you work here?’ But then, as a contributor to the same collection half-answers, ‘former sharecroppers do not teach their children to travel for pleasure.’ And even if they learn some other way, their options still appear to be restricted, as a third author discovered when her travel piece was turned down by her editor. ‘With pity in his voice he blurted, ‘Black people don’t go to Iceland.’”

Some of the characteristics of black travelers that Pettinger, the editor of Always Elsewhere; Travels of the Black Atlantic, points out that are different from white travelers–there is not a built dichotomy between cosmopolitan “traveler” and local “native”; black travelers eagerly embrace the racial solidarity of “disaporic rendezvous”; black travelers tend not to romanticize world citizenship; home is not an uncontested space (“the expected contrast between the familiarity of home and the strangeness of abroad that underpins so much travel literature is often absent.”)

I’m going to position my explorations of Black Europe and the black tourist around Yolande Du Bois-Cullen’s unhappy honeymoon to Paris. Unfortunately, the sources are almost entirely through the pen of Yolande’s famous father (there are not even any letters saved from her brief courtship and marriage to Countee Cullen in the poet’s papers).

It’s going to be an interesting chapter to write, stretching me back to the days when I was going to write a dissertation on African American travelers to Europe. I wonder if any of the essays I wrote for grad classes on that subject will be useful? At least the historiography should be, even if it is a few years old (how did it happen that my comps and grad classes were like 5-9 years ago???). Some of the books that I consulted then include (this is not the full biography that I put together, but the ones I actually looked at as far as I can remember):

James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name
Josephine Baker, Josephine
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century
Ollie Harrington, Why I left America and Other Essays
Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander
Chester Himes, The Autobiography of Chester Himes
Yelena Khanga with Susan Jacoby, Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992
Alice McGee, Black America Abroad
Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World

Jean-Claude Baker with Chris Chase, Josephine: The Hungry Heart
Lloyd Brown, Paul Robeson Rediscovered
James Campbell, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin
Michel Fabre, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright
Lynn Haney, Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker
Thomas Inge (ed) Dark Laughter: The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington
Kenneth Manning, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just
Paul Robeson, Jr. The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An Artist’s Journey

Group and Geographic Histories 
Petrine Archer-Shaw, Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s
Katharine Baldwin, Beyond the  Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922-1963
Brett Berliner, Ambivalent Desire: The Exotic Black Other in Jazz-Age France
Catherine Bernard, Afro-American Artists in Paris: 1919-1939
Allison Blakely, Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought
James Campbell, Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank
Robert Coles, Black Writers Abroad
Michel Fabre, From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980
Theresa Leininger-Miller, New Negro Artists in Paris
Tyler Stovall, Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light

Analytical Essay Collections
Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness 
Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Gilroy, After Empire: Multiculture or Postcolonial Melancholia, Routledge
Heike Raphael-Hernandez, Blackening Europe: The African American Presence
Virginia Whatley Smith, Richard Wright’s Travel Writings: New Reflections

And I’m planning to pick up Seductive Journey. How much travel writing literature (outside of African American tomes) do I need to consult? Hmmmmm.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Lauren, you’ve likely come across a new title, Colored Cosmopolitanism by Nico Slate, which came out earlier this year and features extensively the travels of Black Americans in South Asia, mainly focusing on the first 60 or so yeas of the 20th century. (Among other things, of course.) I don’t know if this is outside of your purview, either geographically or because most of the travelers in the study had usually gone for work of some kind — missionaries, soldiers, journalists, diplomats, musicians (Penny Von Eschen’s Satchmo Blows Up the World will come to mind, but also check out Naresh Fernandes’s book and blog, Taj Mahal Foxtrot, which is about Indian jazz), social workers, academics, and so on. Slate uses accounts from these travelers’ own memoirs and letters, as well as items from the Black and Indian media, and military or otherwise state-related reports. Slate’s book focuses on the interconnections that Blacks and South Asians fostered between each other and the respective freedom struggles, and argues that these connections reflected a cosmopolitanism of theirs, one rooted in part in “colored” solidarity. Of course, there are accounts in the book such as those you mention, in which people decidedly rejected the cosmopolitanism he describes, but he shows sufficient and compelling evidence. The book has some little problems, and it largely picks up the trail left by Gerald Horne (End of Empires), but I think it could be of interest to your work. I should have a review out soon, which I can send to ya.

    • Zach,

      Thank you so much for your note! I actually have Nico Slate’s book sitting on my desk. It is waiting till I get back to Chapter 4, which is about Juliette Derricotte’s trip around the world (her destination was India). For this chapter, I really want to focus on African Americans traveling to Europe for pleasure. It’s a small subset of people, but it did happen.

      Looking forward to your review!

  2. This is a fascinating subject! What is most important I think is teasing out how these travels were not only emancipatory but also illuminated racial hierarchies for the travelers, through the networks they built as well as the experiences they had. An important element to take into account is of course the economic status of these subjects and how that shaped their visions of travel.

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