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.
Paris saw the beginnings of an African-American community in the aftermath of World War I when about 200,000 were brought over to fight. Ninety per cent of these soldiers were from the American South. 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 during this time 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. World War II brought all the fanfare to an abrupt halt. The German Nazi invasion of Paris in June 1940 meant suppression of the "corrupt" influence of jazz in the French capital and danger of imprisonment for African Americans choosing to remain in the city. Most Americans, black as well as white, left Paris at this time.
The political upheavals surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests in the United States were mirrored by civil unrest in France. African-American journalist William Gardner Smith who was also a novelist (e.g., Last of the Conquerors), who worked for the French news service Agence France-Presse, reported the events of the student uprising in May 1968. Many blacks supported this movement, which escalated into a virtual shutdown of the entire country of France. Once order was restored however, a notable increase in repressive tendencies was observed in the French police and immigration authorities. Following World War II, the arrival of black immigrants from former French colonies offered African Americans in France the chance to experience new forms of black culture.
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.