In Review: Black History in and Around the Luxembourg Garden

Chasing Luminaries From Alexandre Dumas to Richard Wright

The Cafe Tournon was a regular meeting place of celebrated black artists and writers
••• The Cafe Tournon near Luxembourg Gardens was a regular meeting place of celebrated black artists and writers such as Richard Wright and Chester Himes. ©2009 Discover Paris. All rights reserved.

Paris has almost always provided creative refuge for great minds who found themselves disenfranchised or unrecognized in their home countries. The 20th century in particular saw waves of immigrants (or expatriates, if you prefer the term) flood to Paris to escape political, religious or ethnic persecution. This heady convergence of cultural influences contributed greatly to the vibrancy of Parisian arts.

When I was invited by Discover Paris to join a walking tour exploring the history of black thinkers, artists and writers around Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg) in Paris, I gladly accepted. And I did indeed learn a lot.

Pros

  • Tour provides a strong, insightful look into black history around the Luxembourg gardens
  • Provides detailed, intimate look at major artistic, literary and historical figures and their lives
  • A very good entry point to a wider understanding of black history in Paris

Cons

  • Long stretches of walking and standing may not be suitable for elderly or disabled visitors
  • Fairly specialized: may require some basic knowledge of history and literary history, arts

Key Tour Info

  • Operator: Discover Paris is run by Tom Reeves and Monique Y. Wells, who also maintain several Paris-themed blogs.
  • Book this Tour: Visit the Discover Paris website. You can also book many other thematic Paris tours with this operator.
  • Current Tour Prices: Consult this page for current fees.
  • Related Tours by Operator: Afrocentric Art, Black Paris and Myths of a Colorblind France (lecture), The Black Pearl Walk

My Full Adventure

The tour begins outside Luxembourg Gardens, most commonly associated with two celebrated women who made Paris their home: the Italian-born queen and wife to Henry IV, Marie de Medicis, and American writer Gertrude Stein, whose literary salon was at Rue de Fleurus in close reach of the gardens.

A lesser-known fact about the area, however, was that it has also been a hotbed for some of the most noteworthy black intellectuals, writers, artists and other historical figures, whether native French or immigrants. The Discover Paris tour purports to shed light on the notable people and places related to black history and artistic achievement in and around the Luxembourg Gardens.

Read related: Top Literary Haunts in Paris (A Self-Guided Tour)

From Alexandre Dumas to Chester Himes: Noted Places and Figures

I won't give away the fine details of the tour-- that would be a disservice to the operators. But over the course of two hours, I learned how rich the area is with black history. Several cafes, including the celebrated Cafe Tournon, were regular haunts for expatriate African American writers, artists and musicians such as Richard Wright, Chester Himes, painter Beauford Delaney and jazz great Duke Ellington. Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, is buried in the Pantheon, and other notable black individuals are honored there. We learn about several key figures in the resistance to and abolition of slavery in the French colonies. We're introduced to the life and works of important black visual artists active in the area such as Henry O.

Tanner and Barbara Chase-Riboud, as well as other figures.

The second half of the tour brought us inside the gardens itself. Here I notably heard stories about how Richard Wright would stroll through the gardens with Gertrude Stein, got the lowdown on a fascinating rumor surrounding the copy of Brancusi's Statue of Liberty that graces a corner of the garden, and observed the recently unveiled statue commemorating the abolition of slavery.

My Verdict?

This tour provided a very satisfying overview of black history around Luxembourg Gardens. I came away with a strong basic understanding of the important black individuals who had lived and worked in the area and contributed to Parisian arts and culture. I had a desire to learn more in my own time about the people and ideas noted in the tour, and recommend this tour to anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of black history in Paris.

The only potential downside I can see here? The tour is fairly specialized and presumes basic foundational knowledge of some aspects of history, art and African-American migration in the early 20th century. For younger visitors or for those with very limited previous knowledge of these topics, the tour may need to be modified slightly to incorporate more basic concepts. The Discover Paris guides told me they regularly adjust the content of their tours to properly accommodate visitors' needs, so you may want to specify your level of knowledge of the topic when booking this tour or others from this operator.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.