An Exploration of Black History with Entrée to Black Paris

A photo of the last stop of Entrée to Black Paris tour of the Luxembourg Gardens. The photo features a sculpture of three chain links rising in the air, with a plaque in the distance.

Paris may have re-opened last month, but France’s borders remained closed. However, that’s all about to change. Starting tomorrow, travel will be allowed for fully vaccinated tourists from select countries. No quarantine required. This is incredible news for the tourism industry, as we are all ready and waiting to welcome visitors back to Paris. Especially us tour guides. There are so many incredible tour companies and guides who are just waiting to tell you the stories of Paris, so if you plan on visiting in the coming months, I hope you will consider taking a tour of the city. Today, I’d like to talk about one of your incredible options: Entrée to Black Paris.

Entrée to Black Paris was originally called Discover Paris! (love the emphasis!), and was founded in 1999 by husband and wife Monique Y. Wells and Tom Reeves. Discover Paris! was a travel planning business catering primarily to Americans. However, over the years, they received so many requests for Black history in Paris, Monique and Tom eventually decided to re-brand the company and focus on the history, culture, and contemporary life of African Americans and the larger African diaspora in Paris. Thus, in 2018, Entrée to Black Paris was born.

I was thrilled to take a tour with this company last month after a chance visit to their website revealed that they were already offering walking tours, despite the still-closed borders. Entrée to Black Paris had been on my list of tours to take for a while, so naturally, I emailed them right away. To my delight, they had an English tour available the following week. A friend and I signed up, and when we arrived at the scheduled starting point, we discovered that we were incredibly lucky to have one of the company’s founders, Tom, as our guide.

The tour that we took was Black History in and Around the Luxembourg Garden, but Entrée to Black Paris offers many more, including several private tour options if you’re not quite ready to mingle with others just yet. I can’t speak for the rest of the tours, but ours was fantastic. Tom was a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge, and I loved how the tour focused on the stories of people. People like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes. Black Americans who moved to France to escape the racism of their home country.

We also learned the history of the 369th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, a predominantly African American regiment who served in France in WWI. The 369th spent more time on the frontline than any other American unit. They also suffered the most losses, with approximately 1,500 causalities. And in addition to their time at the front, the 369th also undertook an incredibly successful musical tour of France. They introduced jazz music to European audiences, and by the end of the war, the Harlem Hellfighters were one of the most popular military bands on the continent.

But our tour didn’t just focus on expats. Tom also profiled Black French men and women, including Alexandre Dumas and Félix Eboué, both of whom are interred in the Pantheon. And yes, that is Alexander Dumas of The Three Musketeers fame. Not many people know that his father was born into slavery in modern day Haiti, before rising to become the highest ranking person of colour in French military history. His son may be more well known today, but if you want an incredible story, I highly recommend reading more about Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. He was so formidable in his lifetime, he was nicknamed the Black Devil by the Austrians.

Our tour ended at the memorial for the abolition of slavery (pictured above) that is located in the Luxembourg Gardens. This sculpture is called Le Cri, l’Écrit, and it was inaugurated on May 10th, 2007 by then-President Jacques Chirac. Since 2001, France has observed the 10th of May as the National Day for the Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery. Our tour happened to take place shortly after this date, meaning there were still flowers present from the annual ceremony that takes place at the memorial. One of the wreaths had been placed by current President Emmanual Macron himself.

I always strive to make my tours as inclusive as possible, but I also believe that people should learn from the experts. That’s why I love taking tours with other companies in Paris, and then directing people their way. Black history in Paris is vibrant and full of incredible stories, so if you want to know more, I highly recommend booking a tour with Entrée to Black Paris. You can read more about the tours they offer HERE, and you can read their blog HERE to learn more about Black history in Paris.