Clarence Lusane’s book Hitlers Black Victims includes interviews with Black survivors of Nazi concentration camps in Germany.
Next…a lighter topic, I promise.
The American Prohibition Era , one can say, enhanced the lives of many black Americans who might have otherwise been relegated to a life of banal existence accompanied by predicable racial repercussions. This would definitely appliy to one West Virginia born Mullato, named Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith.
Born into humble circumstances to a Black American mother and Irish father, in Alderson West Viginia, she discovered early on that she was a party girl. She left home at 16 to work in Vaudeville, touring with The Theater Owners Booking Association…the TOBA…better known by the Negro performers of the time as the ‘Tough On Black Asses” agency.
She became known as “Bricktop” beause of her bright red hair, inherited from her father (“I’m a hundred percent Negro with a trigger Irish temper”, she often said). When she landed in Chicago during one of her tours, she found herself drawn to its bawdy raucous saloon life.
Somehow, through extraordinary twists of fate, this ordinary everyday sistah from ‘round the way, who enjoyed dancing the Charlston and knocking back Remy Martins, found herself the “Toast of Paris”…no pun intended.., as soon as she arrived in 1924.
Among the rabble….rousing, expat high society of Paris in the Roaring 20s she found a backer who helped her open her own Nightclub called Chez Bricktop. There she partied with zillions of the legends of the Lost Generation including Mabel Mercer, King Farouk, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and others “down to the big boy himself”, the Prince of Wales, teaching everyone to dance the Black Bottom and the Charleston.
I mean…ahh, yes…these were giddy times, as you can imagine.
Anyway, World War II arrived and she returned to the US until it was over. She returned to Europe, opening a new Bricktops in Paris, until mobsters chased her straight to Rome. Rome is where she opened another Bricktops where she
welcomed and then introduced the old time “high end” customers to the newly minted Hollywood glitterati. Fun times were had by all, until, again, she was chased by the Mob all the way to Mexico City, where she opened yet another Bricktops.
She has been called ”…one of the most legendary end enduring figures of the 20th century American cultural history.”
Anyway, after all that partying and carousing “Miss Brickie” died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89.
Ya gotta love her. Non?
My Italian friend had very little previous exposure to black people except through American movies and television. Little did this friend know that the two black women about to meet would have less in common than would an Italian and a French person.
The young woman from Uganda told her story of escaping the nefarious dictator, Idi Amin’s,
violently oppressive regime. She said that she was part of a group of children on a class trip to Europe to visit art museums in Rome.
They were then released into Italy to fend for themselves. It was assumed that these youngsters would have a better chance of surviving on the streets of Europe than in their native African country.
She survived. She learned Italian. She is a mother of two healthy children. She was at that time studying restoration in Italy.
Now, this brings me to the harrowing memoir, How to Die in Paris, Naturi Thomas. Thomas is American. A black, American female running from her demons, quickly finding herseldf homeless on the street of Paris.
There was no Jim Crowe, American apartheid, KKK, or on the other hand any Idi Amins, Hitlers, Francos or Stalins.
Only her parents.
All I can say about this book is that I am confounded to find that such a thing would happen to an educated, bilingual citizen of the wealthiest country in the world.
Perhaps, if Americans would read this memoir, there will no longer be resistance to Universal Health Care for it’s citizens.
I understand that the author of this memoir eventually made it home to America, but now lives in England.
Read this book. Share it with everyone. Talk about it in your book groups.
Let’s do something!
For the children.
The 13th adopted child, Jean Claude Baker, collaborated with author Chris Chase on the life of the most extraordinary gift America has willingly handed over to France.
His mom, by adoption, Freda Josephine McDonald.
Generations all over the world, know her as the legendary, East Saint Louis-born, Josephine Baker.
Other than her civil rights activism and the fact that she created her Rainbow Ttribe by adopting war orphans from every place on earth and creating a home and sanctuary for them in a castle in the Dordogne region of Paris, she is also known for her famous song “J’ai Deux Amours, Mon pays et Paris”
The irony of this, in my opinion, is extraordinary considering the cumulative circumstances of her life journey.
She came into the world during the era when the status quo of the United States for black people was that of poverty, Jim Crow Laws (look it it up, people) and ethnic torture targeted mainly at black citizens.
Somehow, despite this, she managed to develop theatrical talents in the U.S. to arrive in France in the late twenties in an all black troupe of performers. She became an instant star in the folkloric Negro Revue called La Revue Négre.
The word “négre” in France has always given me pause…but that’s another story.
Her success catapulted her into stellar heights of show business, politics and philanthropy.
War hero: receiving Le Croix de Guerre
I have read a number of biography’s of Jo Baker, but her son’s book, by far, is the most informative and detailed account of the life of a woman who survived Prohibition, racism, two World Wars, the Civil Rights war in America, the McCarthy ear, wild personal and global economic swings, the vicissitudes of stardom, living and loving in a foreign country, and the fickle nature of international relations.
(The Rainbow Tribe)
(A war hero’s funeral)
Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw, or ever will.”
After reading this absorbing biography of this quintessential renaissance woman, I was left wondering what became of all the family members of the Rainbow Tribe.
Perhaps someone out there would like to take on the project which perhaps could be called…A Baker’s Dozen.
Wouldn’t that be chouette?
Okay all you expat writers…..On your mark…get set..GO!!!
And now, for the Spanish experience…
Kinky Gazpacho is a memoir by author, journalist and professor, Lori Tharps.
Ms. Tharps begins her life journey in the predominantly white suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She had always had an attraction to Spain and Spanish culture which would ultimately lead to study abroad where she meets her Spanish husband.
Grappling with identity issues of her own, she confronts the complex relationship Spaniards have with blacks and its African past.
Kinky Gazpacho is part love story and part travelogue of experiences of growing up in America, study in Morocco, Mexico and Spain. It is about two people who fall in love from two quite diverse cultures learning to merge and flourish in a world of a somewhat segregated diversity.
Lori Tharps, now lives in the States and in addition to her work as a professor of creative writing, maintains a witty and entertaining blog , My American Melting Pot which chronicles her life as wife and mother of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual family, dealing with American-style racial issues.
Rendez-vous Eighteenth has been considered “crime fiction.” I’m not sure I agree with this. I’m leaning more toward classifying, if you must, Jake Lamar’s novels as “social commentary”.
You see, Ricky Jenks, the protagonist, has escaped psychotic girlfriends, humiliation and betrayal in the United States to find a new life in Paris. He has chosen the world of the 18th arrondissement among the whores, pimps, transvestites, immigrants and tourists of the Pigalle and Montmartre, in his bloodstained walk up apartment building.
He’s finally found peace of mind in his routine as an expat musician in a crèperie in Montmartre, and the companionship of his ‘big haired’, ball busting Muslim girlfriend, Fatimah, who will only marry a Muslim man.
Dramatically upsetting his uneventful but satisfying life of bohemian freedom and independence is the arrival of his cousin Cash, a world- renowned orthopaedic surgeon, and his band of Eastern European mobster friends.
Cash has arrived to commission Ricky to try and find his trophy wife, Serena (aka Little Lonnie John) who has fled the country to hide out in Paris after having attempted to murder him in their luxurious home with a kitchen carving knife.
In the Eighteenth arrondisement, we meet the ex-singer and fried chicken restaurant owner, Marva, the enigmatic members of the Million Man Dinners group, Detective La Mouche, le flic de Montmartre and a host of other characters vying for parts in the most hysterical and fun expat novel I have ever read.
It’s sequel is entitled, The Ghosts of Saint Michel.
At the risk of understating the content of this review, this is a bit of a diversion in tone from the previous ones, but exceedingly noteworthy as an expat novel/memoir.
This story is not written by a native born American who lived abroad. This is a reverse migration tale, in the context of this Blog, of a black man, a refugee from Hitler’s Europe, who eventually chose to become an American citizen.
I remember reading Hans Massaquoi’s editorials in Ebony Magazine as a little girl growing up in NYC.
He was then the managing editor.
Ebony Magazine was the first magazine of its kind to feature the lives and accomplishments of accomplished Negros…as we were called at the time.
Ebony Magazine was founded by John Johnson in 1945 and was dedicated to black American issues in a much needed positive and self-affirming manner.
For many years, I assumed that Mr. Massaquoi was a native- born American and because of his surname and appearance a Creole from, perhaps, Louisiana.
That was until later years, when I ran across this:
“I was six years old when I started school on 1932. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. I was too young then to understand what this would mean for me. I didn’t know that my mother, a nurse, had lost her government job because of me. The teachers who had objections to the new regime were quickly replaced by younger teachers who were openly pro-Nazi. Some of them, including the head teacher were plainly hostile to me and did their very best to insult me and to make disparaging remarks about my race. One time – I must have been about ten – one of the teachers took me aside and said, ‘When we’ve finished with the Jews, you’ll be next.’ The most important reason why I survived Hitler and was not killed during the holocaust was that there wasn’t a large Black community in Germany.”
~Hans Massaquoi, in the Anne Frank Journal, 1994
In 1933 around 5,000 Black people, mainly men and mainly from German colonies in Africa, lived in Germany. Some were married to German women and had children with them.
The Nazis, despite that fact that they found their black subjects inferior and impure, were unsure of how to treat them. Since these blacks only formed a small group who did not represent a threat to Germany they were generally less targeted than the Jews of Germany.
Ironically, at the same time, the Nazis also wanted to show that Black people were treated better in Germany than in countries such as the USA.
For a time young Black people were even allowed to join the Hitler Youth. But eventually more than three thousand Black Germans were put into concentration camps. However, most of them were not arrested because of their skin colour, but because they were communists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or because they played the then forbidden jazz music.
Mr. Massaquoi, the son of a Liberian father and German mother writes of his journey from Hitler’s Germany to his search for identity in Liberia, then his ultimate immigration to the United States where he would become involved in the American Civil Rights Movement.
He tells of life after the war where he sought friendship with black American soldiers and of his eventual move to the States in 1950 where he found that racism was as prevalent as it had been under the Third Reich!
Need I write more?