Exploring The Best of Black Paris...Yesterday and Today!!
Black Paris Tours in the Media
Chicago Sun Times Travel Section, Page 1
Chicagoans Learn Inspiring Lesson By Lisa Lenoir
PARIS--You don't expect to take a history quiz while on vacation. But when you meet Ricki Stevenson, founder of Black Paris Tours, you do. Sitting in a restaurant on the Champs Elysees, she hands me a purple sheet of names. I stare at the page, "Which of these African Americans were longtime visitors, performed in or lived in Paris?" Three columns of more than 100 greats including Josephine Baker, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Langston Hughes and Ida B. Wells fill the page. The question, seemingly so easy, gives me pause. Surely, not all these names roamed the streets of this city? (I won't give away the answer, but you will be surprised)
It is at this moment you realize as an African American your place in this rich civilization and this world. In late May, two friends and I became more enlightened about all things African American after meeting Stevenson, an expatriate who moved to Paris from Oakland, California ten years ago with her then eleven year old daughter, after being inspired by Josephine Baker's legacy. Through her velvet voice, a product of her former life as a television newscaster, our guide leads us through the arrondissements of the black experience. Complete with a pocketsize album of pictures and a tape recorder of music, she walks you to the haunts of historymakers. You gaze at the Arc de Triomphe, where escaped slave and abolitionist William Wells Brown climbed the 161 stairs to overlook Paris as a free man in 1849. You stroll the Champs Elysees, where the heroic 369th regiment "Harlem Hellfighters", were barred by U.S. military leaders from taking part in victory parades following World War I. You stare at a sign indicating Thomas Jefferson's former residence--the place where he and the black and beautiful Sally Hemings began a 38 year relationship in 1787 and conceived their first child. And you peer into the doors of the former cabaret/nightclub "Chez Sidney," opened in 1950 by New Orleans-born Sidney Bechet, called a founding father of jazz. Her complete tour finds any student amazed at the depth of this history lesson--enough so, you find yourself envisioning Baker strutting down the Champs Elysees dripping in diamonds and furs with her pet cheetah, "Chiquita," or climbing the Arc de Triomphe with Brown and cheering African-American soldiers who were considered heroes by the French.
Each story Stevenson tells makes you hungry to know more and ask questions galore. Like an African griot, she pulls out story after story, all sprinkled with factoids. It is this engaging approach by Stevenson that left a lasting impression on Dorothy Tucker, general assignment reporter for WBBM-Channel 2, who took the tour last year. Tucker, along with 12 family members, was vacationing in Paris. Forever the history buffs, they opted to take Black Paris Tour, too. Unknowingly, the experience exceeded her expectations. "I had done my homework before going to Paris," she says. "I knew about Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong and many of the black artists. I had read about the places they had frequented. But Stevenson created for me the images about their life. It provided, for me as an African American, a connection to Paris--to be able to understand the contributions African Americans made to the country, to the arts. It was a place where they were allowed to breathe, grow and work without going through the back door. I became grateful to the French for allowing my people to grow." The highlight for Tucker was to see her two sons, then 9 and 11 years old, engaged by Stevenson's anecdotes about World War I and the soldiers. "I knew when she started talking and they were staring at her, they were hanging on to her every word. They never once complained. I even forgot they were there because they were so quiet. They were entertained."
But more importantly, Tucker says, she and her husband are committed to educating their children about diverse cultures, giving them firsthand exposure by taking annual trips both domestically and abroad. No matter where they go, they visit museums and historical sites. The Black Paris Tour was one such experience to help them understand their place in the world context. "The tour will provide any one with a slice of American life in Paris," she says. "These are Americans who not only made contributions to Paris but to America." And Stevenson's Black Paris Tour more than conveys that story.