When we convey upon the very essence of travel and the Black American experience, we are shifting into an energy level and period of, rebirth. Yes, my Darlings. Travel allows for rejuvenation, and the changing of perspective into how we view the current situation of our lives; our community, our nation, and our world. That is the very essence of it. One of the most enlightening arenas regarding travel, within Black American experiences, is how it gives us the perspective to witness our identity in a different light, or different atmosphere. Yet, somehow our culture, ethnicity, our identity manages to follow us. Wherever we go in the world, we are followed, colored, and managed by our culture-that culture birthed in Deep South, Black American church, community vibes, Baby! It is who we are. Travel does not give us an escape from being Black American. In a terse amount of words, it provides us with a myriad opportunity to re-center ourselves for who we are; and our purpose (or responsibility) in re-birthing, and re-creating, our culture.
Too often, writers, scholars, and others link the Black American experience as only and primarily being that of struggle. Such persons have not articulated, or grappled with the reality of joy, celebration, aesthetics, laughter, wellness, family, love, relationships, and other beautiful elements- which embodies a culture and people. Hard living and hard times seem to be the only elements of Black American communities, that people choose to focus on. When it comes to the realm and gaze of travel, people are also fixating our travel aesthetics, as an escape. Rarely do people discuss the practice of Black Americans traveling for the beauty, aesthetics, and adventure of travel. Furthermore, rarely are there discussions on the performance of Black Americans using their travel experiences, in order to return and spread nutritious energy, for the wellness of Black American communities. One thing is for sure: Black Americans have not traveled, solely, for the purpose of escaping one’s nation, one’s culture, and the legacy, richness, and wellness, birthed by Black American foremothers and forefathers. Not at all. In fact, there is a far more beautiful and nutritious sides to the his/herstory of Black American travel tales. And, it truly is one of adventure, love; the performance and representation of our people, for all the world, to see.
“It is perfectly possible to be enamoured of Paris, while remaining totally indifferent or even hostile to the French.”James Baldwin
When we enter into the travel experience of Black America’s beloved James Baldwin, one of the beauties of this prolific and powerful writer, is that he always stayed in tuned with his culture, even when he departed to live in France. In fact, his livelihood in France, served as a platform for his continued contribution to the literary aesthetics of Black American people. In fact, it is notated that his legendary work, Go Tell It On the Mountain, was written and worked on, at the Cafe de Flore, at the boulevard Saint-Germaine Paris. Throughout his time in Paris, Baldwin was doing his part in presenting Black American people, as having our own culture; that we, too, were part of the international, literary movement. It was beautiful and intrinsic for those of the French gaze, who were interested in knowing about Negroes and Negresses of US soiling. Such is an intricate part of the travel experience. Even while overseas, and to remove himself from the hostilities towards Blackness (within the United States of America), Baldwin never removed himself from the creative identity, culture, and innovation of being Black American. Please keep in mind, that there is a huge difference in leaving the United States because you want to “flee” from the responsibilities of cultivating your culture (even worse, exploiting the oppression of Black Americans (the Sheroes or Heroes) for travel fame or pretending to be Black American for the cultural marketability, while secretly despising Black American women), and leaving in order to acquire healing; while staying connected (and contributing) to what is happening back home. Too many people are depicting the Black American travel experience as one solely arising from oppression. Rarely, do they focus on traveling, and having residency in another country, in order to use that very same energy for nurture back home.
Another beautiful telling of James Baldwin is how he continued to write about love, and the magic of Black American love stories, throughout his literary work and tales. Even in the midst of struggle, or oppression, Baldwin made sure to present his people as also experiencing this wonder, called love! That’s what made this such a joyous occasion. Don’t forget his iconic pieces, If Beale Street Could Talk (published in 1974) and Just Above My Head (published in 1979). When discussing, If Beale Street Could Talk, readers (and viewers) are given a firsthand account of Black American love. They are connected to Black American love stories, and the sacredness of love, within Black American communities. Such stories are very important. Happy tales, romance, magic, and the beauty produced, in spite of, are very important to the narrative of Black American communities and experiences. Even from afar, James Baldwin was blessing his community in the work he produced. So, you see, James Baldwin utilized the experience of travel (the Black American travel experience) for the rejuvenation of his people. This was his way of sharing the healing power of travel. It was a very important way, as in being in a distant place, he could experience wellness, while producing Black American literary aesthetics. Let’s also remember that he also showcased Black American wellness being performed in the United States; despite being in the midst of racial hostilities.
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”James Baldwin
Another fascinating adventure in Baldwin’s travel experience is his home, and how it showcased that he never was trying to “escape” from his culture. Throughout his residency in France, James Baldwin also hosted other famous Black American artists. Such prominent artists included Josephine Baker, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, and Nina Simone. They came during prominent Jazz festivals, such as the Nice Jazz Festivals and the Jazz a Juan. Why is this powerful? Well, it goes to show that, again, reflections of his culture always came to find him. Baldwin never tried to escape from who he is was as a Black American, gay man. Prominent, feminine, Black American, women figures such as Nina Simone and Josephine Baker, further affirmed his natural connection to his garden. Hosting them was an act of love. In fact, it was more than hosting them. It was a re-kindling of love and kinship. Whatever performance journeys existed among the three of them, it can’t be denied that these visits were nothing more than a rekindling of the familiar. Its that breath of air, Black American travelers feel, when we come in contact with our people. Suddenly, different light bulbs come on, and we breathe the freshness of air. Those of us traveling for the art, smile many breaths when we see our peculiar folk; our fellow people from the gardens of Black American soils. Nevertheless, there is an awakening taking place. It is bound to happen. Ventures into this other world of travel, where we are using that nourishment to give back home, and to heal our very gardens, is happening. Go into every nation, and our culture can be found there. Black America’s gardens have nourished the nations and cultures of others. That is not up for debate. In fact there is a level of mystery and magical performance, where other groups have tasted our scents. Unfortunately, there is the conversation of exploitation, and that, my Dears, is for another detailing.
Another element of James Baldwin and his form of travel wellness (for self and for community) is that he came back to spread that wellness, among the masses. Let’s not forget about the summer of 1957, where James Baldwin returned to the United States, in support of a young, Black American girl named, Dorothy Counts, who risked her life in attempts to desegregate a school system in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just examine how sacred this is. Being in France did not stop him from supporting his own; and especially, a young, Maiden from his community. That’s what makes this so phenomenal. Residing in another spacing, did not keep him away from home-from his own cultural gardens. Black America’s soiling. Its very important that we address that. While in Charlotte, North Carolina, James Baldwin put his writing skills to use, and began creating an intrinsic dynamic, while capturing the stories of Negrofolk in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the legacy of racial inequalities. Adding more facts to the fire, Baldwin also connected himself to CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). Through CORE, Baldwin was provided with the opportunity to partake in travel lectures throughout the Deep South, on racial inequality. This too, is another story on travel narratives for Black America’s travel experiences.; especially, as it pertains to domestic migration and travel. Let’s also not forget about 1963, where Baldwin held a lecture tour for CORE, and ventured to places such as Greensboro and Durham, North Carolina; in addition to New Orleans, Louisiana for his travel lectures on US racism against the Negro and Negress (including his analysis on Northern racism). His analysis on race became so popular, that he was featured on the May 17, 1963 cover of Time Magazine. Let’s also keep in mind James Baldwin’s attendance at the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, on August 28, 1963. And of course, his participation as one of a handful of prominent members of a delegation, who met with Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy for discussions on race. So, you see, we have more examples of James Baldwin coming home, in order to bring healing to his community. In turn, such allowed him to partake domestic travels, and the travel wellness, existent within such spacing. It is a perfect example of him utilizing the wellness, received from his international travels, (and the healing he received from them) as a tool for highlighting the issues, within his community. Baldwin may have resided in France, but he came back to his gardens. Travel did not equate to separation. In fact, travel gave him the opportunity to get closer to his community. The energies he had developed in France, Switzerland, or Turkey, also provided him with the opportunity to move through unfamiliar territory, for the documentation of his people.
When discussing issues of Black American travelers, and the travel movement, we must be very careful in how we articulate these stories. Painting Black Americans as “refugees” who need to flee the United States diminishes the richness of our culture. While being in France, I am sure that James Baldwin (and others like him) were able to use the aesthetics of their culture as contributions towards the social atmospheres. Jazz’s performance, and imitation in Europe, is merely one example of such. Even in having to leave the United States, in order to escape certain hostilities, let’s keep in mind, that there is a reciprocation when venturing into distant lands. If you are truly versed into the artistry of travel aesthetics, a person is bound to know this. On another level, we must also take into consideration the area from where James Baldwin was from. He was born in Harlem, New York; known for the Harlem Renaissance and the rich legacy of Black Americans, who migrated up North for more opportunities. Yet, he was not fully connected to those Deep South cultures of Black American communities. The wellness of family, community, and the very roots of Black American, spiritual, and religious harmony. So, in returning to the United States, and venturing to the South, he was connecting to a part of Black American culture, that he had not been truly immersed in. This is another example of returning home, to the source, in order to find healing. I’m sure that his writing and lecture experiences in the Deep South, added richness to his writing in France. Remember, everyone, travel is about interchange.
As Black American travel stories become more abundant, the conversation and stories will be forced to change. This notion of traveling, primarily as a result of oppression, will end. Traveling to distance oneself from any memory of home, or connection with the people still back home, will end. There are those currently, exploiting Black American travel stories for their own personal gain. In fact, it is done with such tastelessness, that it diminishes Black America’s value on the international stage. That perspective shields the rich coloring of our travel stories. Those include stories of Black Americans, who traveled as a form of artistry; without having to use oppression, as an excuse for doing so. There are still Black American mother travelers, who have returned to the United States, with their children; whether that be permanently, or temporarily, until their next destination. In turn, there are Black Americans, who are doing the groundwork of creating safety nets, in US soiling, for Black Americans. Let’s not continue to exaggerate the travel experience of Black American aesthetics. There will be new, literary richness for travel wellness, among Black Americans. Much of it pertains to what has been discussed within this article. Untold stories of Black Americans, who even during the 50’s and 60’s traveled because it was stylish to do so; traveling because, they too, saw themselves as part of the travel adventures. That their Blackness was a natural color, in the travel painting. Now, those are stories, which are going to be told.
Reflecting on James Baldwin’s residency in France, and other travel legacies, there is more to be discussed and explored. However, what can be stated is that he embodied a holistic form of travel wellness. There is great joy in his ability to take a long-term break in France from the racial hostilities of the United States. One can only imagine how he was able to collect Southern tales of nourishment and rebirth, even in the midst of racial tension and hostilities. I’m sure his travels to the Deep South were very uncomfortable for a city boy, French resident, as himself. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading more about his experiences, and any sensory he may have delighted himself in, when venturing there. Baldwin’s literary aesthetics are found in different countries, and anticipation awaits in seeing how they colored and painted many lands.
For more information on the legacy and work of James Baldwin, you can click on the following link:
“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”James Baldwin