#BlackIsBeautiful: African Americans Living Abroad

By Deborah M. Robinson, MBA, PhD

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative strives to raise the visibility of world literature for adults and children at the local, national and international levels.  What about literature by and about African Americans who live/lived around the world?  This body of literature and the stories of the people it represents has been mostly invisible.  At the same time, African Americans have traveled globally and lived abroad for centuries.  There have been ebbs and flows of this voluntary movement, but we are currently witnessing an unprecedented level of travel and expatriation.  There are thousands of Black expats in Ghana, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and South Africa, to name a few countries.  Still, some African Americans have chosen to go to the most remote places like Kazakhstan, or places where there is not a critical mass of African Americans (like Ecuador, New Zealand, Iceland, etc.).

#WeGlobal

The #WeGlobal: African Americans Living Abroad Research and Education Program strives to tell the stories of those who have chosen to live overseas.  These stories are relatively unknown except for Richard Wright, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, and Dr. W.E.B. Dubois. Why have African Americans decided to move abroad?  What is it like to live in another country?  What contributions have, and are, African Americans making abroad? 

While a significant focus of this initiative includes an online survey, #WeGlobal is NOT just a research project; it is a comprehensive program of interrelated initiatives that we believe will benefit current and future generations of African Americans and Americans as a whole.  We are working with libraries to identify literature that already exists and provide other resources and information that can be used in Black History Month programs.  We plan to conduct oral histories so African Americans abroad can further tell their story and give voice to those who are currently invisible.  We envision museum exhibits incorporating interactive and virtual reality technologies to share those stories.  We also imagine utilizing the findings and the African American networks abroad to develop Study Abroad programs and domestic courses. 

Not on Vacation

The global travel industry was booming before the pandemic.  In fact, Americans and African Americans were traveling at unprecedented levels for the past few decades.  In the last ten years, this was particularly true for Millennials.  Simultaneously, there has been an explosion of travel literature.  But traveling to a country for a few days or weeks is not the same as living in a country.  #WeGlobal focuses on African Americans living at least one year in a country.  Our primary focus is on those currently living abroad, but that must be understood in the historical context of African Americans choosing to live overseas.  That led us to search for books by and about African Americans who made that choice.

Books By and About African Americans Living Abroad

Traditionally, Black History Month programming has focused on the outstanding contributions African Americans have made in the United States.  While this is important, African Americans have also made significant contributions in other countries historically and continue to do so.  We are not as familiar with this phenomenon, nor are we familiar with the increasing number of books written by and about African Americans living abroad.

Below is a selected list of books; it is not meant to be complete.  At the same time, we would like to work with libraries and librarians to develop a comprehensive list of this literature.  If you would like to work with me on this initiative, please contact me at drdrobin@umich.edu.

Alexandrov, V. E. The black Russian. Grove Press, 2013.

  • ISBN-10 : 0802122299
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0802122292

Ankrah, E. M. Maxine: A life without baggage: An autobiography. Fountain Publishers, 2018.

9970259555

9789970259557

Bechet, S. Treat it gentle: An autobiography. Da Capo Press, 2002.

  • ISBN-10 : 0306811081
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0306811081

Braggs, R. K. Jazz diasporas: Race, music, and migration in post-World War II Paris. University of California Press, 2016.

  • ISBN-10 : 0520279352
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0520279353

Bricktop, and J. Haskins. Bricktop. Welcome Rain Publishers, 2000.

  • ISBN-10 : 1566491142
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1566491143

Campbell, J. Exiled in Paris: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and their circle on the Left Bank. University of California Press, 2003.

  • ISBN-10 : 0520234413
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0520234413

Carew, J. G. Blacks, reds, and Russians: Sojourners in search of the Soviet promise. Rutgers University Press, 2010.

  • ISBN-10 : 081354985X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0813549859

Dunbar, E. The black expatriates: A study of American Negroes in exile. Pocket Books, 1970.

  • ISBN-10 : 0575000902
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0575000902

Edwards, A. American runaway: Black and free in Paris in the Trump years. August Press, 2020.

  • ISBN-10 : 0963572083
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0963572080

Elaw, Z. M. Memoirs of the life, religious experience, ministerial travels and labours of Mrs. Zilpha Elaw. Gale and the British Library, 1846.

ISBN 10: 1535807334ISBN 13: 9781535807333

Fabre, M. From Harlem to Paris: Black American writers in France, 1840-1980. University of Illinois Press, 1993.

  • ISBN-10 : 0252063643
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0252063640

Gaines, K. K. American Africans in Ghana: Black expatriates and the civil rights era. University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

ISBN-13: 978-0807858936ISBN-10: 0807858935

Golden, L. My long journey home. Third World Press, 2002.

  • ISBN-10 : 0883782294
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0883782293

Goldstein, D. A. Alley-oop to Aliyah: African American hoopsters in the Holy Land. Simon & Schuster, 2017.

  • ISBN-10 : 1510724796
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1510724792

Harrington, O. W. Why I left America and other essays. University Press of Mississippi, 2010.

  • ISBN-10 : 1604738987
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1604738988

Heath, G. Deep are the roots: Memoirs of a black expatriate. University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

  • ISBN-10 : 1558490205
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1558490208

Himes, C. B. The quality of hurt: The early years. Paragon House, 1972.

  • ISBN-10 : 1560250933
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1560250937

Hodges, L. S., and B. E. Hodges. Portrait of an expatriate: William Gardner Smith, writer. Praeger, 1985.

ISBN-13: 978-0313248825ISBN-10: 0313248826

Imahkus, S. Returning home ain’t easy but it sure is a blessing. Trafford Publishing, 2009.

  • ISBN-10 : 1426912706
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1426912702

Khanga, Y., and S. Jacoby. Soul to soul: A black Russian American family, 1865-1992. W.W. Norton, 1992.

  • ISBN-10 : 0393034046
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0393034042

Lacy, L. A. The Rise and fall of a proper Negro: An autobiography. Simon & Schuster, 1970.

  • ISBN-10 : 0025672002
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0025672000

Lloyd, C. Eugene Bullard, Black expatriate in jazz-age Paris. University of Georgia Press, 2006.

  • ISBN-10 : 0820328189
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0820328188

McCloy, S. T. The Negro in France. University of Kentucky Press, 1961.

  • ISBN-10 : 0813153875
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0813153872

McGee, A. E. Black America abroad. Meador Pub. Co, 1941.

ASIN : B0030UI450

Ottley, R. No green pastures. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951.

ASIN : B000PZXTC6

Prince, N. G. A narrative of the life and travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince (Classic Reprint 2017). Forgotten Books, 1853.

  • ISBN-10 : 0343107783
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0343107789

Smith, H. Black man in red Russia. Johnson Pub. Co, 1964.

ASIN : B000IQ7HGQ

Stovall, T. Paris noir: African Americans in the city of light. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.

  • ISBN-10 : 1469909065
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1469909066

Dr. Deborah Robinson is Assistant Director of the Program for Research on Black Americans for International Projects at the University of Michigan, and Director of #WeGlobal: African Americans Living Abroad Research and Education Project.  She has lived, worked in, or traveled to 75 countries to date.  She is also currently Co-Director of a Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) IMLS grant looking at Black History Month programming in public libraries.

This month’s theme on the #GLLI blog is #BlackIsBeautiful, curated by Shauntee Burns-Simpson.

Shauntee Burns-Simpson

Shauntee Burns-Simpson (MLIS) currently serves as the 2020-2022 President of BCALA. She is the Associate Director of School Outreach for The New York Public Library. An ambassador for libraries and Youth Librarian, President Burns-Simpson enjoys connecting people to the public library and its resources. She works closely with at-risk teens and fosters a love of reading & learning with her innovative programs. In addition to leading BCALA, she chairs the American Library Association Office of Diversity, Literacy, & Outreach Services (ODLOS) Committee on Diversity.

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