Thursday, March 30, 2017

Anna Julia Cooper - First African African American to Earn a Ph. D. at the Sorbonne

As the end of Women's History Month rapidly approaches, I thought it would be fitting to write an article about a phenomenal woman who is a major figure in the history of African Americans in Paris. Her name is Anna Julia Cooper.

Anna Julia Cooper in 1892
Photo from A. J. Cooper's book The Voice of the South
Image in public domain

In an article published in Paris on April 28, 1925, the Chicago Tribune wrote the following about her:

Mrs. Cooper won her doctorat d'universite at the Sorbonne on March 23, 1925, and she left Paris for her native city of Washington, D.C. a month later.

The subject of her thesis at the Sorbonne was: L,Attitude [sic] de la France a l'egard de l'esclavage, 1789-1848*.

*The Attitude of France Toward Slavery during the French Revolution

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1858, Cooper was the daughter of a white slaveholder and an enslaved mother. She was nine years old when she received a scholarship and began her education at Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh. An excellent student, she went on to earn a Bachelor's degree (1884) and a Master's degree (1887) at Oberlin College.

Cooper completed courses in French literature, history, and phonetics at La Guilde Internationale in Paris during the summers of 1911-1913 and enrolled in a doctoral program at Columbia University in 1914. Her pursuit of this graduate degree was hindered by personal circumstances, but she successfully transferred her credits from Columbia and La Guilde Internationale to the Sorbonne in 1924.

Details of the story vary depending on the source consulted, but Cooper did complete her graduate work at the Sorbonne in 1925. The university shipped her diploma to the U.S. and she received it at a ceremony held at Howard University on December 29, 1925.

Anna Julia Cooper was a master educator, education administrator, writer, community activist, and advocate for women's rights. She was a lesser-known contemporary and peer of Ida Gibbs Hunt and Mary Church Terrell, both of whom also spent time in Paris.

Part of Cooper's legacy is represented by a commemorative U.S. a postage stamp:

and the inclusion of one of her quotes included at the top of pages 26 and 27 in the U.S. passport:

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or sect, a party or a class -
it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.

Cooper died in Washington, D.C. in 1964 at the age of 105. She is buried in Raleigh, North Carolina.


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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dr. Lee Ransaw's French-inspired Art

As a professor of art at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Lee A. Ransaw developed an honors course called "The Arts of the Harlem Renaissance." Students had to have an accumulative “B” average to enroll. They were required to do extensive research on some African or African-American culture changer in the fields of art, music, literature and dance during the first part of the 20th century, and determine what made them special as well as why the mainstream world embraced them. Not so surprisingly, Josephine Baker was one of the favorite artists that students selected. Baker was also one of Dr. Ransaw’s favorites and the project later inspired him to paint the portrait below.

Lee A. Ransaw
2012 Acrylic on canvas
36” x 74” (91.4 cm x 187.9 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Ransaw chose to paint a reflective Josephine who became a cultural changer. He describes the portrait as follows:

I chose this quiet and thoughtful pose with a Parisian background, at a quiet moment when Josephine might be realizing that her life’s work had been rewarding. She is elegantly dressed in a curvaceous evening dress; her hair is stylized and accented with designer earrings. To her left, she may be recalling her younger days in her performance of La Revue Nègre where the audience is giving her the toast of Paris. To her right is the Arc de Triomphe, which characterizes and attests to her world success as an entertainer.

Ransaw was inspired to major in art while attending high school in Indianapolis, Indiana. In college, he became interested in examining great works of art created by master artists and felt there was no better place to look for original works than in the art capital of the world, Paris. He received a United Negro College Fund Distinguished Scholars Award for research which allowed him to spend considerable time at the Louvre and the Musee de l’Homme. He toured the city with a group and visited several additional times with his wife, Cheryl.

Cheryl and Lee Ransaw at the Eiffel Tower (Musée de l'Homme in background)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Artists Lee Ransaw and Louis Delsarte at the Louvre
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Ransaw has created several paintings with a Paris connection or French inspiration. The first one was a tribute to the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, entitled Tribute to Renoir: Luncheon of the Boating Party. He changed the party-goers to include a more diverse group and replaced the puppy with a parrot.

Tribute to Renoir: The New Luncheon at the Boating Party
Lee A. Ransaw
1998 Oil on canvas
24" x 30" (60.9 cm x 76.2 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Luncheon of the Boating Party
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
1881 Oil on canvas
51.2" x 68.1" (130 cm x 173 cm)
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The second painting is entirely conceptual. Ransaw portrayed a gathering of well–to-do Blacks, who had moved to Southern France in the middle of the 20th century, as high rollers.

A Feast in Nice
Lee A. Ransaw
2002 Acrylic on canvas
36" x 48" (91.4 cm x 121.9 cm)
Image courtesy of Lee Ransaw

Dr. Ransaw’s artwork can be found in institutional collections such as Hampton University, Clark Atlanta University, The National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University, The APEX Museum in Atlanta, The Georgia Museum of Art, The Auburn Avenue Research Library, Morris Brown College, Bowie State University and in many private collections. His work can also be found on Fine Art America.


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

BAO - A New Afro-Créole Supermarket

The sister-brother team of Sona, Kossi, and Lemba Muluala recently opened what many people in Ile de France likely consider a godsend - a modern, full-service Afro-Créole supermarket.

BAO storefront
Screenshot from BAO video

BAO, which is "short" for BAOBAB, opened on December 10, 2016. It is stocked with more than 2,000 items sourced from producers and distributors in the Caribbean, Africa and the Indian Ocean.

The Mulualas, who are Franco-Congolese, were inspired to launch their store because of their childhood memories of how difficult it was for their mother to find ingredients for their favorite recipes in their neighborhood. Not only did she need to travel an hour to get into Paris, she also had to shop in multiple places to find everything she needed and contend with merchants who were not familiar with the products they were selling. It often took a good half-day to get the shopping done and return home.

Sona and Kossi Muluala
Screenshot from BAO video

The Mulualas are committed to providing authentic, high quality items at the best possible price. They sell fresh and frozen foods, including Hallal meat, fruits and vegetables, cooking oils and condiments, spices, juices and other beverages, and Créole specialities such as pigtails, turban squash, breadfruit, Créoline sauce, and Floup ice cream.

Stocked shelves
Screenshot from BAO video

African eggplants
Screenshot from BAO video

Palm oil from Congo
Screenshot from BAO video

Frozen goat-filled samossas from Reunion Island
Screenshot from BAO video

To watch them present BAO on video (in French), click HERE.

BAO is located in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. The supermarket is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM.

Centre Commercial Bobigny 2
Boulevard Maurice Thorez
93000 Bobigny


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hidden Figures Released in France

On March 8, the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures was released in Paris.

Hidden Figures ad in metro
© Discover Paris!

On March 2, Tom and I had the opportunity to see a preview of the film at a private screening at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.

Chargé d’Affaires Uzra Zeya and Cultural Affairs Specialist Randianina Peccoud welcomed guests at the door and indicated the path to the reception, where cold and hot hors d'oeuvres, miniature desserts, and a variety of beverages were available. This was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues and meet new ones.

Randianina Peccoud and Curtis Robert Young
© Discover Paris!

One of my new acquaintances is Julia Fendrick, Counselor for Cultural Affairs. Fendrick assumed this role at the Embassy in June 2016.

Raina Lampkins-Fielder, Monique Y. Wells, and Julia Fendrick
© Discover Paris!

She excitedly told us about another preview of the film that took place earlier in the day. This one was at a Gaumont cinema and the attendees were hundreds of French school children. She shared the following details about the event:

Four hundred (400) middle and high school, vocational school, and science club students filled every seat of this theater to watch the soon-to-be released film “Hidden Figures” and it appeared to spark a great deal of interest in STEM studies.

Following the film, students stayed for almost an hour of questions with the panelists Timothy Tawny of NASA, Fabienne Casoli of the Center for National Space Studies (Centre national d’etudes spatiales), and Fatoumata Kebe of the Paris Observatory (Observatoire de Paris), addressing issues of space exploration, engineering and science studies, and gender equity questions. Panel members reinforced the film’s message of striving to achieve and not underestimating one’s abilities.

Our NASA colleague also spoke about the excitement of the new frontiers in space and that all achievements in space research today will need the power of young minds from many countries working to solve problems together. Students left with NASA pins and badges, but also with the message “Dare to Try” in their heads.

Watch the reactions of several students to the film (in French) below:

Fendrick also shared that the Embassy helped the American Presence Post (the U.S. Consulate) in Toulouse do two screenings of the film. They welcomed approximately 500 people, including middle school and high school students, at Cite de l’Espace, a theme park focused on space and the conquest of space. Claudie Haignerie, the "marraine" (godmother) of Cité de l'Espace and the first French woman in space, introduced the film.

After about an hour of socializing at the Ambassador's residence in Paris, we were directed to the screening room.

What would a movie be without popcorn? We were encouraged to take cups of the freshly popped snack into the screening room.

Monique enjoys her popcorn
© Discover Paris!

Zeya addressed the audience prior to the start of the film.

Uzra Zeya announces the film
© Discover Paris!

Then the lights went down and we settled in for the evening.

I read the book Hidden Figures several months ago. As I expected, the film did not come close to delivering the detail found in the book and it took considerable artistic license with the stories of Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Goble Johnson, and Mary Jackson. Nevertheless, I thought it did a great job of presenting the long untold stories of these remarkable women!


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