1918 - 2018 CENTENARY CELEBRATION Black Heritage, Jazz Music, WWI Battlefields & Champagne Country
5 days/5 nights in Paris & Reims
First World War Centenary 2014 – 2018 – Special Tours in Remembrance
The US 369th Infantry Regiment, better known by their nickname “Harlem Hellfighters,” were one of the most successful units in the American Expeditionary Force of the First World War. Among the first units in the US armed forces to have black officers in addition to its all black enlisted corps, the 369th compiled quite an impressive war record. Formed in New York in 1913 and dispatched to France in late 1917, the Hellfighters rejuvenated depleted French troops, never lost a foot of ground or had a man taken prisoner. For service in the First World War, 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Honour and many Distinguished Service Crosses. For exceptional bravery, the Hellfighters were also awarded the prestigious Croix de Guerre, the first Americans to achieve what is France’s highest military honour.
Originally overlooked in America, the Hellfighters received more recognition on the home front for their musical qualities but their military service began a change of attitude. At the end of the war, the 369th returned to New York City and paraded through the city where thousands, of all races, lined the streets to celebrate their achievements.
The regimental band under leadership of James R Europe took France by storm, introducing the new and exciting rhythms of jazz to the continent, spurring Paris in particular on its continued love of jazz music. The 369th Regiment’s band were highly regarded and relied upon to boost morale for all Allied troops, which can be the difference between a battle being won or lost.
On this tour, follow the 369th through the musical streets of Paris and onto the front line, where they spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit. On the battlefield, focus on the areas northeast of Paris including Belleau Wood, Chateau Thierry and the Meuse-Argonne where these brave soldiers fought in the trenches alongside French regiments. This area is a popular tourist destination, in the heart of Champagne Country, so we have the opportunity for a sample!
This one-of-a-kind tour is a partnership between Special Group Tours, which specializes in small group touring of fascinating destinations and themes in the UK and Europe, and Walking The Spirit Tours, the pioneers of Black heritage tourism in Paris and France.
DVD “When African Americans Came To Paris” http://www.africanamericansinparis.com/
Day 1 Monday ARRIVAL DAY PARIS
Welcome to Paris! Today is open for guests to explore the City of Light independently and to recover from the international journey. Accommodation is included tonight, how you spend your time is your choice!
Explore the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral, the iconic Eiffel Tower or Arche de Triomphe, the world class museums of Louvre, d’Orsay or simply meander the ancient cobbled streets or along the scenic river and sample life in a sidewalk cafe like a local, people watching and the world go by. How you spend your day is up to you.
Overnight: Paris, BB
Villa Modigliani, https://www.villa-modigliani.fr/en/chambres/
Hotel Lenox, http://www.paris-hotel-lenox.com/bedrooms
Day 2 Tuesday SPIRIT OF BLACK PARIS TOUR
Today is the day we explore African American heritage in Paris.
We begin from our hotel lobby at 09:00 for the “Writers, Artists & Intellectuals” walking tour of our neighbourhood Montparnasse, the nearby Latin Quarter and St Germain. See Josephine Baker Square and Bobino, the still vibrant club where she had her farewell performance. Travel the backstreets to retrace where Chester Himes dreamed up prize-winning detective novels, Richard Wright jousted with French intellectuals, and Gordon Heath strummed his folk guitar. Bud Powell’s wife served up home food here, Lois Mailou Jones painted her way across the city and Henry O. Tanner painted his way into the Louvre. This area is home to bookshops of all cultures and tastes, the venerable Sorbonne University, art house cinemas, existential cafes and the city’s original art gallery district.
Enjoy a welcome lunch together at a traditional Parisian cafe with connections to African-American history, either Café le Select, James Baldwin’s ‘local’, or Café de Tournon, favoured by Richard Wright and Duke Ellington. This will be a leisurely and relaxed meal in the style of the locals.
Montmartre of the 1920s where jazz and Josephine Baker reigned is the focus later in the afternoon, on the “Entertainers” walking tour. Together with your guide/companion, make the journey across neighbourhoods via Metro together.
Between the Moulin Rouge and Bricktop’s cabaret, Lower Montmartre/Pigalle was THE entertainment district of the roaring 20s, the birthplace of Europe-centred jazz after WWI. This afternoon will include stories and places of Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Langston Hughes, Bud Powell, Florence Mills, Leroy Haynes and discusses the fascination for African art. A highlight is sure to be the opportunity to stand beneath the marquee where the Harlem Hellfighters first jazzed up the city.
This evening is free for guests to explore as they please. Perhaps a night out at one of the city’s many fabulous Jazz venues?
Overnight: Paris, BB + lunch
Day 3 Wednesday HELLFIGHTERS ON THE BATTLEFIELDS
Leaving our Paris hotel at approximately 9am, head for the Marne where we will cover the important Battles of Belleau Wood and 2nd Marne, where the 369th made important contributions as part of the French 4th Army.
Explore the remnants of shell holes and trenches in Belleau Wood, see the captured town of Vaux which was targeted by a massive German gas attack causing over 400 casualties to suffer from the effects like Lt. James R Europe and visit the Hill 204 US Monument overlooking Chateau Thierry.
This afternoon, we continue along the Marne and pay our respects at Les Fantomes, the memorial to the 2nd Battle of the Marne and the US Oise-Aisne Cemetery before making our way to our overnight stop, the beautiful city of Reims, capital of the Champagne region.
Overnight: Reims, BB
Grand Hotel des Templiers, http://hotel.templiers.pagesperso-orange.fr/english.html
Day 4 Thursday HELLFIGHTERS ON THE BATTLEFIELDS
Today, we venture further east into the Meuse-Argonne to explore the battlefields where the 369th again rose to the challenge in September 1918. We’ll follow them up the heights north of La Dormoise where they advanced under heavy machine gun fire to capture the town of Sechault.
We’ll hear about the heroic actions of Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, both awarded the Croix de Guerre. Learn how the former porter for the NY subway virtually single-handedly defeated a 24 man German patrol, at one point only armed with a bollo knife.
From the top of the Montfaucon US Memorial, we’ll have an excellent view of the ridges that needed to be taken in order to push the German armies back east.
Sites around the Argonne Forest will tell us the stories of the Rainbow Division from which the Hellfighters were so harshly excluded, villages lost to mining and the “Lost Battalion.”
Overnight: Reims, BB
Day 5 Friday REIMS & TASTE OF CHAMPAGNE
This morning offers time to explore Reims independently, a city brimming with history and royal tradition. Those who wish to further investigate the battlefield theme have the Museum of Armistice, as it was here that WWII was ended. The cathedral is the focal point of course, but its museums, architecture and the spirit of Joan of Arc have something to offer everyone. Entrance to the cathedral is included.
This afternoon explore one of the famed Champagne cellars. Large Classical and Renaissance-style private mansions house the prestigious Champagne Houses with over 100km of underground passages, reserved solely for storing Champagne! We will have a guided tour and tasting at either Moët & Chandon, Mercier or Mumm.
Tonight, back towards Paris, a farewell dinner together at an African restaurant specializing in cuisine from Cameroon, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
Overnight: Paris, BB + dinner
The tour concludes after breakfast. Extend your stay in Paris if you wish or continue your journey.
Paris is well connected to many other charming European cities. Travel via Eurostar to London or Brussels or TGV train to Amsterdam and elsewhere. We are happy to assist you with onward journey if you wish, please just ask us!
ABOUT WALKING THE SPIRIT TOURS: When Julia Browne stood in front of the Paris building where Langston Hughes had written his jazz poetry in the 1920s, she couldn’t believe that one of her literary idols had lived and worked in her same north end neighborhood. A mission was born – people had to know about this. That was 1994. Inspired by the writing of her mentor, the late Professor Michel Fabre of the Sorbonne Nouvelle, she carried out further research then launched Walking The Spirit Tours, the pioneering tours of black Paris.
20 years on, they still take great pride in educating and inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds on the rich cultural exchange between African American, Diaspora and French culture.
Catering to the growing fascination from travelers with little time to research but who crave authentic cultural experiences, Julia funnels her amour for the French lifestyle into designing personalized itineraries. As a certified Destination France Specialist and former longtime resident, Julia also expertly organizes full trip planning in France and Europe. The goal is simple: to share the passion by opening the doors for travelers to actively participate in culinary exploration, to explore off the path neighborhoods, to gaze at great and lesser known art, and to venture out, as the expatriates did, and engage with local residents of charming towns.
Oft imitated, never duplicated! This itinerary is an original SGT itinerary, property of Special Group Tours/Walk the Spirit and to be used only with express permission/in conjunction with SGT/WTS.